Sutton suffered a bitterly disappointing defeat at the Fully Charged New Lawn when home midfielder Ebou Adams headed in a free kick in the first minute of stoppage time, but U's performance over the ninety minutes suggested that they will not be out of place in the EFL after 123 years as a non-league club.
A crashing header from Omar Bugiel against the club with whom he had previously won promotion to the Football League in 2017 seemed to have given U's a point which would have been well deserved against a side that appeared in last season's play-offs, but they found out that, as Craig Eastmond suggested in his interview last week, mistakes will be punished and after they had surrendered possession cheaply and required Ben Goodliffe to make an interception at the expense of a corner, Harry Beautyman was penalised for a soft foul after the corner had been cleared. Regan Hendry, who had won the free kick, put a fine delivery straight on to the head of Adams, who rose above Dean Bouzanis to score.
Until that moment the game had followed a similar pattern to U's only previous visit to the ground, in the first away game following promotion to the National League in 2016, with Forest Green ahead at half time but U's having given a good account of themselves, but U's coming back with a deserved equaliser, and had it stayed like that there would have been few complaints.
U's line-up saw little change from that which swept through the National League last season, Enzio Boldewijn the only summer signing to feature at the start, but they began the game the better. Donovan Wilson sent a shot high over the bar early on, while news of David Ajiboye's threat had obviously reached the home side as Dominic Bernard picked up an early booking for a blatant body check as Ajiboye's pace threatened to beat three defenders, and there was also a booking for Jordan Moore-Taylor, who hauled Bugiel down on the edge of the penalty area after a defensive slip had allowed Rob Milsom's header to get through to the striker. U's felt it might have been more, but the presence of covering defenders persuaded referee James Bell that yellow would suffice, and Beautyman's free kick deflected over off the defensive wall.
Against the run of play, though, Forest Green went ahead as Nicky Cadden, impressive on the left all afternoon, sent in a fine cross and Matt Stevens' far post header looped over Bouzanis and in to the net.
It was harsh on U's, but they started the second half on top and Wilson had the ball in the net after four minutes only to be penalised for a foul. The striker might also have done better when Beautyman swung in a superb cross from the left but, with more time than he may have realised, he could only head weakly at goalkeeper Luke McGee. After Adams had shot just wide for Forest Green, Wilson was prominent again when U's broke following a Forest Green attack, but his shot across goal was too far ahead of his team mates.
The deserved equaliser eventually came with just over twenty minutes left as a good challenge in midfield gave Ajiboye the chance to attack on the right. His cross was met by powerfully by Bugiel's head, and U's had their first EFL goal.
The goal sparked the home side in to their best spell of the half, and Cadden's shot looped off Jon Barden and, with Bouzanis watching helplessly, came back off the crossbar, but there was a chance for U's as well as Ajiboye broke through on the right but shot over the bar. A well contested game seemed set to end with honours even, but there was late heartbreak for U's. It was a harsh welcome to EFL life, but enough in the performance for U's supporters to be encouraged for what lies ahead.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, J Barden, R Milsom, C Eastmond, B Goodliffe, L John, D Ajiboye, D Wilson(sub R Bennett 82), O Bugiel, H Beautyman, E Boldewijn(sub R Korboa 76). Subs n/u B House, C Rowe, K Davis, J Kizzi, A Smith.
Forest Green: L McGee, K Wilson, D Bernard, U Godwin-Malife, J Moore-Taylor, R Hendry, B Stevenson, E Adams, J Matt, M Stevens(sub J Aitchison 82), N Cadden(sub D Sweeney 82).Subs n/u T Allen, J Evans, J Young, S Diallo, L Thomas. Booked: Bernard, Moore-Taylor, Matt.
Referee: James Bell