Sutton completed the perfect qualifying campaign in the Papa John's Trophy, but Wimbledon failed to progress after Portsmouth's injury time third goal against Crystal Palace put them through on goals scored in the group games.
Any doubt concerning U's participation in the knockout stages was soon removed as Portsmouth took control at Fratton Park in a game Palace had to win for Sutton not to go through, but U's still produced a performance that deserved more than a one goal margin of victory, and to finish top of a group that included two League One sides, with a 100% record and no goals conceded, is a considerable achievement and allows U's to look forward to a home tie in the first round later this month.
Manager Matt Gray made six changes to the starting line-up in the FA Cup at Hayes, one enforced with Omar Bugiel now away on World Cup duty with Lebanon, but was still able to field a side that supporters would be quite happy to see take the field in a League Two game, with Kenny Davis captaining the side on his first appearance since the draw at Scunthorpe in August, while Ricky Korboa started for the first time since the last Papa John's game at Portsmouth and Richie Bennett returned after his suspension.
Bennett was prominent early on, winning some good aerial challenges, and he might have scored had Ali Smith not headed Enzio Boldewijn's cross wide when Bennett was waiting unmarked behind him. There were also some impressive moments from Korboa, who ran on to one fine pass from Ben Wyatt and fired in a cross that was glanced wide by Donovan Wilson, and he also tested former Sutton goalkeeper Nik Tzanev with a shot which Tzanev held at the second attempt. Wimbledon, who knew that victory would put them in a strong position to qualify, struggled to test Brad House, with Ethan Chislett and Luke McCormick sending shots too high, and as the half progressed it was U's who dominated, and Tzanev reminded U's supporters of his quality with a brilliant save to tip over Bennett's powerful diving header from Boldewijn's cross after a good Sutton move. There was little Tzanev could do soon afterwards, though, when Ali Smith's low shot from the edge of the penalty area came back off the post, another former U, Darius Charles, heading the rebound back in to the arms of his grateful keeper.
Wimbledon had been keen to try and play out from the back when Tzanev was in possession, without ever looking entirely comfortable, and it was no surprise when one such attempt came to grief, Tzanev's chipped clearance intercepted by Boldewijn's header to put Wilson in on the right to flash a shot across goal. If U's had been unlucky to that point, Wilson should have scored soon afterwards when Huseyn Biler's poor header from a Joe Kizzi cross landed at his feet but he volleyed badly over from just inside the penalty area. Within two minutes of the start of the second half, though, Wilson had his goal as Bennett flicked Kizzi's throw in to his path, and he held off Charles before burying a low shot in the corner of Tzanev's net.
With Portsmouth two up against Palace, Wimbledon's qualification was now under threat as their goal difference advantage was reduced to one, with the slightly odd situation that if Sutton scored again, Dons would still be above Portsmouth having won the game between the sides in September, while if Portsmouth scored again they would go above Wimbledon on goals scored. At first the former of those seemed perfectly likely, Korboa enjoying a terrific half on the left for U's, with one low cross was scooped away in the six yard box by Nesta Guinness-Walker. Tzanev then came to his side's rescue again, keeping out Tobi Sho-Silva's close range far post header after more good work by Korboa, who also floated in a cross from which Sho-Silva's header diverted off Guinness-Walker in to Tzanev's hands.
With Ollie Palmer now added to Dons' attack U's came under late pressure as Wimbledon looked for the goal that would protect them against any late drama at Fratton Park, but Jack Rudoni's low cross just evaded Aaron Cosgrave in the six yard box, and, with U's determined to protect the lead and the clean sheet, Wyatt threw himself in the way of a McCormick shot and Ben Goodliffe did the same to deny Palmer. Those interventions didn't just ensure that U's finished top of the group, they also kept the door open for Portsmouth, who then went through it thanks to George Hirst's injury time strike.
Sutton: B House, J Kizzi, B Wyatt, C Rowe, B Goodliffe, A Smith, E Boldewijn, K Davis(sub R Milsom 64), R Bennett(sub T Sho-Silva 57), D Wilson, R Korboa(aub D Ajiboye 74). Subs n/u D Bouzanis, W Randall, C Dundas, I Olaofe.
Wimbledon: N Tzanev, C Alexander(sub O Palmer 61), N Guinness-Walker, H Biler, D Charles(sub L Jenkins 61), J Currie, J Rudoni, A Hartigan, A Cosgrave, L McCormick, E Chislett(sub A Assal 71). Subs n/u Z Oualah, E Sutcliffe, I Olaniyan, Q Bartley. Booked: Guinness-Walker.
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 2,458(496 away).