Not for the first time this season, Sutton suffered an agonising defeat to a goal with the last kick of the game at the Crown Oil Arena, but this setback will have been among the hardest to take.
Two goals down with eight minutes to go, playing with ten men after Richie Bennett had been sent off at the end of the first half, and probably having produced their worst performance of the season, the fighting spirit that U's have shown so often came to the fore, and goals from Isaac Olaofe and Ali Smith looked to have secured a draw that would have felt like a win. However with the game going in to the fifth minute of stoppage time after a minimum four had been indicated, Rochdale midfielder Aaron Morley drilled a shot from the edge of the penalty area past Dean Bouzanis to snatch a first victory in seven league games for the home side.
Until the last ten minutes this had been an afternoon to forget for U's, who lost Louis John, captaining the side in the absence of Craig Eastmond and Harry Beautyman, after only seven minutes, went behind midway through the first half, and then lost Bennett for what referee Paul Howard ruled was a stamp on Jake Beesley in the last moments of the first half. The second half saw a second Rochdale goal, and the home side were in complete control until U's threw on Omar Bugiel with eleven minutes to go, and set up the unlikeliest of dramatic finishes.
Jon Barden came in to start the game in midfield, while David Ajiboye's inclusion on the substitutes' bench means that no outfield Sutton player has now started every league game, but there might have been a start as dramatic as the end for U's, with Will Randall dispossessing Sam Graham inside the first minute and sending Enzio Boldewijn through on the right, but home skipper Eoghan O'Connell was across to block Boldewijn's shot. U's afternoon soon suffered its first blow as John went down holding the back of his thigh, and although he tried to carry on after treatment it wasn't long before Coby Rowe was taking his place and Rob Milsom was taking the captain's armband. Rowe had scarcely taken up his position when Rochdale might have led, Beesley releasing Jimmy Keohane on the left and then continuing his run to find space and meet the resulting cross with a firm downward header well saved by Bouzanis.
Rochdale were causing problems on the Sutton right through Keohane and Abraham Odoh, and they took a deserved lead when Keohane's diagonal pass found Alex Newby going through a big gap in the U's back line to lift a neat first time volley over Bouzanis. Rochdale might have added to their lead when an errant crossfield pass from Joe Kizzi allowed Newby to attack again, but this time Ben Goodliffe, making his 100th Sutton appearance, diverted the shot for a corner. Rowe also had to divert a shot wide, but Sutton ended the half strongly as Boldewijn and Bennett set up Randall for a shot that was saved by Joel Coleman, and Bennett then disappointingly put a header from a Kizzi cross straight at the keeper.
A minute later Bennett's afternoon was ended when he clashed with the grounded Beesley after being penalised for a foul on the Rochdale player and was sent off, and for much of the second half, with Donovan Wilson and then Olaofe ploughing a lone furrow up front Rochdale assumed complete control. Before going off Wilson did put one shot just wide after good work by Randall, but otherwise U's could make little impact. Newby had the ball in the net again with another good finish after a cleverly chipped free kick from Liam Kelly, but this time the offside flag came to U's rescue. Bouzanis made a good save from a crisp low shot from Beesley, but the second goal looked on the cards and midway through the half it arrived when Morley's deep cross was headed back by Corey O'Keefe, and Kelly had time on the edge of the area to send in a shot that beat Bouzanis at his near post.
At that stage there seemed no way back for Sutton, and it required Goodliffe to scramble the ball off the line after substitute Danny Cashman had pulled the ball back and Beesley forced it past Bouzanis, and then the keeper denied Cashman after he had blocked a clearance from Goodliffe to go clear on the left.
Bugiel came on for Boldewijn with eleven minutes left, and U's immediately carried much more of a threat up front. Within three minutes Bugiel's glancing header from Milsom's corner was beaten out by Coleman and Olaofe smashed the ball in to the net from close range, and the comeback seemed complete in the last minute of the ninety when another Milsom corner, this time to the far post, was headed in by Smith as Coleman unwisely came off his line.
The celebrations with the 117 travelling Sutton supporters told of the relief as it looked as though U's record of not having lost conescutive league games, dating back almost exactly two years, was to be maintained, but right at the end Smith played a loose pass to give Rochdale one more attack. Cashman's cross was headed clear by Rowe, but collected by Morley who wasn't closed down quickly enough and drilled a low shot past Bouzanis from 20 yards, with the final whistle blown the moment Olaofe had sent the kick off flying towards Rochdale's goal.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, J Barden, R Milsom, J Kizzi, B Goodliffe, L John(sub C Rowe 7), E Boldewijn(sub O Bugiel 79) , A Smith, R Bennett, D Wilson(sub I Olaofe 55), W Randall. Subs n/u B House, B Wyatt, D Ajiboye, R Korboa.
Rochdale: J Coleman, C O'Keefe, J Keohane(sub A White 73) J McNulty, S Graham, E O'Connell, L Kelly, A Morley, J Beesley, A Newby(sub C Grant 79), A Odoh(sub D Cashman 67). Subs n/u J Lynch, M Taylor, G Broadbent, B Kershaw.
Referee: Paul Howard
Attendance: 2,248 (117 away)