The absence of six regulars from the first team squad due to injury and illness proved too much of a handicap for Sutton to overcome as Bristol Rovers inflicted a first defeat of 2022 at a wet Memorial Stadium.
With Louis John joining Rob Milsom in having to isolate with Covid, and Richie Bennett and Jon Barden added to the injury list Coby Rowe was called in to action for the first time since mid-November, with Kenny Davis taking over the captain's armband, and what was always going to be a tough evening against a side with only one league defeat themselves this year became tougher when Harry Anderson, who had come on to win the penalty that rescued Rovers a point at the VBS ten days earlier, scored after just three minutes.
U's weren't without chances in the first half but will have been pleased to reach half time with no further damage, Dean Bouzanis saving a Paul Coutts penalty in stoppage time, but all the half time plans went out of the window in controversial circumstances as Rovers scored just 22 seconds after half time with U's expecting a free kick award at the other end of the pitch.
The early goal came when Elliott Anderson was able to run acrosss the pitch from right to left as Davis seemed to lose his footing, and then found Harry Anderson whose shot from the edge of the penalty area beat Bouzanis to his right. Sutton steadied the ship, though, and Ben Goodliffe twice had shots blocked from corners while Ali Smith reached a Davis chip at the far post but could not find the power to trouble James Belshaw.
As the half went on Rovers began to carve out enough chances to have put the game beyond reach at the break, Bouzanis saving well from Aaron Collins after a Harry Anderson shot had deflected in to his path off Goodliffe, and Elliott Anderson and Sam Finley both shooting wide from outside the penalty area.
The second goal looked to have come four minutes before half time when Sam Nicholson drove in a shot from the right that was turned in by Collins in the six yard box, but U's protests that Collins had been offside drew the most belated of flags from assistant Dean Treleaven, and after a brief chat referee Chris Pollard ruled the effort out.
U's almost made the most of the reprieve as Bugiel's low long range shot was pushed out by Belshaw, David Ajiboye's effort from the rebound sent wildly over the bar, but hopes that U's might reach half time with no further damage came under threat again when Collins got the better of Goodliffe and then went over under Rowe's challenge to win a penalty. Collins himself had successfully converted a spot kick in the FA Cup tie in December, and Antony Evans, absent in this game through injury, had netted the penalty at Sutton, but this time it was Coutts who took responsibility and Bouzanis dived to his right to save.
Sutton might even have had the bonus of an equaliser in the short time that was left before half time as Enzio Boldewijn's shot took a deflection that wrong-footed Belshaw but flew just wide, but suffered a huge blow straight from the kick off at the start of the second half. From the restart the ball was played up to Ajiboye, who darted in past two challenges and appeared to be brought down by Connor Taylor on the edge of the penalty area. As U's protested in vain Rovers cleared to the other end, Finley played a ball down the right and with Bouzanis coming outside his area to try and clear Collins got there first to go round the keeper and lift his shot superbly in to the unguarded net from close to the right touch line, making a difficult finish look very easy.
Bouzanis denied Collins a second soon afterwards, the striker shaking off Rowe's challenge but unable to beat the keeper at his near post, but chances at both ends were fewer than in the first half, with U's rarely threatening a comeback and Rovers comfortable with the two goal lead. For U's fans there was the welcome sight of Harry Beautyman returning to action after three and a half months out with a shoulder injury, and almost a last minute consolation as Goodliffe hooked a shot just wide after Bugiel had knocked down a free kick, but generally this was one of those evenings best forgotten as Rovers moved to within seven points of the play-offs.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, J Kizzi, B Wyatt, C Rowe(sub W Randall 68), B Goodliffe, A Smith, D Ajiboye, K Davis(sub H Beautyman 61), O Bugiel, D Wilson(sub R Korboa 80), E Boldewijn. Subs n/u S Nelson, C Dundas. Booked: Davis, Kizzi, Rowe.
Bristol Rovers: J Belshaw, J Connolly, N Anderton, L Hoole, C Taylor, S Finley, P Coutts(sub G Whelan 70), E Anderson, H Anderson(sub L Thomas 77), A Collins, S Nicholson(sub L Clarke 83). Subs n/u A Jaakkola, H Saunders, C Harries, A Rodman. Booked: H Anderson.
Referee: Chris Pollard
Attendance: 6,700 (144 away)