A week that started in disappointment for Sutton captain Craig Eastmond continued in far happier vein as, after hearing that the appeal against his red card on Saturday had been upheld, he celebrated his 300th appearance for the club with the only goal that put U's within one game of a Wembley final in the Papa John's Trophy.
Eastmond's cleanly struck volley with ten minutes to go edged a tightly fought game in U's favour, and U's now fly the flag for the southern members of the Football League in a semi final draw on Saturday evening that will also contain League One promotion chasers Wigan and Rotherham, and League Two Hartlepool, with both semi finals live on Sky TV in early March.
It was a game that could have gone either way, with Dean Bouzanis the busier goalkeeper in the first half but Sutton improving after the break, Matt Gray making a treble substitution on the hour that saw Omar Bugiel, Isaac Olaofe and Ali Smith replace Richie Bennett, Donovan Wilson and Kenny Davis, and introducing David Ajiboye soon afterwards, and Harrogate might still have forced penalties when Luke Armstrong hit the post with five minutes left.
Armstrong was involved in the first incident of note after just three minutes when he caught Louis John in an aerial collision earning a yellow card from referee Sam Allison who also booked Davis for his involvement in the subsequent brief flare-up. It set the tone for a fractious first half in which the referee felt the need to call skippers Eastmond and Josh Falkingham over for a general warning just before the half hour mark.
By then both sides could have been ahead, Enzio Boldewijn dispossessing Brahima Diarra but shooting wide of the near post, while at the other end Jack Muldoon kept the ball in on the touchline as John tried to shepherd it out, and having cut in along the by-line pulled the ball back for Armstrong, but his shot, and Lloyd Kerry's follow-up effort, were both blocked. Armstrong also had a low shot on the turn saved by Bouzanis, while for Sutton Will Randall headed wide from a Boldewijn cross and Eastmond put a header over the top from a free kick also delivered by the Dutch winger. It was Harrogate who will have felt happier at half time, though, with U's attack being given little time on the ball and unable to pose a real threat.
U's first effort on target came early in the second half, when Mark Oxley had to dive to his left to keep out Eastmond's low 25 yard effort. The resulting corner from Boldewijn was poor, but when the ball came back to him a much better cross was dropped by Oxley, who needed Thomson to rescue him with a hurried clearance.
Apart from a Muldoon volley saved by Bouzanis, Sutton had much more of the game after the substitutions, but chances were scarce at either end until Boldewijn was fouled by Thomson near the left corner flag. His free kick glanced off Thomson for a corner on the other side, which was delivered deep by Boldewijn. Kizzi's first header was blocked but he headed the ball back in to danger, Ben Goodliffe nodded it on to his left, and Eastmond drilled a perfect low first time volley from a narrow angle in to the far corner of the net, his first goal of the season.
Armstrong's low shot on the turn after substitute Mark Beck had nodded on a long clearance clipped the outside of the post, and the last of the four minutes of stoppage time produced a thrilling finish, after a misunderstanding between Kizzi and Goodliffe had caused the latter to concede a corner. Unsurprisingly Oxley was in the Sutton penalty area, and when U's cleared the corner as far as Ajiboye the Harrogate goal was vacant. The winger reached the halfway line before sending the ball goalwards but Thomson, who had taken the corner, produced a magnificent piece of defending to get back and clear off the line, the final whistle sounding while the ball was still in the Harrogate penalty area.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, J Kizzi, B Wyatt, C Eastmond, B Goodliffe, L John, E Boldewijn, K Davis(sub A Smith 59), R Bennett(sub O Bugiel 60), D Wilson(sub I Olaofe 60), W Randall(sub D Ajiboye 65 ). Subs n/u S Nelson, R Korboa, R Milsom. Booked: Davis, Smith
Harrogate: M Oxley, N Sheron, L Page(sub W Smith 53), J Falkingham, R McArdle, W Burrell, G Thomson, L Kerry(sub M Beck 82), L Armstrong, J Muldoon, B Diarra(sub A Pattison 66). Subs n/u J Cracknell, J Austerfield. Booked: Armstrong, Page, McArdle.
Referee: Sam Allison
Attendance: 1,499(71 away)