Sutton United 1 (Wilson 45+3) Northampton Town 2 (Appere 32, Pinnock 50)
Sutton suffered a fourth successive defeat against promotion-chasing opposition but were unfortunate to come out on the wrong side of an entertaining game that saw Northampton boost their hopes of grabbing an automatic promotion place on a night when several of their closest rivals dropped points.
It was Sutton's best performance of the four defeats, but having cancelled out Louis Appere's opener on the stroke of half time, only to concede a sloppy goal early in the second half, U's were unable to find a second equaliser despite piling the pressure on the visitors in the closing stages.
Ben Goodliffe and Will Randall were both fit to return to action, while Lee Angol and Josh Neufville joined the injured list, but Sutton made a bright start in a lively opening to the game, and were unlucky not to go in front after a quarter of an hour when Ali Smith met a cleared cross with a first time volley that crashed back off the foot of the post. Northampton's best early moments fell to Kieron Bowie, who twice failed to hit the target with left foot shots, and they were forced in to a defensive change midway through the half when the injured Jack Sowerby was replaced by Max Dyche. The son of the Everton manager mad a quick impact, though in the Sutton penalty area as he flicked on Mitch Pinnock's long throw and Appere reacted quickest to volley on the turn in to the net.
A competitive game on the pitch was matched on the touchline, as Northampton manager Jon Brady and U's assistant Jason Goodliffe were both shown a yellow card by referee David Rock in separate incidents, and the scoreline was deservedly level in first half stoppage time when a fine run from David Ajiboye ended with a cross which bounced around the six yard box before being despatched in to the roof of the net by Donovan Wilson, scoring for the first time since the reverse fixture at Sixfields in October.
Sutton's optimism was punctured early in the second half when a swift counter attack saw Bowie send Sam Hoskins away on the right before being caught by a late challenge from Coby Rowe. The referee played the advantage to allow Hoskins to cross, and when Rob Milsom failed to clear Pinnock, who had been involved earlier in the move, swivelled to shoot low past Jack Rose, and Rowe was booked for the earlier challenge.
Bowie sent a long range shot too high, and Rose saved from Appere's low shot from the edge of the penalty area, but as the game went on it was Sutton in the ascendancy in the search for an equaliser. Ajiboye scrambled a shot just wide after Omar Bugiel had headed a Milsom throw across goal, Ajiboye and most Sutton supporters convinced that a defender had diverted the ball away from goal, and three minutes later Rowe dived to head in Milsom's free kick only to be denied by the narrowest of offside decisions. Smith crashed a twenty yard shot just wide, and U's could feel aggrieved not to be given longer than three additional minutes at the end of the game, but Northampton held on to give themselves a five point cushion over the fourth placed side.
Sutton: J Rose, J Kizzi, R Milsom, C Rowe, B Goodliffe(sub E Boldewijn 90), D Ajiboye, D Wilson, A Smith, O Bugiel, H Beautyman, W Randall. Subs n/u T Dickinson, S Hart, C Dundas, L Gambin, K Kouassi, M Dennis. Booked: Randall, Rowe, Bugiel
Northampton: L Burge, D Norman(sub S McWilliams 75), R Haynes, J Sowerby(sub M Dyche 25), M Leonard, S Sherring, S Hoskins, K Bowie (sub T Yengi 82), L Appere (sub D Hylton 82), W Hondermarck, M Pinnock. Subs n/u D Wright-Phillips, P Osew, T King. Booked: Leonard, Hylton
Referee: David Rock
Attendance: 2,760(625 away)
Above photograph courtesy of Pete Norton