Sutton United 2 (Smith 62, 67) AFC Fylde 1(Ustabasi 45+1)
Sutton picked up only the second Emirates FA Cup victory of the Matt Gray tenure, coming from behind to avoid a repeat of last season's defeat by non-league opposition. Going into the match, U's manager admitted he expected it to “feel like a Football League game'' and to be “extremely tough”, and it was just that. Despite going a goal down at the close of the first half, Sutton came out fighting in the second half, and it was Harry Smith who made the difference with two goals that took Sutton into the second round.
There was one change from last week’s 2-1 victory against Bradford, with Louis John replacing Omar Sowunmi in the starting eleven after the centre back took a smack in the face from the ball which necessitated close assessment and EFL concussion protocols being followed.
It was a frustrating first half for Sutton, following a succession of good performances. Early on, it was apparent that Chris Beech’s Fylde had carried their recent form from the National League into the fixture, and it was, as expected, an extremely tough first half.
The half began positively; Josh Coley laid a pass off to Aiden O’Brien, making the run down the right, he drilled the ball in to Smith whose scuffed shot found the feet of Harry Beautyman, but he hit the ball over the bar on the half-volley. Following that, the game opened up, and AFC Fylde’s Josh Kay had a strike from range that Dean Bouzanis saw comfortably past the post.
As both teams settled into the half, Fylde grew in confidence and were close to catching Sutton on the break and it needed an excellent recovery tackle from Christian N’Guessan to make a challenge before Jon Ustabasi could threaten. Another chance followed not long after for Fylde. Nick Haughton, who had looked dangerous all half, shot from distance, and with the ball moving in the air, Bouzanis spilled it, but Taelor O'Kane miscued the rebound and Sutton were able to clear.
Going into the latter stages of the half, Sutton were getting into Fylde’s attacking third, but despite some good hold-up play from Harry Smith, it wasn’t quite coming together between the forward players. In saying that, credit has to go to Chris Beech’s side, who defended very well and were difficult to break down, resisting Sutton’s pressure.
With a few minutes to go to the break the game came to life, and Sutton had their best chance of the half. It was O’Brien and Coley linking up once again, after O’Brien sent Coley through on the right, he delivered an excellent ball, which was headed back across goal by Smith, leading to a succession of blocked efforts by Beautyman, twice, and Craig Clay. Then a counter attack caught Sutton napping and Haughton sent Ustabasi through to take Milsom on and shoot across the helpless Bouzanis in to the far corner of the net.
Sutton brought on Omari Patrick at half time with N'Guessan having taken a knock, but the second half began in a similar vein to the first, with very little to separate the two teams and Sutton looking increasingly frustrated. Tempers began to flare as Smith was booked for his reaction to a foul by Nelson Khumbeni, the striker becoming exasperated by some of his treatment going unpunished, and Jason Goodliffe's protests on the sidelines also earned him a warning from referee James Durkin. Smith's mood wasn't helped when he miscued a header from a Coley cross, but moments later a brilliant run by Coley in behind after laying the ball off to O'Brien, and an equally good ball by O’Brien to find him, allowed the winger a second chance and he produced an excellent cross to the back post, which connected with the head of a diving Smith who this time made no mistake.
Coley looked to turn himself into scorer straight afterwards when he forced a good save from Fylde’s Theo Richardson down low with a half-volley on the turn from a Milsom free kick, but the momentum was with U's and Smith's header on to O'Brien was returned by a smart flick and Smith buried the ball in the bottom corner with a low left foot shot.
Fylde were still a threat and were nearly level when a side-footed effort by Kay from just inside the box was kept out by the outstretched foot of Bouzanis. Meanwhile Patrick was growing into the game and causing problems down the left-hand side. The winger slotted O’Brien in one on one, but he was unable to squeeze the ball past Richardson from a tight angle.
Fylde weren’t out of this yet, and Connor Barrett surged down the right, weaving his way through the Sutton defence into the box, cutting back for substitute Luke Charman, whose shot was wide of the near post. Three minutes later, though, U's looked certain to widen the margin as O’Brien squared the ball to Patrick a few yards from goal, but Connor Barrett’s superb last-ditch block denied him. Ryan Jackson, having replaced Coley, also went close with a 25-yard volley that flew just wide.
There was a debut for Dominic Gape following his recent move from Wycombe, and Lee Angol returned after illness as U's looked to put the tie to bed, but the addition of seven minutes at the end was an unwelcome sight for U's players and supporters. Although Patrick came close to sealing the match but put a shot just wide, Fylde pressed for a late equaliser, with Ustabasi causing more problems as he latched onto a loose ball and struck a low cross shot which was well held by Bouzanis. The same player also volleyed just wide from 25 yards, but it was the last meaningful kick of the game and the final whistle was received with joy, and not a little relief, as Sutton held on to progress to Sunday's second round draw.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, J Kizzi, R Milsom, C Clay (sub L Angol 88), B Goodliffe, L John, J Coley(sub R Jackson 75), C N'Guessan(sub O Patrick H-T), H Smith, H Beautyman, A O'Brien(sub D Gape 83). Subs n/u J Rose, C Dundas, D Mellor, T Fadahunsi. Booked: Smith
AFC Fylde: T Richardson, C Barrett, M Conway, S Graham, E Obi, J Kay(sub L Charman 77), J Ustabasi, N Khumbeni, T O'Kane(sub J Rowley 82) N Haughton(sub S Ligendza 70), G Omotayo. Subs n/u H Davis, D Philliskirk, K Glynn, D Ormerod, P Bird, M Metcalfe.
Referee: James Durkin
Attendance: 1,262(63 away)