Match Report: FC Halifax Town 2-2 Sutton United (27/03/21)
Craig Eastmond’s 85th minute equaliser saw table-topping Sutton United complete a late comeback from two goals down to hold an otherwise dominant FC Halifax Town to an entertaining draw at the Shay.
Goals from Billy Chadwick and Jack Earing either side of half-time had put Halifax two to the good, before Isaac Olaofe and Eastmond then intervened in the final quarter of an hour to ensure the points would be shared.
It was a conclusion that was harsh on the Shaymen, but Sutton underlined their credentials as the National League’s highest scorers to continue their 12-match unbeaten league run.
Taking the lead was merited for Pete Wild’s energetic hosts, who had the better of the opening exchanges on a dull afternoon, with Niall Maher seeing a header cleared off the line inside the opening five minutes.
Early pressure finally told for the Shaymen when Hull loanee Chadwick took full advantage of Kieran Green’s attempt from the edge of the box falling kindly at his feet to coolly finish beyond Dean Bouzanis.
Sutton struggled to gain a foothold in the first half, but did go close shortly after the half-hour mark, when only a heroic Nathan Clarke block prevented Harry Beautyman levelling from close range.
The dominant Shaymen continued to pose a threat at the other end, and the U’s were grateful to Bouzanis when he saved well from Earing just before the break.
Olaofe fired inches wide of Sam Johnson’s left upright after swivelling inside the box for Matt Gray’s men after half-time, but the Shaymen refused to be bowed and went close themselves moments later.
Following a speedy advance up the pitch, Danny Williams saw his close-range attempt blocked on the line by Kenny Davis after the ball had bobbled across goal following Bouzanis’ save from Earing.
The former Bolton man then increased the hosts’ lead just after the hour mark, collecting Niall Maher’s pass through a cavernous hole in Sutton’s defence and firing inside the far post.
However, it took less than 15 minutes for Sutton to halve the deficit, with Robert Milsom’s swinging corner being turned in by Olaofe amid a crowd of bodies in the box.
Chadwick fired narrowly over from distance as the Shaymen hunted down a restoration of their two goal cushion, but Sutton, now with a new lease of life, now looked more threatening than on any other occasion.
Ultimately, set-piece weaknesses would further prove the hosts’ undoing as, with the shackles off, Eastmond had the last word, powerfully lashing in from the edge of the box after the hosts had failed to clear a corner.
Disappointment for Shaymen, but plenty of positives too
This was an impressive showing from Pete Wild’s Halifax, who, despite being without key players, largely outplayed their high-flying opponents.
After defeat at Eastleigh last week ended a stunning run of form for the Shaymen, the onus was on them to respond against the league leaders at home.
They emphatically provided that response with a showing that at times, would have had a non-football fan asking which side was actually top.
Midfielders Kieran Green and Jeff King were assured and confident with the ball at their feet, and the defence, in particular Tom Bradbury, were well marshalled to stifle their visitors.
Nathan Clarke’s goal line block of Harry Beautyman was hugely impressive too, but the real credit must go to Jack Earing, who capped a superb display with a goal moments before being withdrawn.
Halifax should not be downhearted by this result, as performances like the one seen today should comfortably sink lesser teams than Sutton.
Currently in eighth and just one point outside the playoffs, they have everything to fight for over the final two months of a season that has been like no other.
U’s inspired by old adage
In line with a famous old footballing cliché, 2-0 truly did turn out to be the most dangerous lead today, as Sutton showed impressive fight to mount their comeback.
They had been sluggish and thoroughly outplayed in the first half, with only top scorer Harry Beautyman going remotely close to finding the net.
However, falling two behind seemed to awaken something within them, and they appeared a different side as the match drew to a conclusion.
Isaac Olaofe was impressive in that renaissance, showing the desire that had suddenly become apparent across the team when he stretched to get the final touch and pull a goal back.
The deliveries of Robert Milsom were also problematic for Halifax, who did not deserve to draw this game but were ruthlessly punished for the equaliser after failing to clear their lines.
A point at the Shay keeps Matt Gray’s side firmly in the driving seat in the promotion race, and the U’s are now four points clear at the top after the chasing pack of Hartlepool, Torquay, and Stockport all dropped points.
Entertaining game follows turbulent week in non-league
Yesterday, the National League announced punishments for 17 of its 66 member clubs for breaches relating to failure to fulfil fixtures.
Neither Halifax nor Sutton were reprimanded, but the most notable punishments were handed to Dover Athletic, who, having placed all players, coaches, and staff on furlough, have not played since 30th January.
All of Dover’s results thus far this season have now been expunged, and the club will start next season with a 12-point deduction, calculated on the basis of three points per breach.
They were also fined £40,000, but the real issues lie beneath the surface, and punishment in this situation has been met with criticism.
That the Covid pandemic has placed almost unprecedented stress on lower-league clubs’ finances is not news to the majority of football fans, and clubs incur costs every time they play a fixture.
Grants have allowed clubs at this level to continue to play fixtures amidst a backdrop of financial uncertainty, but the recent replacement of grants by loans have left many clubs facing hugely difficult decisions.
The league achieves nothing by doling out punishments such as these, and should be fighting the case for its clubs to continue to receive grants and secure their immediate futures.
What it should not be doing is allowing itself to become the architect of infighting by punishing them for the courses of action they have taken in the absence of these grants.
Several clubs are now understood to be considering a vote of no confidence in the board following the imposition of these punishments.
The match today further underlined the real quality that can be found at non-league, which illustrates the importance of protecting its member clubs, who do not have the luxurious riches of the Premier League.
FC Halifax Town: Johnson (GK) 6, Byrne 7, Bradbury7, Green 7, Senior 6, Clarke (c) 7, Maher 6, King7, Williams 6 (Spence 82’ 6), Earing9 (Hyde 62’ 6), Chadwick 8.
Unused: Renshaw (GK), Benn, Tear.
Sutton United: Bouzanis (GK) 6, Barden 7, Goodliffe 6, Davis 7 (Kealy 62’ 6), Milsom 7, John 6, Ajiboye 6, Beautyman 6, Eastmond 8, Olaofe 8 (Sho-Silva 77’ 6), Bugiel 6.
Unused: Wyatt, Nembhard, Simpson.