JUST WHEN they needed a performance which smacked of Play-Off potential, Torquay United came up short on another all-weather off-day as Sutton United comfortably completed a deserved ‘double’ at Gander Green Lane.

Gary Johnson’s Gulls had lost 1-0 in the FA Cup at Maidstone United and 2-0 at Harrogate Town in the National League, both on artificial pitches during the winter, and they were second-best in south-west London.

The Ambers, who overtake Torquay in mid-table, had won 2-1 at Plainmoor earlier in the season and they took a grip on the game in the first half, through goals by Rob Milson and Will Randall, which they never looked like losing.

Without goalkeeper Shaun MacDonald, Torquay might have suffered a heavier defeat on a day which dealt a serious blow to their hopes of gatecrashing the Play-Offs.

Lucas Covoloan’s back injury kept him out for the second successive game, so MacDonald continued in goal, and Johnson stuck to the same starting XI and bench which had served in the 2-0 home win over Chorley seven days before.

But Sutton welcomed back their goalscoring midfielder Harry Beautyman as captain – he missed the midweek 1-0 defeat at FC Halifax Town with a hamstring problem – as well as Louis John in defence.

The first-half pattern was set as early as the eighth minute, when Connor Lemonheigh-Evans lost possession deep in Sutton territory, and the Ambers counter-attacked through right winger David Ajiboye before he slipped the ball to Isaac Olaofe.

MacDonald parried Olaofe’s shot and Joe Lewis then did well to clear in the face of Randall’s follow-up challenge.

Lewis stood out in the first quarter of an hour, but in the 19th minute he was harshly adjudged to have fouled Omar Bugiel just outside the United penalty area – it looked as if referee Lloyd Wood could just as easily have given the decision the other way.

But, as so often happens in those incidents, Milsom – he had been way off target with two previous free-kicks – got it very right indeed, with a left-foot drive which fizzed past MacDonald…1-0.

United suffered another blow when Jackson Longridge went down for the second time with a left knee injury.

The Bradford City loanee had to be replaced by Ben Wynter in the 28th minute, also prompting a tactical switch from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, with Wynter at right-back and Lewis moving to the left.

Milsom had another 25-yard free-kick well saved by Cameron as the Gulls continued to play second fiddle in all areas.

MacDonald also pulled out a top-drawer stop from Olaofe, who burst between Robbie Cundy and Kyle Cameron to get his shot away.

But three minutes later Torquay were caught on the break again for the second goal.

This time it was Jake Andrews who was robbed in the Sutton half, Beautyman drove at the retreating United defence, played the unmarked Randall in on the left and he made no mistake with an angled shot from ten yards…2-0.

It was no more than Sutton deserved, and Johnson’s half-time team-talk must have made interesting listening.

Whatever he said, United visibly moved up a gear in the second half, but still without producing any real penetration near goal.

When MacDonald had to dash off his line to foil Olaofe, again after good work by the pacy Ajiboye, Johnson decided to make a change – two of them.

It was Kalala for Azeez and Nemane for Hall, with Whitfield moving up front alongside Jamie Reid.

The Gulls did look more dangerous, but Sutton’s threat on the break was always there, and MacDonald did well to save from Beautyman in the 68th minute and then Ajiboye, who made the most of determined hold-up play by Bugiel to shoot from 20 yards, MacDonald tipping the effort over for a corner.

Beautyman and Bugiel both left to thunderous and deserved applause as Sutton went into ‘game management’ mode in the closing stages.
But they never stopped looking for a third goal, while United seldom really threatened a first.

Sutton United (4-4-2): Tzanev; Barden, John, Rowe, Wyatt; Ajiboye, Beautyman (Eastmond 75), Milsom, Randall; Oloafe, Bugiel (Dundas 76); subs not used – Bolarinwa, Kealy, Reid.
Booked: Rowe 69.

Torquay United (3-5-2): MacDonald; Lewis, Cundy, Cameron; Whitfield, Hall (Nemane 61), Lemonheigh-Evans, Andrews, Longridge (Wynter 28); Azeez (Kalala 61), Reid; subs not used – Collings (gk), Lewington.
Booked: Cameron 30.

Referee: Lloyd Wood (Essex).

Attendance: 1,842.