Sutton United aim to be pitch-perfect... even if relegated back to National League

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(Getty Images)

Sutton United could not beam out a clearer 3G signal - there will be no return to a synthetic playing surface at their Gander Green Lane home next season, whatever division they are in.

Chairman Bruce Elliott is surprised about questions over whether a drop back down to the National League would mean a reinstallation of a rubber crumb pitch.

EFL rules forced Sutton rip up their 3G pitch and lay down a grass surface when they were promoted to the Football League for the first time in 2021.

Three years in League Two later, the south London club face a nail-biting final day trip to MK Dons on Saturday with their EFL status hanging by a thread.

Sutton not only need to win in Milton Keynes on Saturday, they also need Colchester to lose at home to Crewe and a four-goal swing in order to stay up.

Colchester’s 4-1 home defeat to Doncaster on Tuesday gave Sutton a stay of execution going into the final day, leaving a relegation escape merely improbable.

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(Getty Images)

For a club that has already exceeded their highest ambitions, Sutton have set their sights on becoming Football League regulars, whatever happens this weekend.

“There have been so many pinch-yourself moments on our Football League journey,” Elliott tells Standard Sport. “We have loved our three years, and if we can still secure a fourth, then that would be amazing.

“But if we were to go down, then we would absolutely straight away start doing everything to work our way back into League Two.

“These have been three unexpected years in the Football League, admittedly, because our ambition was only ever to reach the highest level of non-League football.

“But once we claimed promotion out of the National League, then you have to set new ambitions.

A few people have asked if we would reinstall the 3G pitch if we go down, but that would send out entirely the wrong vibe.

“A few people have asked if we would reinstall the 3G pitch if we go down, but that would send out entirely the wrong vibe. The 3G pitch gave a fantastic community asset as it could be used all the time, and for training.

“But because the EFL does not allow artificial surfaces, we had to relay the pitch, as well as carry out a lot of improvements to our ground before our first season in League Two.

“We’ve been there, done that, ripped it up, thrown it away, we’re back on grass - and that’s how it will stay.”

Sutton slipped to a 2-2 home draw with Crawley last weekend, conceding an injury-time equaliser that denied them two priceless points in their fight to stay up.

Elliott explains how supporter reaction at the final whistle encapsulated the warmth and understanding of a fanbase still enjoying their Football League adventure.

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(Getty Images)

“At the end of a real topsy-turvy game, our players went over to our supporters, and were roundly applauded. Even our head coach Steve Morrison said he’d never experienced anything like that before.

“We’re still odds-on to be relegated, and everyone is clear about that, but we are very, very lucky to have a supporter base that I think understands the journey we’ve been on.

“There are no pitch protests, there’s no sack the board, sack the coach, and it’s been hugely reassuring to everyone at the club to experience the supporters’ reaction.

“I think they understand we’ve given it our very best shot. And to be honest we’re both extremely appreciative of that response, and proud of it too.”

Sutton have sketched out two sets of plans for next season, one for League Two and one for the National League.

Elliott explains the challenges this season of operating in a division comprising Hollywood-backed Wrexham and one-time Premier League outfits Bradford and Swindon.

“We were three-quarter time in the National League, and fully professional in League Two,” he said. “Clubs at this level for far longer than us have all said this has been the toughest League Two they have ever known.

“We have to find different ways to be competitive, but we’ve absolutely relished that challenge, and would love it to continue.”