Harrogate Town v Sutton United: Everything you need to know about the U’s

Sutton United's Craig Eastmond, right, in action against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Sutton United's Craig Eastmond, right, in action against Leeds United in the FA Cup. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Harrogate Town kick-off their 2018/19 National League campaign – their first ever in English football’s fifth tier – at home to Sutton United on Saturday (3pm).

Simon Weaver’s men are almost at full-strength for the game, missing only injured forwards Mark Beck and Jordan Thewlis, but they know they will have their work cut out when the U’s visit.

Sutton were something of a surprise package last term, finishing in third place, before losing out to Boreham Wood in the play-offs.

Manager Paul Doswell has been busy this week, bringing in striker Aaron Drinan on loan from Ipswich Town as well as capturing ex-Bristol Rovers midfielder Wayne Brown, latterly of Australian side Newcastle Jets.

Another of their summer signings, former Brighton forward Jonah Ayunga, is a doubt for the trip to North Yorkshire having picked up a groin strain in training, while the Amber and Chocolates are still awaiting international clearance for fellow new boy Brown.

Last season: Finished third in the National League, but lost 3-2 to Boreham Wood in play-off semi-final.

Last time out: Sutton’s fifth and final pre-season outing saw them beat Norwich City under-23s 1-0.

They also beat Coventry City 2-0 in a warm-up match, while their only defeat, and indeed the only game in which they failed to keep a clean-sheet, saw them go down 2-0 to Chelsea under-23s.

Ones to watch: A product of Arsenal’s youth academy and boasting Premier League and Champions League experience on his CV, central midfielder Craig Eastmond is a seasoned campaigner and a high-quality operator.

He was named in last term’s National League Team of the Season and his battle with Town’s Josh Falkingham in the midfield engine room should be fascinating to watch.

Alongside him, Harry Beautyman boasts Football League pedigree. The 25-year-old re-joined the Gander Green Lane outfit from Stevenage for an undisclosed fee this summer.

Young striker Tommy Wright should pose the biggest threat to the Harrogate rearguard. He was Sutton’s top-scorer with 13 league goals last season.

What the gaffer said: “Sutton are a big, powerful team, full of experience and will provide a very tough test.

“Having watched them, you can see how consistent they are. They’ve barely conceded a goal in pre-season and that is because they are so organised and rigid when they don’t have the ball.

“What we will have to do on Saturday is make sure that we start fast and move the ball quickly so that we can hurt them.

“It’s a difficult one to start with, but there are no easy games in this division.”

Any other business: Like Town, Sutton also play on a 3G surface.

The U’s reached the fifth round of the FA Cup in 2016/17, beating AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United before a 2-0 loss to Arsenal.

During that run, long-serving reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw famously ate a pie on the Sutton substitutes’ bench in front of live television cameras and subsequently lost his job.