Walsall gave the unbeaten league leaders a real test of their character as they came back strongly in the second half to close to within nine points with less than ten minutes remaining.
The early stages of this match between the two local rivals became very confrontational during the opening quarter. The visitors, in particular, were penalised for several transgressions during this period. But it was Sutton that got the first score. Former Walsall player, Adam Parr supported a drive by centre Alex White and gathered the pass to score near the posts after fifteen minutes. The visitors increased their lead within three minutes, as some quick passing released Burchell on the right wing and he managed to squeeze over near the corner flag. A Fitzgerald yellow card added to Walsall’s woes and winger Tovey capitalised on some unexpected lineout possession and crossed wide out.
The home team suffered another blow when their skipper Steve Halbert was forced off with a hand injury after twenty five minutes, an injury he had sustained in the opening five minutes. Walsall to their credit then produced their best period of play as Merlin,Dickson,Lloyd and the Fitzgerald brothers all made strong runs. During one of the next phases of play, the visitors were penalised again and Wood stepped up to put over a thirty meter kick. But Sutton were on the scoreboard again within a few minutes, as a well-rehearsed move saw Tovey cut through the Walsall defence for his second try.
A 22 – 3 half time deficit did not bode well for the hosts, but the next half hour of action saw Walsall gain territorial advantage and produce prolonged periods of pressure on the Sutton line. The league leaders defended well, but they were also guilty of infringing in the tackle area. Indeed, the frequent penalties would suggest that a yellow card should also have been issued. Walsall’s reliable place kicker, Matt Wood
made it 22 – 6 after ten minutes of the half. This was followed by several promising attacks with Rafa Ingelmo,Chris Mould
and Harvey Wotton all making good ground after the Walsall forwards had set up some good positions. It was No 8 Rod Dickson
that got the next score, his well-timed pick up off the base of the scrum saw him go past a fairly static Sutton backrow defence for a fine try. Wood’s conversion saw the gap close to just nine points, and an unlikely comeback seemed a possibility. Indeed, it was only desperate Sutton defending that stopped winger Greenslade getting a touchdown by the corner flag.
The visitors managed to gain some possession as the game entered the final ten minutes. Another well executed move saw centre Raistrick find the space to go through for a much needed score for the visitors. Raistick produced a similar try scoring run three minutes later after Walsall had lost possession. It seemed that the final whistle would be blown after this score, but the referee must have been enjoying the game and the pleasant spring sunshine as he allowed another five minutes of play. Two more scores occurred during this time. Full back Edwards chased a kick and was rewarded with a favourable bounce before touching down for another Sutton try. But the hosts were rewarded for their battling performance when prop forward Pete Fitzgerald crashed through the visitors defence from fifteen meters for a well-deserved try. Sutton now go on to play their final three games and should complete the formality of gaining promotion. They display a high tempo well organised style of play and should cope with the demands of the higher league. While Walsall, in contrast, will be pleased with several aspects of their performance against the strongest team in the league and will look to develop their home grown talent to make a bid for honours next season.