Sutton & Epsom coach Jeff Parsons has an injury list as long as his arm and it is denting his hopes for automatic promotion.
After last weekend’s 16-10 defeat at home to leaders Chobham, second-placed Sutton are three points adrift, having been eight points clear at the turn of the year.
Matt Whittacker went over for Sutton’s sole try at Cuddington Court, and Frankie Murray completed the scoring with the boot.
With seven London Division Two South West games remaining, only the leaders are promoted automatically, while the runners-up face a play-off against the runners-up of Division Two South East.
Parsons is adamant his current crop of players can keep on Chobham’s tail should they drop points, but he is without a long list of seasoned starters including Pete Matthews, Ian Knott, Andy Nichols, Austin Sheppard, Adam Blissett and Paul Parker.
Most noticeably, Parsons has been without his leading try-scorer Mike Cartledge for about six weeks.
Parsons said: “Injuries are something that every club has to deal with the inconsistency of squad selection is frustrating us.
“We did get Sam Hurley back for the Chobham game, but he had only just recovered from a knee operation and we were throwing him in at the deep end.
“We’ve missed Mike’s tries, but the players who have come in are doing a great job. We are still second, and we just need to stay there and hope other teams can take points off Chobham.”
Sutton have scored only 69 points in the past five games, compared with 103 in the five games before that – but according to Parsons that is not down to Cartledge’s absence alone.
“It is all about adapting to the conditions. Playing on hard grounds means you can move the ball much better, which suits our style,” he said.
“But when the ground is soggy and the ball is wet and slippery, it is a real test and the flowing rugby disappears.
“When we beat Camberley by 70-odd points in September, I said at the time that when the conditions change and we go to their place it will be a tough game, which is exactly what it was and we drew.”
Sutton also beat Chobham earlier in the season, but it was not necessarily the conditions that denied Parsons’ men in a close encounter.
“Chobham have improved massively since the start of the season. They have a whole new front row which is much bigger than before, and they have a much-improved second row,” Parsons said.
“Their player/coach is also a very handy number 12 – I think he has played for Rosslyn Park at National League One level, so it is not surprising.”
He added: “But it was a close game. They dominated for 40 minutes and looked in total control but we came out fired up in the second half and it was only a couple of penalties that denied us in the end.
“I think both teams could equally suggest that they could have won on the day.”
Sutton’s next two games could define their season as they travel to second-from-bottom KCS Old Boys this weekend, before hosting third-from-bottom Old Alleynians the weekend after.
Parsons said: “Realistically, if we want to get promotion we need to win both games but we lost to both teams earlier in the year and we won’t be taking them for granted.
“I know we’re expected to win, but this league is tough and on their day, anyone can beat anyone else.”