It is a sign of the continued improvement in Southport’s level of performance that, even on the day that they moved off the bottom of the Vanarama National League, the overriding feeling was one of disappointment.
Seven days after progressing into the first round of the Emirates FA Cup, the Sandgrounders moved upwards in the table for the first time since August, though the general consensus was that one point should have been three.
This was as commanding a performance as Southport have managed this season, but despite controlling large parts of the game against Sutton United, they were thwarted by a combination of wasteful finishing and the saves of Ross Worner, the visiting goalkeeper.
Sutton earned a draw midway through the second half thanks to the award of two penalties in the space 55 seconds but, by that stage, the Sandgrounders should have been out of sight.
Whether Southport can transfer their promise into points remains to be seen, but Steve Burr and his newly-shaped team are certainly offering cause for encouragement.
So far this season, the Sandgrounders’ problem has been creating chances. Having now shown they can do that – Burr’s team peppered the Sutton goal with 18 shots – their task is to convert them.
For only the second time this campaign, Southport named the same starting line-up for consecutive matches, and after more than two months of upheaval, they are at last starting to resemble a team.
And a team capable of playing good football at that. Andrai Jones gave the Sandgrounders the lead eight minutes before half-time, applying the finishing touch to a neatly-crafted goal.
Josh Thompson played a measured pass out of defence to Neil Ashton, who galloped down the left before cutting inside Kevin Amankwaah.
The Southport full-back delivered a cross to the centre of the penalty area, where Jones took a touch before sending a good shot past Worner.
The Sandgrounders’ play during the first half was well-controlled and much of their good work went through the ever-willing Jamie Allen.
On 20 minutes, he turned Dean Beckwith, the Sutton defender, after excellent individual work, before playing a cross-field pass to Jones, one of three spare Southport players.
Allen’s industry, however, was let down by Jones’ profligacy, as he screwed his effort badly wide when through on goal.
Ross Stearn had seen his shot cannon against the Southport crossbar midway through the half and the visitors drew level on 58 minutes with their second penalty award in quick succession.
Goalkeeper Magnus Norman made a splendid save to keep out a spot-kick from Nicky Bailey after Ashton had tangled with Stearn.
But from the resulting corner, Nathan Ferguson was contentiously judged to have handled the ball, allowing Jamie Collins to convert from 12 yards.
With chances for Allen and Liam Nolan, Southport should already have had the points in the bag and goalkeeper Worner was the cause of further frustration for the home team, saving twice from Ryan Higgins before making a superb reflex stop from Jones in added time.
Southport (4-4-2): Norman, Higgins, Howe, Thompson, Ashton, Lussey, Nolan, Weeks (Caton 76), Ferguson (Hynes 72), Allen (Grimes 79), A Jones.
Subs not used: Cofie, Gray.
Sutton United (4-4-2): Worner, Amankwaah, Beckwith, Collins, McLennan (Haunstrup 62), Hudson-Odoi (Dundas 46), Gomis, Bailey, Stearn, McAllister, Biamou (Dickson 46).
Subs not used: Fitchett, Shaw.
Referee: Anthony Backhouse