AFC Uckfield Town achieved a record-breaking victory in the FA Vase First Round at Tunbridge Wells, as quick-fire second-half strikes from Dee Okojie and Sam Cooper broke a long-standing deadlock, reports Will Hugall.
Feeling the benefit of only their second inactive midweek this season, the Uckers returned to action after a 2-2 league draw at Saltdean United with two changes made; Calum Sherriff and Dee Okojie replacing Anthony Storey and suspended captain Richie Welch.
Just two minutes in, the hosts could have capitalised on early Uckfield nerves, as Bailo Camara was caught in possession, and Louis Rogers smothered Josh Biddlecombe’s approach from the right.
Perhaps intimidated by such a threat, neither side took up the attacking gauntlet in a cagey half, which was also curtailed as the match officials asserted control.
Despite a lack of fluency, the Uckers worked the better chances overall, as Matt Maclean passed over a shooting opportunity before running into danger, and Cooper’s tame drive into goalkeeper Cameron Hall’s hands represented a first shot on target.
Rogers remained largely untroubled throughout this phase, as drifting target man Brandon Diau’s height represented the only dimension of Wells’ attack.
Ultimately, the best chance of the half came from a late Uckers corner won on the right-wing, and swung in from Regan Smith to Ellis Cormack, as the midfielder powered a header wide of goal.
Taking advantage of a slow Wells restart, the much-improved Uckers struck first through Cooper, who shot a curling effort to the right of goal, where Hall tipped onto his post.
Beyond the hour mark, Uckfield application forced increasingly desperate defending from Jason Bourne’s side, and amidst Diau’s fruitless role on the Wells wing, the Uckers’ monopoly of chances became more noticeable.
While substitute Jared Trespaderne appeared capable of providing a much-needed home cutting-edge, in the 77th minute, an incisive Uckers counter overturned building hopes. After Camara was tackled in midfield, a quick throw-in saw Temba square to Maclean, who struck with such force that Hall could only parry, allowing Okojie to sweep in from two yards.
Recognising the need for further distance from their opponents, Storey’s side produced a second attacking wave, and in the 81st minute sealed victory through a Cooper winner, as the makeshift striker exchanged possession with Temba and met the latter’s first time pass to poke home.
After the final whistle, Anthony Storey reflected on the club’s first ever progression to the Second Round. “I’m just delighted – again, it’s a really important win for the club. In the first half there was nothing between the sides, but I thought we were exceptional in the second half, and we showed the quality we have.
“All we have to do is keep going. With our other cup runs, we’re certainly heading in the right direction.”
Goalscorer Dee Okojie echoed his manager’s words. “I’ve been working hard this season to get back to full fitness, and I’m happy to be helping the team in any way. Obviously the first goal was massively important, so I’m very happy to have scored it.
“It’s a young group we have here, but we push each other to the maximum each game, and it’s paying off. Runs like these help the club go from strength to strength.”
Returning to The Oaks, Uckfield host Loxwood in the Peter Bentley Cup Third Round this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:30PM.
Team: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith, Hickman-Smith (C), Sheriff, Cormack, Okojie, Temba (Norman, 90+5’), Cooper (Storey, 90’), Maclean, Camara
Unused: Ryan Welch, Bartlett, Hales
Image Uckfield FM