In oppressive autumn conditions, Uckfield and Saltdean United fought hard to make headway, and would be satisfied to end equal, despite the former surrendering a two-goal lead in dramatic late stages, reports Will Hugall.
Beginning to rediscover form with a 1-0 Sussex Senior Cup win over Steyning Town, the Uckers made three changes while looking to stop a run of consecutive league defeats; manager Anthony Storey restoring himself, alongside Ellis Cormack and Sam Cooper, for the unavailable Dee Okojie, and suspended Shaun Loft and Callum Smith.
Defying the wind funnelling through Hill Park, Storey himself went closest in the opening struggle, while firing a free kick in, and forcing Nathan Stroomberg to tip wide.
In an isolated move of genuine quality, the Uckers stormed into a lead after 24 minutes, with possession flowing and fed into Bright Temba, who flicked a lay-off to Bailo Camara, only for the unmarked winger to return, and allow Temba to poke home.
This clinical glimpse aside, play was understandably sloppy, as neither side was capable of overcoming the divot-ridden pitch and strong headwind to complete serious threat.
As the half progressed, the Uckers repelled Saltdean’s in-form offence with some semblance of comfort but did surrender one Tigers parting shot before the close, as Josh Marshall swirled a free kick in from the left, whistling over Louis Rogers’ bar.
With the hosts using the prevailing wind to their advantage, the second half began with clear intent as Curtis Gaylor’s crossed set piece forced Rogers to punch onto his crossbar.
Saltdean’s attacking outlook had its misgivings, when allowing the Uckers to counter; Temba fired into Stroomberg in a quick break, and Camara was denied with possibly too much time to approach a Temba cross.
Although a Gaylor free kick prised a showreel save from Rogers – the ‘keeper diving sharply to his right – the Tigers’ open play struggles continued, and, in the 67th minute, were ruthlessly punished. As a Storey free kick was recycled to the right, Maclean squared to find Ellis Cormack, and the young Uckers midfielder lifted a first-time shot beyond Stroomberg.
Seeing little to lose, home substitutions brought an onslaught, and made the Uckers’ defensive footing increasingly unstable. By the time of the 80th minute, the Tigers would profit from their persistence, as Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa made a desperate clearance from a Josh Street cross, and Luc Doherty followed up to loop a header over everyone, including Rogers, and halve the deficit.
Following the disruption of expulsions for two members of the Saltdean management staff, the final minutes were dominated by the hosts. Their eventual equaliser, therefore, was highly pre-empted, as captain Ash Jones slotted home through a number of Uckers bodies to mass added time relief.
In their first ever FA Vase First Round appearance, the Uckers travel to face Tunbridge Wells FC next Saturday, with a 3PM kick-off at the Culverden Stadium. A preview of the game will follow in the coming week.
Line-up: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith, Hickman-Smith, Richie Welch (C), Cormack, Temba, Storey, Cooper, Maclean, Camara. Unused: Norman, Ryan Welch, Hales, Sherriff, Creese