Left to rue their mistakes in a crucial mid-table match, AFC Uckfield Town fell to defeat in their Boxing Day visit to Lingfield, where the hosts were dominant throughout, but only a single set-piece goal decided the direction of the three points, reports Will Hugall.
Following two league postponements in the previous eight days, Uckfield returned to action including three alterations to the starting line-up that faced Loxwood almost two weeks earlier, as key figures Steve Hickman-Smith, Dee Okojie and Callum Smith slotted back in.
Acclimatising to the early start across the Surrey border, the Uckers had to engage in a rampant opening spell of pressure, where the hosts established pressure from out wide. The Lingers’ top goalscorer, Sammy Clements, was the first to threaten, forcing Regan Smith to clear his shot off the line after Louis Rogers had tipped onto the post.
As Lingfield tightened their grip, an isolated Callum Smith was unable to make an impression, but neither of the home side’s impressive wingers, Naseem James or Lorenzo Lewis, could find their central target.
Regan Smith’s free-kick, curling in from the right wing and forcing home goalkeeper Dan Burnett to make a scrambling save, restored Uckers confidence before the end of the half, but quality was still lacking on both sides as they went in all square.
Thankful for the opportunity to regroup, Uckfield began the second half stronger, and from the restart may have gone ahead as Matt Maclean waltzed into the Lingfield box, but was defied by a well-time tackle.
As well as the Uckers had started, a lapse of concentration in the 49th minute allowed Lingfield to go ahead, in what would become the game’s crucial moment. From a Conor Wilford corner, home midfielder Jamie Bakhit was unmarked while peeling outside of the six-yard box to turn a header behind him, beating Rogers and Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa at the far post.
The Uckers’ resolve did not falter after the finish, as Callum Smith let fly from distance, asking Burnett to tip round his right post, and created some discomfort for Corbin Turner, as the defender had to a clear a cross bound for Maclean.
At the hour mark, the Uckers had what would turn out to be their best opportunity of the match, as Regan Smith’s corner delivery was met by brother Callum to crash onto the crossbar, before the ensuing chaos led to several attempts which the hosts only just survived.
While the Surrey side were content to counter, the chief source of chances for the visitors continued to be set-pieces, with Brett Patton hooking a floated pass into the box for a number of willing runners, but the Uckers again losing the aerial battle.
With the game just approaching the final ten minutes, the Uckers became increasingly desperate, and when reduced to ten men, were faced with an ever more improbable task. After aiming to win possession in an attacking area, a Maclean tackle was met with a red card, leaving the ten men of Uckfield with a final period of few genuine opportunities.
Hoping to return to the form that saw them previously win four consecutive matches, the Uckers face Little Common in league action this Saturday at The Oaks, kicking off at 3PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Moore, 85’), R. Smith, Maddock, Hickman-Smith, Welch (C), Okojie (Loft, 77’), Patton, C. Smith, Maclean, Camara
Unused: Mici, Harper, Hales