In a Peter Bentley Cup Semi-Final where momentum repeatedly changed hands, AFC Uckfield Town capitalised on their chances better than opponents Horsham YMCA, and after a searing early second-half performance held on for their place in the Final, reports Will Hugall.
With one change to the side that raced to a 6-1 win over Broadbridge Heath the previous weekend, Regan Smith regained his place in a full-strength Uckers side.
2018’s losing finalists in the competition, Horsham were more at ease in the early stages, and asked questions of Uckers marking as Alex Barbary and Tony Nwachukwu came close.
Although struggling to settle, Uckfield could have been ahead within 15 minutes, as Callum Smith’s pressure forced a loose pass in the YMCA box, and Matt Maclean’s shot lacked the power to beat a recovering defence.
Steve Hickman-Smith was twice on hand with smart tackles to prevent YM’s Dean Bown from adding to his 21 goals before the half hour mark, clearing after goalkeeper Louis Rogers had parried, and denying an opportunity to turn and shoot.
While the Uckers were beginning to threaten themselves, a 33rd minute opener came from the strangest of circumstances. After Regan Smith won possession in the Horsham half, Bailo Camara’s cross from the left of the box was met with a smart near-post header, for which YM defender Ollie Gill was responsible for turning past his own goalkeeper.
The Uckers lead lasted only five minutes, however, as a free-kick in their own half was cleared only to the edge of the box, and a second ball met Bown, who made no mistake in dispatching past Rogers.
Before half-time, the Uckers could have again been ahead, as Callum Smith scuffed a shot from Richie Welch’s quick-thinking cross, and Nwachukwu was slightly fortunate not to be penalised for a handball in his own box.
Their cause led by Camara, the Uckers began the second-half much the stronger side, and took only 90 seconds to shoot ahead. Squeezing in a shot from the edge of the D, Camara got Aaron Jeal scrambling and found a perfect angle as the ball nicked in off the right post and trickled over the line.
Searching for a quick-fire third goal, the Uckers came close as Dan Carden cleared Callum Smith’s shot in front of Jeal, and Maclean’s header was possibly blocked by Hunt’s arm from a corner.
Tayler Maddock was alert to head a lob off the Uckers line in the midst of their dominance, which continued as wingers Dee Okojie and Camara terrorised their full-backs, and centre-backs Hickman-Smith and Maddock both gave Jeal scares with attempts from a corner.
After waiting so patiently for their third, it was fitting that in the 67th minute, Uckfield achieved it in some style. Faster to a loose ball in midfield, Okojie struck a perfectly weighted pass for Callum Smith to nick around Guy Harding, leaving the defender for dead and thrashing a finish with his second touch past a stunned Jeal, as the finish rippled ferociously into the top-right corner.
Although Jack Frankland was flagged offside whilst stabbing home a YMCA free-kick, the tie’s home side would not wait long for a lifeline, as in the 74th minute another free-kick from the right met the head of Bown to beat Rogers.
While Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa had to avert a Nwachukwu cross before a YM player could lash home, few other chances threatened the safety of the Uckfield net, and a valiant performance until the final whistle ensured the Uckers held onto their place in May’s Final, to face Saltdean United.
Final score 3-2 to AFC Uckfield Town.
Facing another stern prospect this Saturday, the Uckers travel to league leaders Chichester City, kicking off at 3PM at the Countrywide Gas Stadium.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Cooper, R. Smith, Hickman-Smith (Mici, 75’), Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Patton (Mici, 66’), C. Smith (Tomlin, 83’), Maclean (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 68’), Camara
Unused: Ryan Welch, Cormack