On an afternoon where an early kick-off and challenging conditions underfoot affected both sides, AFC Uckfield Town managed the circumstances better than opponents Eastbourne United as Matt Maclean’s first-half hat-trick and a well-deserved late fourth goal saw them extend a winning run, reports Will Hugall.
After impressing with a second-half rout to beat Arundel 7-2 in their previous match, Anthony Storey’s Uckers were unchanged for the third time all season, aiming to achieve four consecutive victories for the third time in all competitions this season.
Issues affecting The Oaks’ floodlights had resulted in a 2PM kick-off, but the Uckers were quick to adapt to both the time change and a soft surface, taking a lead in just the 4th minute. After a United set-piece was cleared to midfield, Dee Okojie seized on a loose pass from on-loan Lewes defender Alfie Headland and swept left to Matt Maclean, who tucked past Jordan Hawkins with his second attempt.
The Uckers had the better of chances soon after, as a cross from Okojie just evaded Ellis Cormack’s far-post lunge, and Bailo Camara shot just wide after seizing on suspect distribution, but by the 22nd minute, an error on their own part allowed United to equalise. As Harry Ducatel lifted a pass into striker Sam Schaaf, Tayler Maddock’s attempt to head clear could only flick the ball on, and a side-footed Schaaf finish beat Louis Rogers.
After falling quiet for the minutes after the goal, the Uckers entered back into the lead, 35 minutes in, with a statement of intent. In a positive move led by Okojie, a creative chipped pass to the right found Cormack, who won a header against Ducatel and set up Maclean, who reacted fastest to tap in.
With his second strike, Maclean had his 20th goal in all competitions this season – and taken the Uckers beyond their tally for the entire 2017/18 league season – but was not done there, sealing his hat-trick in the 42nd minute. From a Smith corner, the striker was able to leap for a free header, and flicked backwards into the top left corner to put the Uckers into a comfortable half-time lead.
From the first move after the restart, as Hawkins leaked possession with a short kick, and just before firing at the open goal Camara was closed down, the Uckers took control of the second period, and did not look back.
As both Uckfield wingers found joy against their full-backs, the best of several opportunities included Camara’s pull-back, which fell just behind three Uckers runners, and Okojie’s fine 64th minute run from the right, side-stepping two United defenders and leaving Hawkins rooted with a rolled shot, only to be denied by the right upright.
Struggling for momentum even while the Uckers began to relax, a belated flurry from United was abruptly ended after Dylan Gifford won a free-kick, rushing his shot as the set-piece was taken short.
The Uckers required little further motivation to curtail their opponents’ hopes, and after Gianfranco Mici had looked likely to seal victory, it was fellow substitute Sam Cooper, shifted forward from right-back, who ran onto a pass over the exposed United defence and, rather than squaring to Camara, tucked under Hawkins into the bottom right corner in the 86th minute.
Floodlights depending, the Uckers hope to welcome title challengers Newhaven FC to The Oaks this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:45PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Cooper, 72’), R. Smith, Maddock, Hickman-Smith, Richie Welch (C), Okojie (Ryan Welch, 85’), Patton, Maclean (Mici, 78’), Cormack, Camara
Unused: Astle, Moore
Images by Mike Skinner