For the second consecutive year, AFC Uckfield Town booked their spot in the SCFA RUR Cup Quarter-Finals, but in a 4-3 win at Broadbridge Heath did not have everything their own way, with a 4-1 lead almost being cancelled out by a late Bears rally, reports Will Hugall.
Only three days after the sides met in a 1-0 Uckers win, the scoreline may suggest both sides throwing the shackles off, but in a game of generally good defending, it was a series of ruthless finishes that instead saw a goal-packed contest and secured the Uckers’ progress.
Clearly intent to pick up exactly where they left off, Anthony Storey’s men started with plenty of energy in West Sussex, and as Bailo Camara drove in powerfully from the left, in just the 4th minute unlocked the home defence and took the lead, with Camara’s offload finding Matt Maclean to stab past Mitchell Bromage.
After Camara had a similar opportunity from Dee Okojie’s cross only minutes later but shot over, the Bears began to inject some energy of their own, and in the 12th minute drew level; Tim Cook’s threat from the right proving decisive as he squared to Jamie Taylor, who dragged a finish in off the base of the left post.
Momentum traded hands as both sides began to show their quality, and after the Uckers had a superb chance with Okojie finding Baitup with a cross to the far post, the Bears were similarly frustrated as Renato Carvalho squared to Taylor in the box but Regan Smith blocked.
A tight half would turn on a 31st-minute goal, however, and it was the Uckers who were rewarded from the penalty spot, with Matt Maclean battling superbly before being impeded by Kyle Sim and Baitup smashing into the bottom right corner, beating Bromage’s dive.
With the Bears’ chances to equalise again passing as Cook and Taylor missed, the Uckers capitalised by bagging a crucial third in the 42nd minute, with Okojie beating Cameron White and swinging in a cross to Smith, whose far-post effort struck the post and appeared to bounce in off Cook.
Now needing a quick start to the second half, the hosts struggled to make an impact and were punished. In the 55th minute, the Uckers scored again to put themselves in a comfortable position as Bromage tipped a cross from Okojie round his post, but from the resulting corner spilt to Baitup, who showed no mercy by prodding home.
For a long spell, that goal appeared to severely demoralise the hosts, and aside from a free-kick which beat Phil Hawkins but was cleared in the six-yard box by Ryan Welch, the Uckers dominated, with Ellis Cormack unfortunate on three separate occasions not to add to the lead.
As the odds seemed to shorten for the hosts, they responded with a discordant shock, narrowing the deficit to two in the 76th minute, with Jamie Wanstall allowed to progress through midfield and fire a shot on target which beat Hawkins with a touch off of Sam Cooper’s outstretched boot.
What followed just four minutes later, almost unbelievably, was a third goal bringing the Bears right back into contention, as substitute Jake Hull took the ball down, and from 25 yards out on the left proceeded to unleash a rocket of a drive, crashing in off the right post and beating Hawkins.
With the Bears even shocking themselves, a game suddenly developed, but it was the Uckers who kept their heads to create the better chances of a frantic final ten minutes, with Richie Welch leading a two-on-one but being foiled by Bromage, and a loose touch denying Baitup his chance of a hat-trick before the final whistle went.
In the competition’s Quarter-Finals, the Uckers now await the winners of a later tie between Eastbourne United and Southwick; travelling to either side around the date of December’s General Election as they search for their own mandate for a Semi-Final place.
For now, Storey’s team can turn their attentions to a huge tie in the FA Vase Second Round this Saturday, as they travel to Walthamstow FC in their first involvement in the competition this season. A full preview for that match is set to be released soon.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Smith, Cooper, Ryan Welch, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean, Baitup, Cormack (Scott, 74’), Camara
Unused: Pearson, Storey, Kosia, Loft