AFC Uckfield Town will take VCD Athletic back to The Oaks for an FA Cup Preliminary Round replay after snatching a 3-3 draw from what appeared to be the jaws of defeat, rescuing themselves from a 3-1 deficit with a spirited comeback at the end of a match which threatened a real upset at times, reports Will Hugall.
The Uckers were the stronger side in the first half in Crayford but were pegged back by a penalty, and looked to be out of the game when their Isthmian League opponents blasted in two quick-fire goals, only for Taylor Maddock and Bailo Camara to score dramatically for a well-deserved draw.
An experimental Uckfield line-up began strongly in Bexley, with Tigana Quebé, making his first start of the season, going closest as he almost met a Mayckol Sabino throw deep into the VCD box.
As the home side finally got on the ball, a chance from a rebounded free-kick fell to midfielder Ryan Steventon, who struck over the crossbar from a promising position.
With the Uckers’ early control seeming to ebb away, Liam Baitup opted to make his next chance a decisive one. Lining up a shot from 25 yards, the striker judged distance and power perfectly, beating goalkeeper Tony Coxall with a rasping 33rd-minute finish into the top left corner.
While Quebé went close with a similar effort, and then stung Coxall’s gloves with a thunderous attempt inside the box, the Uckers would be culpable of defensive disorganisation, forcing them to go in level at half-time. With Sabino caught on the wrong side of the defence in the 43rd minute, he brought down winger Kelvin Ogboe, who drilled the resulting penalty into the bottom-left corner.
Spurred on, the Vickers began the second half in a confident mood and would force themselves ahead in the 51st minute. With Henry Ikejie beating Sabino to the right by-line and lifting a cross over Phil Hawkins, all that was left for Timi Toluwanile to do was head in on the goal line, a task he performed comfortably.
Still targeting the Uckfield left, the hosts would extend their lead to two in the 62nd minute as a mistimed lunge from Sabino felled Ikejie, and for the second time, Ogboe would drive successfully from the spot into the bottom-left corner.
Boss Anthony Storey responded with a triple substitution, and soon the benefits of his decision would become clear, as Tyler Pearson caused Coxall trouble, and in two decisive moments, Regan Smith’s set-piece taking lit up the match.
Firstly, from a corner in the 75th minute, Smith would swing the ball into a troublesome position, and as it eventually squirmed out to Tayler Maddock, the defender’s prod beat a disbelieving Coxall, putting the Uckers right back in contention.
With the hosts’ nerve being tested, in the 78th minute VCD defender Temi Eweka panicked at a Smith free-kick, hauling down Maddock to concede a penalty, before himself having to be stretchered off with concussion. Holding his nerve during the wait, Camara blasted into the left, narrowly beating Coxall’s dive to level the scores after 83 minutes.
The remaining minutes saw chances for both sides to steal a victory, as Ogboe drew a save at Hawkins’ right and Coxall had to rush out of his goal to prevent Quebé having a one-on-one opportunity before ultimately the two sides settled for a replay, a result understandably celebrated far more amongst the travelling Uckers.
With the return fixture set to take place at The Oaks on the evening of Tuesday 3rd September, Uckfield’s next match takes them to Langney Wanderers in the SCFL Premier this Bank Holiday Monday, with an 11 a.m. kick-off at Priory Lane.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Sabino (Smith, 68′), Okojie, Ryan Welch, Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Quebé, Baitup (Maclean, 68′), Black (Pearson, 68′), Cormack, Camara
Unused: Alexander, Loft, James