In an FA Cup Preliminary Round tie that looked never-ending, AFC Uckfield Town ran Isthmian League outfit VCD Athletic all the way over the 120 minutes of a captivating replay finishing 1-1, but, in heart-breaking circumstances, would go out on the finest of margins by losing the decisive penalty shoot-out 5-4, reports Will Hugall.
Containing even greater drama than the initial 3-3 draw played out by the sides ten days earlier, the match could have swung either way as numerous chances came and went. As each side scored four minutes into a half they would go on to control, and neither could break the deadlock in extra-time, however, a solitary miss in the shoot-out was all that could eventually decide a winner.
If there were any expectations for the match to struggle for intensity, they would be in tatters after just four minutes. Delivering the perfect start, the Uckers were ahead as a defensive free-kick was flicked on by Ellis Cormack into Tigana Quebé, and the winger beat full-back Temi Eweka before using a tight angle from the left of the box to fire beyond Tony Coxall into the bottom right corner.
But for Coxall’s intervention, the Uckers could have quickly ran up a two-goal lead just minutes later, as Liam Baitup was first denied after meeting a pinpoint Bailo Camara cross, and Ellis Cormack followed by being foiled twice at the far-post.
As the table began to turn, VCD captain Charlie MacDonald prodded straight at Phil Hawkins, and after Quebé was denied an Uckers penalty amidst handball shouts, the best chance fell to the lively Ayman El-Mogharbel, who caused Hawkins’ post to rattle after driving across the box.
While the Uckers’ gritty tactics to make the Vickers play exclusively out wide and ensure The Oaks felt truly claustrophobic were proving successful, Hawkins still had saves to make from Alastair Gordon and Raphe Brown, and while Matt Maclean lifted over with the last sight of goal in the half, it was the visitors who were becoming the stronger side.
Given time to consider their options, the Vickers would not take long to break down the Uckers defence in the second-half, as in the 49th minute Dominic Odusanya and Gordon combined to beat Dee Okojie, and the former’s cross found Henry Ikeije, who drilled back across goal, drawing a frosty reception from the partisan Sussex crowd.
With the Vickers disrupting the Uckers’ previous approach, a pattern emerged of chances being quickly exchanged as Regan Smith free-kicks led to Baitup heading wide and Tayler Maddock drawing a save, while Smith and Maddock then had to clear on the line as MacDonald teased the defence.
A trio of further MacDonald chances followed, but as Hawkins saved, the striker stumbled and he also conceded a free-kick for an audacious overhead kick, the visitors could not profit.
Through Smith’s set-pieces, the Uckers were still truly alive in the contest, and entering the final few minutes could have edged it, as an outswinging 87th minute corner found Maclean and the home captain stabbed at goal, but Al-Mogharbel cleared on the line to confirm extra-time.
A tense first 15 minutes was dominated mostly by cramp, and though Ogboe lifted over from a corner while Matt Black just missed a Quebé cross before Coxall collected, the deadlock did not look like being broken.
Though MacDonald in the second-half had two further attempts as he dispossessed Hawkins in the first move and dived in to meet Ogboe’s cross, neither of the striker’s efforts deep into the 120 minutes would gain him what he deserved, and the match, after all its intrigue, was consigned to penalties.
Stepping up for the first kick was Camara, and blasting left he looked set to set the Uckers safely on their way. With his shot drifting wide of the post, however, and MacDonald finding the bottom left without fault, a massive hurdle was set.
Though Hawkins came close from Ogboe and Gordon, and Okojie, Maclean, Smith and Quebé all netted, the Uckers’ efforts could not pull off a last upset. The best kick was reserved for final taker Odusanya, and as he found the top left his side were sent through, by the finest of margins.
Everyone involved with AFC Uckfield Town would like to put on record their thanks to VCD Athletic for a superb two matches, and wish them the best of luck in the next round, where they will face Moneyfields FC this Saturday.
While licking their wounds, the Uckers are not back in action until next Tuesday, when they travel to Peacehaven & Telscombe in the SCFL Premier, kicking off at 7:45 p.m.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Okojie, Smith, Sherriff, Maddock, Sabino (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 81’), Baitup (Loft, 83’), Maclean (C), Quebé, Cormack (Black, 58’), Camara
Unused: Pearson, Cooper, Alexander