For the fifth consecutive time in eight seasons, AFC Uckfield Town were unable to beat East Preston on the road as the mistakes of the past again returned to haunt them, letting a 1-0 lead slip with 15 minutes left but surviving getting off worse thanks to Phil Hawkins’ second-half penalty save, reports Will Hugall.
With the hosts building into their best run of the season but still struggling in the table, the Uckers would’ve been expected to grind out an eighth straight recent win, but on an afternoon of high drama their hosts impressed, and with an impressive second-half performance ensured their share of the spoils.
Arriving at the Lashmar for their first game in eleven days, the Uckers were understandably slower to get going, and it was the hosts who threatened more early on, with one testing effort headed behind by Tayler Maddock.
As the contest became more equal, the Uckers capitalised on a first genuine chance in the 17th minute to go 1-0 up, pouncing on an error in the hosts’ half in a clinical attacking move and working the ball into captain Matt Maclean, who slotted in.
With their record as the SCFL Premier’s leakiest defence this season, the hosts may have been expected to fold after the goal and allow the Uckers to build on that foundation.
Able to keep things tight for the rest of the half, however, EP restricted Anthony Storey’s side to few genuine opportunities other than an added time volley from Liam Baitup, which prompted a good save from Lewis Boughton.
The break appeared to benefit both sides, and a renewed attacking intent was particularly evident both as Bailo Camara forced Boughton into a crucial early save and Baitup was denied by a defensive block with a shot from inside the box.
With tensions rising the longer the lead remained a narrow one, on the hour mark a potentially decisive moment saw Storey, playing in midfield, handed a ten-minute sin bin by referee Daniel Cooper, and the Uckers temporarily down to ten men.
Despite surviving that period, the Uckers would eventually be punished for such indiscipline even with eleven men on the pitch, as the hosts pegged them back in the 75th minute through Chris Darwin’s corner, headed in by Howard Neighbour.
With the points in the balance, both teams went on the offensive in search of a winner, but it was the hosts who had momentum in their favour.
With the Uckers defence under pressure, they caved in the 81st minute; EP breaking through and set to beat Hawkins before Sam Cooper’s late challenge instead gave up a penalty. Up stepped Neighbour, but Hawkins guessed correctly with a dive to his left to preserve parity.
A chance for either side to win still remained, but both defences remained resolute to defy the series of attacks at each end, and despite the hosts having goalkeeper Boughton also sin-binned in added time, the match finished level for a point apiece.
While the Uckers move up one place to 13th in the SCFL Premier, they will be keen to return to winning ways in their next outing, as this Tuesday they head to Hassocks for the first of three rearranged league games, kicking off at 7:45 p.m.
After the game, the draw was also made for the Sussex Senior Cup 3rd Round, and the Uckers were drawn away to National League South side Eastbourne Borough for what is sure to be a memorable tie, scheduled to be played on or before Wednesday 4 December.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Cooper, McGuigan, Maddock, Storey (Pearson, 76’), Okojie, Maclean, Baitup, Cormack, Camara
Unused: Ryan Welch, Loft, Creese
Credit to Graham Sullivan / @AfcUckfieldTown Twitter for the basis of this report.
All Images (c) Mike Skinner