Avoiding an upset, AFC Uckfield Town dominated for large spells and deservedly came out 3-1 winners in their Peter Bentley Cup 2nd Round tie against AFC Varndeanians, who provided stubborn resistance until a threat of extra-time was snuffed out, reports Will Hugall.
At times lacking the intensity of other cup ties the two clubs had been involved in this season, an early goal for each side seemed to be the sum of several half-chances for a long spell in the match until, with far the better of the second half, the Uckers struck twice in the late stages to progress.
Both teams started confidently, but it was Regan Smith with the first genuine chance as he curled a free kick to goalkeeper Tom Bradford’s left, before the first goal of the afternoon soon followed.
That opener came in the 10th minute, as Matt Maclean won a corner with a shot from the right of the box and Smith delivered to the far of the six-yard box, with Liam Baitup arriving to fire a bullet header in and have the effort ruled to have crossed the line.
In the 15th minute, however, Sam Cooper was penalised at the other end for holding Matt Ford as the striker wriggled free to win a penalty, and Josh Gould dispatched centrally, although Phil Hawkins got a touch with his trailing leg.
The next flurry of chances belonged entirely to Uckfield, as Tyler Pearson – one of four players brought in as Anthony Storey rotated his squad – struck tamely at Bradford when free on the right, Baitup had a close-range stab saved when Maclean squared, and Tigana Quebé twice lifted just over when cutting in from the left.
Although the half fizzled out somewhat after that, a handful of promising strikes followed from the Uckers, as in one move Quebé had two shots saved, Dee Okojie fizzed a shot just too high across goal, and in added time both Smith and Quebé drove inches wide when looking for an angle inside the far post.
Even with the benefit of the break, Varndeanians were unable to kick-start their patient build-up play in the second half, and after Ellis Cormack’s introduction the Uckers began to dominate the midfield, with Cormack himself blasting just wide from distance as he entered.
The change freed up Quebé on the left, and the winger demonstrated his quality as comfortably the standout player for the rest of the match, beginning by latching onto a through ball from Cormack and finding Maclean, who lifted over.
Assists could, and possibly should, have come for Quebé as balls played to Cormack and Okojie both resulted in shots lacking control, before the winger followed with a cross to Bailo Camara and, most promisingly, a move that saw him beat three V’s defenders and launch a pass square to Maclean, who was unable to get clean contact with the goal gaping.
While extra-time appeared inevitable, in the 85th minute Baitup suddenly broke through to force a save from Bradford, and the loose ball was worked out to Quebé. Driving inside, the winger’s trailing leg was kicked by Jack Hayward and a penalty awarded; Camara drilled into the bottom left corner to put the Uckers ahead.
Introduced after the goal, Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa stretched the V’s defence as they made late attempts to equalise, and though the penalty he won in the 90th minute was put wide by Camara, in the 93rd minute he got on the scoresheet himself, starting an attack and stroking into the bottom right corner after Quebé’s attempt to lob Bradford rebounded off the crossbar.
With progression to the 3rd Round handing them a home tie against Little Common in the coming weeks, another date for Uckers fans’ diaries came after the game, as the 1st Round draw in the Sussex Senior Cup handed them a trip to SCFL Premier leaders Eastbourne Town (week starting 30th September).
The team’s next action will be back in the league, however, as they welcome Saltdean United to The Oaks next Saturday (Kick-off 3 p.m.), aiming to avenge a defeat in the same fixture last season.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Cooper, Smith, Loft, Baitup (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 88’), Richie Welch (C) Okojie, Maclean (Sabino, 90+2’), Pearson (Cormack, 55’), Quebé, Camara
Unused: Ryan Welch, James