Uckfield earned a creditable stalemate against a resurgent Shoreham side, but failed to take full advantage of the first of a number of games in hand as they were frustrated by a stubborn home defence on a cold coastal evening, reports Will Hugall.
The Uckers side that exited the FA Vase in a valiant home performance against Windsor the previous Saturday saw three changes for the turnover to league action, with Calum Sherriff, Ellis Cormack and Bailo Camara replaced by Tayler Maddock, Shaun Loft and Matt Astle, who was handed his full debut.
Having secured their first win in ten league matches the previous weekend at Horsham YMCA, the hosts began brightly in new manager Curtis Foster’s first home game, and from the first passage of play threatened through John Rhodie’s 20-yard drive.
Rather than playing through the well-organised Shoreham backline, Uckfield’s best opportunities came from set-pieces, and after 20 minutes Regan Smith’s sumptuous cross to the far post was headed inches wide of the post by the unmarked Maddock.
As the first 45 minutes drew on without much offensive activity, the greatest creativity in the Uckers side came from Astle’s close control and sharp passing, two bright sparks on display in an otherwise uneventful contest.
After the restart, the Musselmen increased their threat as George Olulode’s wide free-kick from the left curled across the face of goal, forcing Louis Rogers to tip over his bar.
The Uckers also moved through the attacking gears, however, and after Shoreham goalkeeper James Broadbent survived Uckfield claims of handling outside his box, goalmouth tension raised through Callum Smith’s slaloming run into the six-yard box, from which he was unable to finish, and Dee Okojie’s far-post run to meet a teasing cross from the left, with his penalty claims ignored.
Two Regan Smith free-kicks kept up the pressure, as a hook over Broadbent’s head – after the goalkeeper’s punch beat Steve Hickman-Smith – was pulled back for a Maddock foul, before Smith sent a rebound whistling over the crossbar himself.
In the 79th minute, the Uckers had the opportunity for which they had been waiting, as Smith intercepted a cross-field ball, and Bailo Camara was set away on the left to beat the previously unyielding Harvey Dunk, before delivering from the edge of the six-yard box. Okojie arrived centrally, but was marginally early to gain a clean connection, giving Broadbent and the Musselmen a reprieve.
The hosts struck back, however, with a potentially match-winning opportunity of their own; a right-wing move that found forward Mike McCormack, whose smart turn took him away from both centre-backs and one-on-one against Rogers, only to see his shot drift just wide of the right upright.
With both sides throwing caution to the wind, the hosts appeared the more likely to grab a winning goal, but for solid individual defending from the Uckers, which ensured a hard-earned point returned to East Sussex.
Hoping to go one better in their search for league points, the Uckers take on mid-table rivals East Preston at The Oaks this Saturday, kicking off at 3PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith, Maddock, Hickman-Smith, Richie Welch (C), Okojie (Mici, 81’), Patton, C. Smith, Loft, Astle (Camara, 57’)
Unused: Cormack, Harper, Ryan Welch