In a game that neither side would be proud of, AFC Uckfield Town and Saltdean United shared two sin-bins, a sending-off and countless immature fouls as the Tigers came out 2-1 victors, securing themselves a much-needed three points but doing so in a style that won few plaudits, reports Will Hugall.
While both teams initially looked capable of playing attractive football, a quiet first half ended with a contentious opening goal and the match never really recovered, descending into a series of fouls before the Tigers sealed a win late on against the ten-man Uckers.
Lively starters, Saltdean had the better of the opening period as James Waters fired an early shot into Phil Hawkins’ gloves, before fellow winger Billy Barker had two drives both denied.
As the visitors’ attack fizzled out, however, the Uckers took charge as the half progressed, with Liam Baitup striking across goal and debutant Connor French having a shot charged down on the right of the box.
Productive as ever, Tigana Quebé and Bailo Camara were able to break the Saltdean defensive line but were forced to settle for set-pieces, where the Uckers were unable to capitalise.
While French’s debut was curtailed by injury, the Uckers didn’t let the loss phase them, as his replacement Ellis Cormack made an immediate impact by heading inches over from Regan Smith’s corner.
The Tigers struck back in the closing minutes, as Barker fired straight at Hawkins before Laing decisively set Danny Turner away in the 43rd minute, with the winger’s attempted cross striking Smith on the arm, and earning a penalty.
With referee Darren Eaton also sending Camara to the sin bin, Laing struck past Hawkins into the right of the goal, securing a lead they would take into half time after Baitup was unable to control a Quebé pass on the counter.
Seeing out the remaining minutes of Camara’s suspension after the restart, the Uckers blocked out a Laing drive, and when back to eleven men soon began to control proceedings once more.
While Camara forced two positive attempts at goal, a combination of indiscipline and Saltdean’s counter-attacking ability meant the Uckers were unable to maintain their momentum, an issue that became worse as the half continued.
Again limited to set-pieces, the Uckers’ dual threats Mayckol Sabino and Smith would be frustrated, and eventually Anthony Storey would be forced to remove Baitup, who was cut adrift with possession restricted to midfield.
With ten minutes remaining, the Tigers’ Ross Smith would also be questionably sin-binned, and Uckfield poured forward, with Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa hurling himself at the ball in an attempt to win a penalty from Jordan Pryor, while Smith blazed over when Quebé poked through.
Before Saltdean’s Smith could return, Uckfield’s Smith would be expelled in the 88th minute in another moment of indiscipline, an aerial clash with Louis Pittock, and the Uckers’ chances would soon be ended.
A decisive Tigers goal came in the 93rd minute, as Sabino conceded a free kick and the ball was played out to Barker, who beat Okojie on the left and squared to Will Berry. With a second attempt, the midfielder converted, dribbling a shot past Hawkins to the wild celebration of his teammates.
A minute later, Rodrigues-Barbosa restored hope by converting a free kick on the left from Richie Welch, prodding in the bottom left under little pressure, but despite a final push the Uckers succumbed to defeat.
The Uckers drop to 11th for now, but this Tuesday will aim to jump back up the SCFL Premier table by taking advantage of an early game in hand, hosting Horsham YMCA at The Oaks with a 7:30 p.m. kick-off.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Cooper, Smith, Ryan Welch, Baitup (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 79’), Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean (Sabino, 63’), French (Cormack, 39’), Quebé, Camara
Unused: Pearson, Mici
Story Will Hugall
Images Mike Skinner