AFC Uckfield Town were forced to settle for a point from a pulsating match at East Preston, as leads traded hands through attacking flurries in either half, and the Uckers were pegged back after a sending-off at an unfortunate late stage, reports Will Hugall.
Strengthened after recent injuries and suspensions, manager Anthony Storey’s selection saw three changes for the match as Ryan Welch, captain Richie Welch and Callum Smith were each re-introduced.
An even start in glorious sunshine saw Lucas Pattenden lift a cross just beyond Alex Harris’ far post, and Smith find his range after a six-game absence, losing defender Josh Etherington and firing into goalkeeper George Bentley’s hands.
Tested by direct East Preston play, a newly-formed Uckers defensive partnership were beginning to settle, until a 16th minute opener from the hosts. As wing-back David Beaney arrived in space on the left, his shot from 20 yards darted into the bottom right corner, leaving Harris stranded.
Only four minutes later, decisive play from the hosts was again fruitful as forward Jakob Heryet doubled his side’s lead with an opportune finish into the same corner, reaching a flighted ball into the box before the Uckfield defence could recover.
Against EP’s three-man backline, Uckfield were struggling to impose themselves on the game, and were it not for Harris’ intervention may have been three down before 40 minutes, making a double-save from Jack Barnes and Dan Huet after his defence could not clear a Pattenden shot which came back off the left post. Smith, however, continued to provide energetic running, and struck the second – and final – Uckers shot on target of the half, from distance, to keep Bentley alert.
Having won only once in their previous 13 matches, East Preston were unlikely half-time leaders, and the Uckers attempted to press them from the restart, using the same through-balls to Smith that had shown earlier promise.
In the 51st minute, therefore, the source of an Uckers comeback was far from unlikely, as Smith, after initially firing into defender Tom Lyne from a breakaway, arrived centrally to turn past Bentley – securing his 30th goal of the season in the process.
Six minutes later, and in the predatory mood that has sustained such scoring prowess, Smith had his second in quick succession, out muscling Lyne to reach a direct pass, and thrashing past Bentley with a finish cannoned in off the crossbar.
Just after the hour mark, Uckfield had completed a stunning turnaround to lead, as Ryan Welch timed his run from a free-kick perfectly, meeting the delivery from an unmarked position to tuck in a right-footed finish.
The Uckfield attack finally abated afterwards, and EP took the opportunity to regroup before the Uckers’ hopes soon took a major blow.
With the ball out for a home corner after 72 minutes, defender Emerson Guimaraes was sent off by referee Ian Moore for dissent, and only two minutes later, an equaliser arrived. As another corner was floated in and hooked back from the far post, EP midfielder Lewis Jenkins thrashed in from six yards, and set up an opportunity for his side to win the game.
As the hosts threw everything at a winner, striker Dan Huet would be frustrated by a Harris save, and minutes later a block from Cameron Williams. From the resulting set-piece scramble, Etherington would also be denied by a Richie Welch block, and as the Uckers held off further attacks, both sides would finish with a point.
Remaining in 8th position, the Uckers return home this upcoming Tuesday as they face Saltdean United in a rearranged match, kicking off at 7:45PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Harris, Williams, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Guimaraes, Ryan Welch, Richie Welch (C), Mici (R. Smith, 57’), Patton, C. Smith, Maclean, Camara
Unused: Hales, Creese, Loft, Storey