In a 100-mile midweek round trip to Pagham, a resilient AFC Uckfield Town team were rewarded for their tireless efforts with a place in the Sussex RUR Cup Semi-Finals after a 2-1 victory in torrid conditions, reports Will Hugall.
Heading into the tie not only looking to make further cup history in an outstanding season, Anthony Storey’s Uckers were also searching for a sixth consecutive win, and made three changes from their weekend visit to Langney, as Sam Cooper, Gianfranco Mici and Callum Smith all returned.
Although they had to weather an early storm of crosses into Pagham’s front two of Howard Neighbour and Andy Chick, it did not take long for the Uckers to find their stride in West Sussex, as Brett Patton struck just over the crossbar from 20 yards.
With a place in the competition’s final three at stake – Haywards Heath having already progressed through their semi-final – neither side eased off, and as the hosts protested handball against Regan Smith’s diving block to deny Chick, the Uckers were frustrated to have Callum Smith called offside after a move from Dee Okojie and Matt Maclean.
In the 29th minute, Okojie and Smith would leave no room for error, as they unlocked a Pagham defence with the second-best record in the SCFL Premier. Catching the Lions off-guard, Okojie’s early floated pass from the right gave space for Smith to beat his marker before guiding a finish past James Binfield, the striker’s 25th goal of the season.
Before the half’s end, the Uckers may have extended their lead as Mici’s shot from a by-line Smith pass struck a defender, Smith drew a strong hand from Binfield, and Okojie almost provided a finish to a deflected Patton shot. As Neighbour failed to convert a headed opportunity from a right-wing cross, however, the Uckers rode their luck on occasions, and knew they had to do more to guarantee progression.
So this proved when, after the break, the hosts managed to equalise. With a 56th minute free-kick, substitute Dan Simmonds lifted over the Uckers wall and left Louis Rogers stricken, an easy chance conceded after Uckfield should have capitalised through Patton’s shot on an open goal – struck into Maclean – and the pressure forcing defender Ryan Davidson into last-ditch tackles earlier in the half.
Undeterred and even inspired, the Uckers placed a stranglehold on any further Pagham pressure, and in the 66th minute were back in front. Turning defence into attack with an interception and pinpoint pass upfield, Steve Hickman-Smith found Okojie, whose pressure on a backtracking Davidson forced an opening exploited with a lay-off to Smith, who lashed home from close range.
Home resistance was foiled by Rogers immediately after, as two threatening shots by Simmonds resulted in full-stretch stops, and from here, non-stop Uckfield running ensured they kept full control. Bailo Camara crossing to an unmarked Okojie, Patton slipping with the goal at his mercy, and Smith looking to complete his hat-trick with a premature shot on the counter before firing inches wide in the final move, the final scoreline ultimately did an emphatic Uckers an injustice.
Before the scheduling of their Semi-Final tie against Peacehaven & Telscombe, the Uckers will host Crawley Down Gatwick this Saturday – weather permitting – with a 3PM kick-off.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Cooper, R. Smith (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 46’), Hickman-Smith, Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Patton, C. Smith, Maclean (Camara, 74’), Mici (Ryan Welch, 85’)