Returning to Peacehaven & Telscombe for the second time in less than a fortnight, AFC Uckfield Town were again left empty-handed in a 3-1 league defeat as a strong second-half performance after equalising was ended with a contentious penalty decision, reports Will Hugall.
Three changes to the line-up that started in a 4-2 win against Lancing a week earlier included two debutants for the Uckers, as goalkeeper Alex Harris and midfielder John Ateko were joined by Craig Norman, while the reshuffle saw captain Richie Welch move to centre-back.
In the fourth meeting of the two sides in 2018-19, Uckfield began the stronger team, as Matt Maclean and Dee Okojie both broke in behind the Tye defence, but the former was caught offside while the latter was stopped smartly by goalkeeper Alieu Secka.
The hosts’ first genuine attempt, however, proved to be the opener in the 13th minute, as left-back Jack McDonnell found space behind Norman and crossed into the box, spreading chaos before Curtis Ford finally applied the decisive touch into the bottom left corner.
While Gianfranco Mici struck over the bar on the counter, the Uckers’ immediate response was slow, as Harris’ defence did just enough to survive pressure from Tye wingers Tyler Scrafton and Callum Hart, and Harris himself made a crucial double-save to deny Ford and Jonathan Gbla from a free-kick.
Missing several key players, the Uckers struggled to impose themselves, lacking much action of note around Secka’s box. In the late stages of the half, frustration spilled over as Ateko was booked for a push on home captain Reilly Grant, although both teams were culpable of raising tensions.
Mindful of the need for leadership, manager Anthony Storey introduced himself as the second half began, and the Uckers’ spirit was soon lifted. After sustaining pressure on the Tye backline, in the 58th minute an equaliser finally arrived, as Storey made Secka spill a free-kick from the right of the box, Regan Smith drove a rebound back in, and Ryan Welch struck home from close range into the roof of the net.
The Uckers took initiative from the goal, and, sharper than they had been all afternoon, began to seek openings in the Peacehaven rearguard. The hosts were content to counter, however, and as Gus Burton made haste in the 66th minute, the forward felt compelled to go down under the slightest of touches from Richie Welch, drawing a scarcely believable spot-kick, from which Jake Brocklebank converted to restore the home advantage.
With the decision handing momentum to the hosts, Burton was refused a second penalty after collapsing on the edge of the Uckfield box, and with several dangerous challenges going unpunished, in the 76th minute Peacehaven had a match-winning third. As both sides pleaded for fouls in the Tye half, Josh Marshall profited from a slip from lone defender Richie Welch, and rather than squaring to Burton, let fly from 18 yards, with his finish arcing past Harris.
Fraying tempers distracted from any hopes of a comeback, and the closing stages offered little for either side as the hosts narrowed the gap between the two to five points, as the Uckers drop to 8th.
Returning next Saturday, the Uckers prepare to welcome 5th-placed Saltdean United to The Oaks, kicking off at 3PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Harris, Norman, Smith, Richie Welch (C), Ryan Welch, Ateko (Storey, 49’), Okojie, Patton, Maclean, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Mici (Samways, 84’)
Unused: Hales, Creese, Langley-Fineing
All Images by Mike Skinner