In a fixture hit by numerous earlier delays, AFC Uckfield Town put in a performance of sustained quality and grabbed two opportune goals to overcome Hassocks, continuing a run that has reduced the gap to those above to just two points, reports Will Hugall.
Having left it late to secure a 1-0 victory over visitors East Preston the previous weekend, Anthony Storey’s side showed two changes for the trip to mid-Sussex, as Tayler Maddock and Ellis Cormack both made returns.
Arriving with one of the best away records in the division, the Uckers had reason to be confident against a team on the back of a four-match winning streak, and during the early stages created discomfort in the Robins backline with sharp passing and a direct approach.
As several previous visitors to The Beacon had found, however, the hosts posed an acute threat on the counter, as captain Phil Johnson met a cross in the six-yard box, with the Uckers scrambling clear.
After Callum Smith responded, latching onto a flowing Uckfield move and blasting just wide of Josh Green’s right upright, counter-attacking opportunities came to dominate the half. Soon after, only Steve Hickman-Smith’s headed intervention prevented Johnson from converting a Liam Benson cross, and Rogers swept up to deny Johnson an opportunity to run straight through.
In the 45th minute, however, the sides were first separated, with the Uckers’ monopoly over possession playing a crucial role. Powering through on the left wing and shrugging off challenges, Bailo Camara’s individual persistence dragged the Uckers to the six-yard box, and to the goal they had waited patiently for; a squared pass handing Dee Okojie the chance to simply roll in.
Attempting to regain parity, the hosts were restricted to very few sights of goal after the restart; James Littlejohn striking their closest chance over the crossbar, curling from right to left.
Strengthening their grip, Uckfield began to capitalise on their height advantage, and Ellis Cormack drew an impressive diving save from Green after meeting a corner from the right.
In the 61st minute, as Cormack was brought down midway through the Robins’ half, a floated free-kick from captain Richie Welch again searched out Uckfield’s aerial prowess, and gained the desired response from Tayler Maddock, who after having an initial header blocked, stabbed home into the bottom left corner.
Despite a series of Hassocks substitutions, the Uckers only pressed their hosts further into the final 20 minutes. Outside-of-the-box shots from both Cormack and Welch threatened to add to the Uckers lead, as the first was clawed wide by Green, and the second thundered just over the crossbar.
Threatening to add gloss to victory, Sam Cooper’s near-spectacular first touch, an overhead kick from an Okojie cross, flashed wide of the post. With the Uckers defence looking assured of a sixth clean sheet from eight league matches, however, in the 93rd minute Louis Rogers was adjudged to have brought down Jake Lindsey in his box, and from the spot was beaten by Johnson’s strike into the bottom right corner.
With just three points separating the Uckers from 8th place, the in-form side return to The Oaks this Saturday when they host Arundel, with a 3PM kick-off.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith, Maddock, Hickman-Smith, Welch (C), Okojie (Astle, 82’), Patton, C. Smith (Cooper, 80’), Cormack, Camara (Harper, 86’)
Unused: Loft, Moore