In a close midweek contest where neither side could ever establish full control, AFC Uckfield Town did enough in a hard-working performance to edge out hosts Steyning Town FC and earn a 3-2 win, with a quickfire second-half double salvo crucial to victory, reports Will Hugall.
Despite goals being hard to come by recently for both, the match proved a dramatic encounter, and in its second half particularly wave after wave of dangerous attacks could well have produced a higher score – with only tight defending from Uckfield proving the difference when it mattered most.
Unchanged from their previous outing at Pagham, Anthony Storey’s side began under pressure as former Uckers player Mayckol Sabino drove into the side-netting, and an important defensive block from Ryan Welch ensured Charlie Romain couldn’t convert after Phil Hawkins parried from Rob Clark.
In the 5th minute, however, the Uckers took the lead in fortuitous fashion, with attacking pressure forcing an error from Steyning goalkeeper Fraser Trigwell, playing straight into the path of Bailo Camara, who from 20 yards out was able to drill an emphatic finish into the bottom right corner.
Minutes later, it almost got worse for the hosts as Richie Welch’s cross to Camara sailed through to the left corner and Camara delivered himself, finding Barrowmen defender Matt Boiling who was fortunate to only turn onto his crossbar with an attempted clearance.
After Boiling suffered an injury and was forced off, the game took a while to recover its momentum, but just before the half hour the hosts produced their best chance for a while, with captain Lewis Levoi striking an acrobatic overhead kick from a recycled set-piece, forcing Hawkins to tip over athletically.
The remaining chances of the first-half, as fouls began to mar the midfield battle, were all from set-pieces, as Joe Fitzpatrick was unable to take advantage of a free header for the hosts, while Camara swung a free-kick over and Ellis Cormack also directed a header wide of the mark.
While the Uckers could take confidence from beginning to control possession at the end of the half, the restart changed everything, and the hosts were level after only three minutes.
Far too easily from the Uckers’ perspective, it was a move from defence to attack that cut them open, and although forward Matt Hards should’ve perhaps finished himself when one-on-one with Hawkins in the box, his recycled pass allowed Jamie Weston to thrash in a half-volley, via a deflection.
Determined to prove their mettle, however, the Uckers responded with a spell that ultimately decided the game.
With their first real chance of the half, a counter found Camara at the edge of the box on the right, but with little support. Using the position to his advantage, however, the Uckers player-assistant manager shirked the challenge of Josh Maher and powered past Fitzpatrick, capping the move with a stabbed finish past the stunned Trigwell in the 53rd minute.
Just two minutes later, a more gradual move saw possession worked out to Cormack on the right in midfield, but it was the midfielder’s pinpoint cross to the far post that allowed the advantage to become significant; Liam Baitup sending a bullet header through Trigwell’s gloves to make it three.
The hosts would not lie down themselves, though, and after Fitzpatrick should’ve converted from a Sabino cross, the defender did manage to reduce the Uckers’ advantage in the 62nd minute, as a corner was played short to Hards, whose cross-cum-shot was turned in with a header from close range that Hawkins was unable to stop.
Ensuring it was more difficult to come by a second equaliser, the Uckers defence stood firm afterwards, and Storey’s side may have felt it was they who threatened more afterwards as Baitup fired into the side-netting and Sam Cooper sent an audacious chip into Trigwell’s gloves.
Into the last ten minutes, however, the hosts forced constant pressure, with Matt Maclean turning a clearance onto Hawkins’ post and Hards denied by Hawkins. It was only as full-backs Maher and Clark were crowded out that the Uckers reduced their threat, and seeing out the final minutes they secured all three points.
Improving to 7th for now, the Uckers will look to continue that progress in the SCFL Premier Division as they travel to Little Common this Saturday, kicking off at 3 p.m. at The Oval.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Cooper, Ryan Welch, McGuigan, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean, Baitup, Cormack, Camara
Unused: Pearson, Mici, Norman, Smith, Storey
Image Mike Skinner (stock)