AFC Uckfield Town’s stunning 2018-19 season ended in a 3-1 defeat to Saltdean United in the Peter Bentley Cup Final, as the Uckers ended with nine men but had opportunities to take the tie into extra-time before a late decider, reports Will Hugall.
Living up to its billing, the final proved to be a hard-fought and tight encounter throughout, with Saltdean’s clinical finishing the deciding factor in a game where Uckfield had more of the ball, despite losing striker Callum Smith in the first-half and Steve Hickman-Smith late on.
As the initial aggressors, Uckfield threatened to take an early lead as Bailo Camara almost stole possession from Tigers goalkeeper Nathan Stroomberg, with efforts from Smith and Richie Welch also saved.
In the 19th minute, however, the Tigers took a surprise lead with their first genuine attempt of the match. After Jamie Brotherton had driven at Louis Rogers from the right of the 18-yard box and the Uckfield goalkeeper had spilled, young forward Ross Barclay reacted quickest to turn in.
The Tigers gained confidence from the goal, with Curtis Gayler firing just wide from 20 yards. As the half progressed, however, referee Will Briers was forced to become more prominent, with the rising tensions threatening to boil over as Smith was booked for an off-the-ball push.
The match would soon turn on a 38th minute incident, as Smith collected his second yellow for hauling down Jordan Pryor whilst claiming a foul, and the Uckers, down to ten men, narrowly avoided further punishment at the end of the half as Barclay struck the right post and Ryan Warwick fizzed a shot across goal.
As the sides returned, Uckfield took the initiative and managed to equalise in the 50th minute. With Stroomberg conceding a corner through a mistimed clearance, and then guilty of failing to deal with a first delivery, Regan Smith ensured the goalkeeper would not go unpunished a second time, with the Uckfield substitute’s cross finding Camara, who headed in.
The Uckers were only level for four minutes, however, as Tayler Maddock was unable to clear a ball sent over the Uckfield backline, and Brotherton latched on to initially draw a superb save from Rogers, but coolly turned in the rebound.
Refusing to lay down, Uckfield pressed on as Ellis Cormack connected with a Camara cross to draw a stop from Stroomberg, and a Smith free-kick also found Cormack, only for the midfielder’s flick-on to run inches past Hickman-Smith.
Chances began to run thin on the ground as Saltdean looked to protect their lead, and set-pieces frustrated both sides as Barclay shot over after a free-kick was blocked and Camara couldn’t connect cleanly with an Uckfield corner.
Appearing to have salvaged late hope in the 88th minute, Uckfield were dismayed at Briers’ judgement that Hickman-Smith had handled in a goal-line clearance stopping Barclay sealing the game, with a penalty awarded and Hickman-Smith dismissed.
Dramatically, Brotherton fired straight into Rogers from 12 yards, and the goalkeeper reacted swiftly to hold on the line. With Rogers starting a counter-attack, the surviving Uckers went close as Cormack lifted onto the top of Stroomberg’s net, and Camara broke through moments later, only to also find the netting.
Defeat, however, was confirmed with the final action of the game in the 95th minute, as Gayler’s free-kick from 20 yards took a slight deflection to find the bottom right corner, leaving Rogers unmoved.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Guimaraes, 86’), Cooper (R. Smith, 48’), Maddock, Hickman-Smith, Richie Welch (C) (Maclean, 70’), Okojie, Patton, C. Smith, Cormack, Camara
Unused: Ryan Welch, Mici
All images Uckfield FM