A pulsating encounter in Uckfield’s second league meeting with Horsham YMCA ended in their second 4-3 defeat, as a brave fightback from an unfamiliar line-up could not quite overcome the high-flying hosts, reports Will Hugall.
With the effects of the previous weekend’s FA Vase heroics becoming clear, the Uckers showed five changes from their midweek Sussex Senior Cup exit at Worthing, as four suspensions and Steve Hickman-Smith’s unavailability brought in debutant Gianfranco Mici, Craig Norman, Calum Sherriff, Anthony Storey and Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa.
Within just seven minutes, the new-look Uckers had been exposed by two goals from promotion-chasing YM, as Tony Garrod’s 3rd minute opener was followed by Tony Nwachukwu’s second, capitalising on fragility four minutes later.
After their early body blow, the Uckers settled into a scrappy affair, but scarcely threatened before a shift in home momentum invited Uckfield to be the more offensive before half-time.
As YMCA defender Tom Gilbert exited the field with a head injury, the Uckers staged a late attack on Jeal’s goal, and in the 45th minute halved their deficit. With Norman finding Mici on the left, the forward struck up what would become a vital partnership with Smith, as the latter’s first-time, central strike creeped into the bottom right corner.
While the situation appeared more manageable, the Uckers were not content to trail at the break. In added time, an equaliser arrived from the diminutive Mici, who ensured a memorable debut by beating two defenders with quick feet and producing a wondrous right-footed shot that sailed between Jeal’s hand and crossbar.
Seizing the initiative, the Uckers chipped away after the restart, forcing Jeal into a series of impressive saves; from Smith, who stabbed at the goalkeeper after shrugging off Callum Donaghey, and in quick succession from Dee Okojie and Ryan Welch.
In the 58th minute, however, the Uckers’ goal finally arrived, with referee Andrew Senior signalling play on after Okojie’s persistence on the right wing earned a foul from Nwachukwu. Okojie’s resulting cross met Smith, who hooked in from the back post to beat Jeal.
Inevitably, the hosts recovered, and in the 69th minute addressed the scoreline as a corner was cleared only as far as Garrod, whose half-volley struck an Uckers body before beating Louis Rogers.
The atmosphere again changed after the equaliser, and in the 75th minute, a single error saw the hosts score what became a winning effort. Countering from a misplaced Uckers pass, Garrod carried the ball away on the right and squared to captain Ash Dugdale, who acrobatically converted from six yards.
With constant stoppages, a heated closing period prevented the Uckers from staging a late recovery; Storey’s free-kick into an entourage of players the best opportunity when converted, but ruled out for a foul on Jeal.
In Peter Bentley Cup Fourth Round action, the Uckers return to The Oaks this Tuesday, hosting Peacehaven & Telscombe FC for a place in the Semi-Finals, with a 7:30PM kick-off.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Ryan Welch, Norman, Cooper, Sherriff, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Storey, Smith (Broomfield, 87’), Rodrigues-Barbosa, Mici (Overton, 84’)
Unused: Hales, Bartlett, Funnell