Building on earlier cup exploits, Uckfield eased to a two-goal FA Vase win over Gillingham-based Hollands and Blair, with Callum Smith extending his goalscoring run, reports Will Hugall.
Refreshed after a Bank Holiday weekend double-header, Anthony Storey made two changes made to his side, with Calum Sherriff and Matt Black restored in place of Bright Temba and Dee Okojie.
Picking up where leaving off against Langney Wanderers, Callum Smith thrice tested Blair goalkeeper Toby Wood in the opening minutes, yet only finding his range.
Promising an end-to-end tie, Blair responded through Justin Ascheri, with the winger whipping a near-post cross to Michael Hurcomb, whose flicked header lacked power, and evaded strike partner Austin Edwards’ lunge.
Unable to settle into their stride while stretched by the visitors’ neat counter-attacking tendencies – and afflicted by injury to Sam Cooper – few Uckers players proved able to impose themselves on possession. As desperation increased in each tackle, however, neither were Blair able to assert themselves upon a scrappy affair.
Quality further dissipating as the half concluded, the impasse continued as opportunities went awry at either end through Tony Whitaker and Smith – the former lifting wide, and the latter miscuing with the goal at his mercy.
Signalling an Uckers revival at the restart, Bailo Camara swooped sharply on a deflected Smith effort – albeit smothered by an onrushing Wood.
In the 56th minute, a vital intervention from Ryan Welch – earlier introduced in Cooper’s place – gave the Uckers a flash of impetus; denying a certain Edwards goal after Louis Rogers had spilled, and surging forward, the full-back placed a low cross into Smith to execute a familiar spin and low blast beyond Wood’s grasp to break the deadlock.
Only four minutes later, and with the earlier disconnect between defence and attack banished, the Uckers searched for a second, and with Camara’s left-wing cross cleared only as far as the marauding Richie Welch, the home captain turned provider with a first-time cross to an unmarked Smith, who headed home for a ninth goal in five consecutive matches.
Typifying the exertion their end-to-end approach had earlier demanded, Blair mustered little in the remaining half hour, with a five-man defence far adrift from an isolated strike force. Dispirited bodies did pour forward late on, but as Wood denied Camara and Black from close-range, and Caleb Bearman-Dyce was expelled for a wild headbutt on Uckers captain Welch, Blair’s fate was sealed.
Reflecting on the prize of cup victory was player-assistant manager Shaun Loft
“The FA Vase presents the boys with the chance to go deep in a cup competition – I recall from my time at Eastbourne United, where we played sides from Newcastle and lost to the winners, and a great run at Rye United, we know that the draw can pan out in your favour. But with these cup games, every win is a bonus.
“With the group we’ve got, we respect them and know that they don’t need to be shouted at, and in the second half today I thought we dominated – it could have been five or six at the end. It’s a continual learning curve for the younger players and we hope to lend them our advice on and off the pitch this season.”
Entering the Peter Bentley Cup Second Round, Uckfield meet Eastbourne United at The Oval this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:45PM.
Line-up: Rogers, Norman (Okojie, 71’), Cooper (Ryan Welch, 19’), Hickman-Smith, Sheriff, Richie Welch (C), Rodrigues-Barbosa, Maclean, Smith (Loft, 83’), Black, Camara.
Unused: Ducatel, Janneh