In a trip to table-topping Chichester City that would test their recent form, AFC Uckfield Town suffered injury and a late sending-off, and against all odds looked likely to hold out in a dogged defensive performance until a 94th minute winner from the West Sussex side ripped a point out of their grasp, reports Will Hugall.
With four players involved in midweek Peter Bentley Cup heroics unavailable, including Callum Smith after his winning goal, a new-look defence saw Ryan Welch, Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa and Craig Norman recalled, while Gianfranco Mici returned in attack.
A cagey start to the match saw the Uckers aim to get in the hosts’ faces, following only the Lilywhites’ second defeat in 15 matches when they went out to Saltdean in the cup in midweek, and succeed in forcing several errors.
The league’s highest scoring side would not take long to threaten, however, as forward Josh Clack twice broke free in the box, but both times was met with Louis Rogers’ resistance.
After 30 minutes, Uckfield were holding their own at a ground where only four other sides had gained points all season, but had to regroup after injury forced Tayler Maddock’s withdrawal, and Shaun Loft slotted into an unfamiliar backline.
The player-assistant manager’s introduction proved to encouraged the Uckers, as Dee Okojie forced a deflection whilst driving at goal, and Loft himself headed just wide at the resulting corner, before the end of an intriguing half.
A tactical change in midfield saw the hosts regain control after the break, as they swept up Uckfield counters much sooner, and soon began to launch more innovative attacks themselves.
Although Okojie drew a last-ditch block after carrying the ball into the Lilywhites’ box, the Uckers were otherwise struggling to make an impact in the Chichester half, and gradually tired from chasing possession as the match ticked on.
Rob Hutchings, advanced from left-back to forward, powered a header over Rogers’ bar when he was left unmarked at the end of a more penetrative Chichester move, and gaps began to open in the Uckfield rearguard into the final 15 minutes.
With the three points still available for either team, the Uckers, with almost everyone back for a free-kick, launched a counter in the 86th minute from Bailo Camara on the left. As Camara was felled whilst sweeping a ball out to Okojie, and referee Richard Sargeant had his back turned, his assistant called play back, but penalised the Uckfield winger for his reaction to the tackle, resulting in a second booking and the Uckers being reduced to ten men.
With Chichester appearing to run out of ideas, and Anthony Storey marshalling his players from midfield, Uckfield looked set to see out another famous performance with reduced numbers in the closing minutes.
As added time totted up from persisting breaks in play, however, a jinking run from Chichester sub Sam Ndlovu forced a corner, as Brett Patton blocked in front of Rogers. From the kick, defender Ryan Peake rose highest at the near post to head in, breaking Uckfield hearts after 94 minutes of relentless effort, and leaving no time for a comeback.
Not dropping from 6th place in the SCFL Premier, the Uckers will look to make it two cup wins in a week as they head to Peacehaven & Telscombe FC this Tuesday for the RUR Cup Semi-Final, kicking off at 7:30pm.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Norman, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Maddock (Loft, 30’), Ryan Welch, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Patton, Maclean, Mici (Storey, 70’), Camara
Unused: Hales, Creese