Football – Baitup and Black seal Uckfield’s opening day victory

On the opening day of the 2019-20 season, it was a case of the new and old combining to deliver victory for AFC Uckfield Town, with debutant Liam Baitup and the returning Matt Black scoring as the Uckers ran out to a 2-0 win over visitors Pagham, reports Will Hugall.

Other than a few scares largely of their own creation, it was a comfortable afternoon for the most part for Anthony Storey’s Uckfield. Baitup registered stylishly midway through the first half, and a counter-attack deep into second-half added-time made sure of all three points.

The Uckers generated all of the early pressure on home turf, with the closest pair of opportunities coming from the same corner, as Tayler Maddock forced Pagham goalkeeper Lewis Boughton to tip onto his bar and midfield debutant Mayckol Sabino drew a save on the rebound.

As Scott Rafferty shirked a Maddock challenge and threaded through to George Cody, however, the visitors should have perhaps been the first to score, only for Cody to shoot wide when attempting to pull across Uckers ‘keeper Phil Hawkins.

The Uckfield response was decisive, as after 21 minutes they were ahead through Baitup. Having previously been relatively quiet, the forward received possession 20 yards from goal and quickly decided to test Boughton, directing a floated effort from the right and leaving the goalkeeper stranded, with the ball dinking in off the far post.

Beginning to pin their opponents back, Uckfield came close to extending their lead before half-time, with Dee Okojie striking a testing effort to the bottom left of Boughton’s goal and Ellis Cormack heading the last of a series of dangerous corner kicks on goal, but the Pagham defence survived both attempts.

The Lions, who historically had the edge in opening day encounters compared to Uckfield – winning six of their last eight, while the hosts had lost their last four – started the brighter side in the second half, but could not capitalise as Cody slashed their best chance back across goal after a Cian Tilley cross.

In a confident debut performance, Sabino was influential in the Uckers’ pursuit of another goal, and looked to have found it himself when an intricate move allowed him to fire across goal, but his effort cannoned back off the right post.

As the minutes ebbed away, Uckfield were offered few reasons to worry about their lead, and could have again added some comfort when Sabino struck the woodwork for the second time, clipping the crossbar after a lay-off from Matt Maclean.

With the result looking inevitable, one final Pagham push from a Boughton kick failed, leaving a major gap for Bailo Camara to exploit down the right. Skipping a challenge and drawing Boughton out of his goal, Camara then squared to Matt Black, who in a final act of the afternoon, after 97 minutes, tapped in to round off victory.

Sitting in fifth place in the SCFL Premier Division after their first victory, the early stages of the Uckers’ season next take them to initial league leaders Eastbourne Town this Tuesday, with a 7:45 pm kick-off.

AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Cooper (Ryan Welch, 55’), Smith, Sheriff, Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Okojie (Black, 84’), Sabino, Baitup (Maclean, 72’), Cormack, Camara
Unused: Loft, Pearson