Football – Uckers eke out win over Musselmen

In a crucial game for both sides, AFC Uckfield Town overcame Shoreham with a narrow 1-0 victory, as their relegation-battling visitors could not be faulted for effort while the Uckers’ finishing cost them more comfort, reports Will Hugall.

After a sixth defeat in eleven matches, losing 2-1 to Saltdean United the previous Tuesday, the Uckers made one alteration, as Emerson Guimaraes’s suspension began and Regan Smith returned.

With Uckfield aiming to make inroads on the sides within catching distance above them, and Shoreham quickly running out of time to escape the relegation zone, the game began in understandably nervy fashion.

13 minutes in, however, the match finally sparked into life. As Callum Smith found Bailo Camara’s surging run on the counter, and Camara entered the box before being clumsily bundled over by the recovering Shoreham defence, the winger stepped up to place the resulting spot-kick into the bottom left corner, just evading Rui Buckland’s outstretched glove.

The early strike – Camara’s 10th league goal of the season – knocked the visitors’ confidence, with Dale Hurley’s newly-formed team knowing they could not place faith in their own goalscoring record; with 26 goals, the third-poorest in the entire ninth tier of English football in 2018-19.

As Smith’s influence continued to spark the Uckfield attack, the striker drew a strong save from Buckland after outmuscling defender Tadley Bromage, and then found Dee Okojie with a pass on the turn, setting Okojie into space, where he rounded Buckland but crashed his shot onto the crossbar.

Not long had the frame of Buckland’s goal stopped shaking, before Matt Maclean also struck the crossbar from one of a number of well-placed deliveries into the Shoreham box, while before half-time the Uckers could have been made to rue their profligacy as Alex Harris made a confident diving save from Mo Diallo’s close-range free-kick.

Early second-half pressure from the Uckers forced the issue further, and Tayler Maddock connected with a Richie Welch corner to head onto the crossbar, while Callum Smith almost connected with a long-range pass from Maddock.

Shoreham managed to keep things tight, however, and gained confidence as the game entered a potential turning point in the final 20 minutes, with Bromage flashing a header across the Uckfield box from a rare Musselmen set-piece.

Successive efforts from Brett Patton and Okojie drifted wide for the Uckers from the edge of the box, and dominance still did not amount to a secure three points as the game entered its final stages.

Still very much in touching distance, the Musselmen could not translate their most sustained spell of possession in the late stages to chances ever truly testing Harris and an increasingly conservative Uckfield defence, while the Uckers should themselves have ended with a flourish after four added minutes, when a final Shoreham set-piece was cleared and Smith ran at an exposed Buckland before squaring to Gianfranco Mici, who placed wide.

Next Saturday, the Uckers welcome promotion contenders Newhaven FC to The Oaks for the first of three final home games in the 2018-19 season, with a 3PM kick-off.

AFC Uckfield Town: Harris, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith (Cooper, 61’), Maddock, Ryan Welch, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Patton, C. Smith, Maclean (Mici, 69’), Camara
Unused: Loft, Storey, Norman