Faced with the threat of a second stalemate in the space of a week, Uckfield’s endless perseverance paid dividends, with an 89th minute strike from Callum Smith defeating visitors East Preston to secure a crucial league win, reports Will Hugall.
Welcoming their mid-table rivals to The Oaks, the Uckers made three changes to the starting line-up that sealed a point at Shoreham, as Sam Cooper, Leon Moore and Bailo Camara all returned.
Frustration had faced the Uckfield attack in a number of recent matches, with only three goals scored in their previous four matches, but clear intent from the kick-off made for a testing early spell for the visiting defence.
On the counter, the visitors made a number of positive moves of their own early on, as poor Uckers communication from a corner allowed Matthew Searle to power a free header at goal, only for teammate Lewis Jenkins to divert over the bar.
With both teams setting out their stalls from an early stage, much of the first half continued in the same vein; Brett Patton prompting EP goalkeeper George Bentley into a block in a one-on-one, Richie Welch drawing a save from his 20-yard free-kick, and Callum Smith beating Bentley to a pass to the edge of the 18-yard box, but finding himself unable to pick out a teammate, as the Uckers controlled most of possession but lacked a cutting edge.
Following a half-time rallying, Anthony Storey’s side began the second half with greater initiative, as Smith drove a shot across goal from a Patton through ball, and then struck a testing half-volley high to Bentley’s left from Matt Astle’s tee-up.
Attacking the East Preston box in numbers, Uckfield pressure became more sustained, and in the 61st minute Cooper was denied on the goal-line, as his backwards header at the near post from a Regan Smith corner was booted clear by Scott Rafferty.
As their onslaught on the EP goal continued, Uckfield exasperation could have resulted in the door opening for their opponents; Patton and Welch having shots blocked, before an unmarked Jenkins gathered in a cross from the left at the other end, only to fire wide of the left post.
With little over ten minutes remaining, it took the lights going out – a single floodlight in the corner of Uckfield’s half – to reawaken the Uckers. As both captains agreed to play on, Welch himself aimed just wide of the EP goal, setting up a final wave of pressure.
In the 89th minute, however, a single error made the difference between the two sides, and allowed the Uckers to take full advantage. As a Bentley goal kick was smashed low into Okojie, the ball broke for Patton to clipped a pass into Callum Smith’s run on the left.
Poking first-time between the goalkeeper’s legs, Smith wheeled away in celebration, securing all three points in clinical fashion.
Aiming to extend their positive league form – with only one defeat, and five clean sheets, in their last seven games – the Uckers head to Hassocks this Tuesday, with the match kicking off at 7:45PM.
AFC Uckfield Town: Rogers, Rodrigues-Barbosa, R. Smith, Hickman-Smith, Cooper, Welch (C), Okojie (Mici, 90+2’), Patton, C. Smith, Moore (Astle, 50’), Camara
Unused: Harper, Hales, Storey