Against an out of sorts Hassocks side, AFC Uckfield Town travelled home with all three points as they controlled from start to finish, scored four goals and survived a late wave of pressure in an assured performance, putting them back up to 10th, reports Will Hugall.
With the Robins having conceded at least three goals in nine of their previous 11 matches, the Uckers took full advantage, like earlier visitors, of sloppy defending in Mid-Sussex, not having to be at their clinical best to provide a significant statement of intent.
Indeed, before the hosts could even threaten, in just the 3rd minute the Uckers took the lead from a trademark counter-attacking move, with Bailo Camara’s pass setting Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa away and the winger squaring from the by-line for Liam Baitup, who provided a deft near-post finish.
Responding reasonably, however, the Robins twice went close in the following ten minutes through James Littlejohn free-kicks; the first a dipping effort that prompted Phil Hawkins to tip over, while the latter drew an important punch under tight pressure.
Nonetheless, the Uckers looked to be increasing their control, and in the 23rd minute brought this to fruition; when a neat counter sprang and Rodrigues-Barbosa was set away against Dan Turner before going down under a push, and Camara rolled in the resulting penalty.
While the hosts almost hit back as Ben Bacon was close to seizing on a back pass, the half’s remaining minutes otherwise saw the Uckers improve even further, as goalkeeper Charlie Pugh, in just his second start of the season, made impressive stops against Matt Maclean’s close-range header and Camara’s curling effort.
Baitup should have also put the Uckers further ahead with a free near-post header from a corner, but narrowly missed, and in a sloppy end to the half from both sides, Anthony Storey’s side kept full control.
Little changed from the Robins in the second half, and only minutes in they were fortunate not to be punished after first allowing Camara to waltz through defence and then Rodrigues-Barbosa to be found free on the right of the box, only for both to miss.
In the 51st minute, a failure to clear would again prove the hosts’ undoing as Richie Welch swung in a free-kick from the left, and though under little pressure, defender Turner unfortunately diverted past his own goalkeeper with a header Pugh was unable to save.
Repeating the story of the match, Bacon was then thwarted from a long-anticipated one-on-one with Hawkins, and the Uckers took full advantage by scoring their fourth in the 59th minute; Tayler Maddock winning possession in midfield, and Welch setting Baitup away to poke past Pugh and angle a finish into the empty net.
A fifth goal, however, proved elusive for the Uckers in fifteen minutes they then dominated, as Harvey Beale intercepted a delivery to the unmarked Rodrigues-Barbosa, while Baitup was denied his hat-trick by Andy Whittingham’s challenge after being set free by Camara.
An open game in the final ten minutes gave the Robins a greater chance than at any earlier stage, and with substitutes Joe Bull and Liam Benson both testing Hawkins on several occasions, before Turner almost had revenge with a long-range free-kick which scraped the crossbar, a hint of resistance was clear.
In the fifth minute of added time, that spirit won the hosts a penalty, as minutes after a suspected handball Maddock brought down a home player in the box. Benson stepped up, but a telegraphed effort was kept out by Hawkins low to his left, and the Uckers kept their clean sheet to see out victory in style.
With the Uckers promoted three places to 10th after victory, they have narrowed the gap to 4th place to just three points. Boasting the best goal difference outside the top three, they will fancy their chances in improving further this Saturday as they welcome Loxwood to The Oaks, kicking off at 3 p.m.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Scott, 78’), Cooper (Smith, 73’), Ryan Welch, Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean (Cormack, 68’), Baitup, Jenden, Camara
Unused: Norman, Pearson