As the SCFL Premier Division schedule continues this Saturday, AFC Uckfield Town will hope to make up for lost time as they travel to Pagham, where the hosts have been resurgent under new manager Kerry Hardwell and will present a serious challenge, writes Will Hugall.
Having not played a league fixture since drawing 2-2 at Loxwood three weeks ago, Uckfield now have a cluster of four matches in hand on most sides around them, and with most of those set to take place in the new year will be keen to keep pace before then.
That will at least be their task this weekend, but against a Lions side undefeated since Hardwell came to the helm last month, three points are likely to be harder to come by than the hosts’ league position of 18th initially suggests.
With only five wins – four of those in cup competitions – during the four months Bob Paine was in charge, Hardwell’s impact in delivering wins against Broadbridge Heath and Horsham YMCA, as well as a draw at Saltdean United, has been instant in quashing fears of relegation.
Those results have ended an unlikely wait of 50 matches for back-to-back wins for a side that never finished outside of the top seven between the 2009-10 and 2018-19 seasons, and will encourage fans that ex-player Hardwell can spark a genuine return to form for the West Sussex club.
In midweek, the SCFA RUR Cup Quarter-Finals brought both sides the opportunity to cement their cup form this season.
While the Lions had their tie with Eastbourne Town succumb to a waterlogged pitch at Nyetimber Lane, the Uckers took full advantage of their opportunity to play, beating Eastbourne United AFC 1-0 and booking their Semi-Final spot.
Following up last season’s appearance at the same stage, the Uckers have struck on a consistency across all competitions that few would be able to replicate; having gone one stage further in the Sussex Senior Cup compared to 2018-19, exited the FA Vase a round earlier, and boasting several games in hand midway through the league season.
While they never shirked from that position as chasers last year, the benefits of a such circumstances in being able to build momentum can also be outweighed by the physical burdens, and as such, no predictions can be made as to whether a current mid-table spot will soon be left behind.
Certainly, though, the Uckers will feel they are capable of growing into their league campaign in the coming weeks, as their schedule currently presents nothing but SCFL matches – RUR and Peter Bentley Cup fixtures yet to have fixed dates.
Unbeaten in their last five league games – albeit with the first of those dating back to late September – the Uckers should have reasons for confidence outside of their cup form, too; particularly with Liam Baitup having scored four times in that spell, and the whole side having claimed three clean sheets.
That form will be put to an even sterner test today, and with both sides looking for a vital three points at this stage of the season, fingers will be crossed that the occasions produces a classic meeting where goals once again feature heavily – after the last ten games saw 51 goals shared between the two.
Pagham FC v AFC Uckfield Town kicks off at 3 p.m. today at Nyetimber Lane (Pagham, PO21 3JY), with directions and details about the ground available here; http://www.scfl.org.uk/grounddetail.php?gnd_id=32.
Regular match updates will be available during the game from the @AfcUckfieldTown and @PaghamFCNews Twitter pages, while a full report will appear on the website here in the hours after the game, ahead of a look ahead to continuing midweek action at Steyning Town.
Come on you Uckers!