In a RUR Cup Quarter-Final that featured enforced errors and uncertainty throughout, a pragmatic AFC Uckfield Town performance saw them beat hosts Eastbourne United AFC 1-0, and by doing so booked their place in the competition’s last four for the second season running, reports Will Hugall.
Dreadful conditions threatened at one stage to make the tie unplayable, but after going ahead the match proved to be a close-run thing throughout, and it was only perhaps through adapting better that Anthony Storey’s Uckers came out the winners; defending solidly throughout, and securing victory through Bailo Camara’s opportune second-half strike.
The first genuine chances of the match both came from United, who had won 9 of 13 home matches this season, as player-manager Matt Crabb forced a fine save from Phil Hawkins with a 20-yard free-kick before Kane Penn also tried his luck from outside the box, making Hawkins parry.
While Dylan Gifford almost dangled a cross onto the boot of Penn at the far post minutes later, the Uckers soon began to build into the match, with Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa a constant threat on the counter.
Only a minute after a strong Alfie Headland challenge denied Rodrigues-Barbosa, however, all that separated the hosts from opening the scoring was a brilliant Hawkins save.
With United countering, Sam Crabb shirked a challenge and squared across the box for Gifford to roll in – or so it seemed, until Hawkins produced a wonderful diving stop low to his left, and Headland directed a header over from the resulting corner.
The Uckers would not have to rely on good fortune much longer, though, and the best remaining chances of the half were both theirs.
After the half-hour, Rodrigues-Barbosa was parried by Jordan Hawkins from an extended spell of pressure in the United box, while in the final minute Richie Welch drove powerfully towards the bottom left corner, forcing Hawkins into another top save.
Though everything at half-time pointed to a stalemate, the second half’s earliest action proved that goals were likely to arrive soon, as Liam Baitup crashed a shot just wide of the right post when Rodrigues-Barbosa teed him up on the counter.
As United rallied, their next concerted spell of pressure came as the conditions became even more oppressive, and the Uckers hunkered down impressively to repel all efforts – even having more joy on the counter as space opened up.
With Baitup firing into Hawkins’ gloves and a strike from Rodrigues-Barbosa ruled out as the United ‘keeper was fouled, it seemed only a matter of time until the Uckers counter produced a decisive effort – and so it soon proved.
In the 59th minute, a break led by Storey’s three forwards required them all to play crucial roles, as Baitup initially received possession and forced Hawkins to spill, before Rodrigues-Barbosa reacted quickest but was also foiled from his follow-up.
With the ball still not cleared, Bailo Camara controlled well and struck a sensible shot back across goal, and despite not appearing powerful enough to beat Hawkins, a slip saw the strike find its target and eke over, prompting jubilant celebrations.
The combination of that goal and the worsening weather appeared to dampen the hosts’ spirits in the following period, and it wasn’t until only 15 minutes remained that they threatened again, even then failing to genuinely test Hawkins.
Instead, the Uckers continued to have the best chances, with a Lewis McGuigan header from a corner only denied by a number of bodies in the six-yard box, before the hard-working Baitup created two further shooting opportunities for himself, striking wide on the break before lifting a speculative cross over.
The final five minutes proved to be the closest the hosts came to getting back in it, but still it was the Uckers defence, rather than Hawkins himself, drawn into action – firstly as Cormack headed a corner clear on the line, and then as Welch got a vital block in to prevent Jack Murphy firing at goal.
That meant the Uckers could see out the remaining moments of added time and secured their second Semi-Final appearance in as many seasons, which will, in fact, be a replay of their 2018-19 exit as they welcome Peacehaven & Telscombe to The Oaks, with a date to be announced in due course.
In the meantime, Storey’ side continue their run on the road this Saturday as they travel to Pagham for what, after a combination of cup commitments and postponements, would be a first SCFL Premier Division fixture for three weeks. Kick-off, pending a likely pitch inspection, will be 3 p.m. at Nyetimber Lane.
Eastbourne United: Hawkins, Roddy, Murphy, M. Crabb, Headland, D. Penn, Gifford (N. Crabb, 83’), Ball (O’Callaghan, 87’), Rogers (C), K. Penn, S. Crabb
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Smith, McGuigan, Maddock, Welch (C), Cooper, Maclean, Baitup (Pearson, 90+3’), Cormack, Camara
Unused: Scott, Tomlin, Norman