In a rain-affected, windswept match rescheduled to take place in West Sussex, AFC Uckfield Town came to the brink of achieving an expected and crucial win at bottom side Loxwood, but had to settle for a point as the hosts equalised late on, completing an inspired turnaround to draw 2-2, reports Will Hugall.
The result went to form, with Loxwood maintaining a relatively good home record and the Uckers extending their unbeaten run to ten matches, but in a fixture where both were looking for the full three points the game was full of twists and turns, producing a draw that would be more pleasing to the hosts.
At the Magpies’ atmospheric home, Alex Walsh’s side began strongly and threatened as Luke Brodie fired a shot off the crossbar in the opening minute, setting the tone for an afternoon of open football.
Content to counter, Anthony Storey’s outfit stabilised and encouragingly took the lead in the 15th minute, as Ellis Cormack played Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa in and the winger was felled by goalkeeper Tyler D’Cruz in the box. Liam Baitup converted the resulting penalty, powering into the bottom left corner for a strong start.
A crucial asset in their recent run, Rodrigues-Barbosa continued to lead the Uckers’ threat as they consolidated on their advantage, and without Bailo Camara on the opposite flank stepped up to regularly test the home defence.
Neither side was able to produce a clear-cut chance in the final moment of the half, however, and despite some good play from both it was the Uckers who went into the break with a valuable lead.
Renewed urgency from the hosts saw them enjoy a flurry of early chances in the second half, with set-pieces proving a dependable supply line as a stabbed finish, and then a header, from Dan Allen both went wide.
In the 57th minute, however, the Uckers again stung the West Sussex team at an opportune moment, as Richie Welch’s raking pass found Baitup in the box, and the striker smartly headed across to Cormack, who fired straight past Tyler D’Cruz into the bottom left corner to great team celebrations.
Undeterred, the Magpies applied further pressure, and just after the hour mark won themselves a fine opportunity as the Uckers defence were penalised for holding substitute Auguste Koute to concede a penalty. Luke Brodie stepped up from the spot, but struck wide of the left post as a relieved Hawkins went the other way.
The Uckers couldn’t capitalise on the lifeline, and the hosts did indeed get back in the game in the 70th minute as a quick move and ball to the far post was turned back into the goalmouth, where Koute gleefully tapped in at the second time of asking.
Inevitably, that goal set up a final 20 minutes where the Uckers would have to survive several waves of pressure, and with Hawkins producing an important stop against Mark Goldson, the Uckers initially kept control.
In the first minute of added time, however, the hosts’ persistence finally paid off, with a corner to the near post flicked on by Spencer Slaughter and the Uckers failing to clear, allowing an unmarked Brodie to scramble in from point-blank range, beating Hawkins and Cormack on the line.
Little time remained to change the result, and while Baitup again came close for with a shot cleared off the line, the Uckers would be frustrated by settling for a draw in ever-worsening conditions at full-time.
Uckfield, still sat 10th, return to SCFL Premier Division action again this Tuesday as they hunt three points in a trip to 4th-placed Horley Town for the first time in their history, kicking off at 7:45 p.m. at The New Defence.
After that, they make the long trip to Binfield FC for the FA Vase Third Round next Saturday, a tie that will be hotly anticipated at the end of another crucial week for the side.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Quebé, 78’), Smith, Ryan Welch, Maddock, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean, Baitup, Cormack, Jenden
Unused: Scott, Storey, Norman, Loft