Leading from early on, being pegged back by two superb strikes and rallying with a late flourish, AFC Uckfield Town made a fine return to form with a 4-2 victory at Pagham, crucially boosting their league position heading into the final month of the season, reports Will Hugall.
Three changes followed a frustrating 4-1 midweek defeat to Crawley Down Gatwick, as manager Anthony Storey joined under-18 defender Emerson Guimares and Bailo Camara in replacing the unavailable Richie Welch, Steve Hickman-Smith and Ellis Cormack.
Uckfield started on the front foot in West Sussex, where the hosts had themselves been struggling for form, as a fluid front four of Camara, Dee Okojie, Gianfranco Mici and Matt Maclean rotated well, and Tayler Maddock threatened from Storey’s set-piece deliveries.
Sensible defending from both sides limited opportunities, but in the 20th minute a slice of opportunism from Maclean (pictured) opened the scoring. Attacking a hopeful ball from Storey, the striker’s gamble to put pressure on Lions goalkeeper Warren Pye paid off as he beat Pye’s attempted punch to head in.
As Uckfield’s confidence grew continuously, Okojie crashed a shot onto the frame of Pye’s goal only minutes later.
Pagham’s frontline had only registered 20 goals in their previous 18 matches, and were having another frustrating afternoon as Alex Harris was untroubled in the Uckfield goal. A disallowed Maclean header, meanwhile, cemented Uckers control at half-time.
The Lions looked to use the restart to their advantage as Scott Murfin was caught offside when clean through, but it was the Uckers who instead doubled their lead in the 49th minute. With Mici hooking inside to Okojie, a first-time pass set Camara through to hold off his marker and complete the move with a drive across Pye and in off the left post.
With the Uckfield attack enjoying its task, Okojie attempted to convert after Shay Wiggans played a loose back pass, but was held up by a bobble as Pye collected.
Beginning to prise Harris into action, however, the Pagham counter found gaps to exploit, and in the 69th minute were back in the game through a strike that left the Uckers defence stunned. Driving in from the right, substitute Liam Brady let fly from 15 yards across Harris, and found a tight angle into the far netting to emphatically reduce arrears.
Okojie had another tough chance while one-on-one with Pye, with a quick-thinking lob lacking power, but in the 77th minute Pagham completed their resurgence with an even better second goal. Taking aim from all of 30 yards, captain Jamie Horncastle lashed through a number of bodies, with the shot sailing past Harris’ glove and into the top left corner.
Just two minutes later, however, Uckfield proved their nerve, as Maclean’s anticipation again gained rewards. As an Uckers corner was returned to their half, Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa speculated with a ball back into the box, and Maclean reacted quickest, controlling and finding the bottom right corner.
Pagham’s hopes were far from dead, and Horncastle was close to equalising again when directing a header into the top-left corner, only for Harris to save, while offside was signalled.
In added time, however, the hosts crumbled as Johan van Driel was sent off for dissent, and in the 92nd minute Uckfield cashed in, with Camara driving in from the right and finding Okojie, who turned in on the rebound to seal victory.
Returning to 8th place in the SCFL Premier, the Uckers wait a week before their next game, when they travel to East Preston for the penultimate away match of their season.
AFC Uckfield Town: Harris, Williams, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Maddock, Guimares, Storey (Loft, 85’), Okojie, Patton (Janneh, 90+3’), Mici (Norman, 80’), Maclean (C), Camara
Unused: Hales, Creese