In their first involvement in this season’s FA Vase, AFC Uckfield Town overturned a 1-0 deficit at half time with a stunning second-half performance and defeated high-flying Essex Senior League side Walthamstow 3-2 to reach the Third Round, one of four Sussex successes on the same day, reports Will Hugall.
Featuring constant drama, a gritty and extremely competitive contest was won by a trademark Uckfield performance, overturning the odds against the in-form hosts, as a ruthless burst of three second-half goals was enough to hold off a late comeback.
On a blustery afternoon, the tie in North East London understandably began with both sides adapting to the conditions, as well as one another – Uckfield having never faced a side from their opponents’ league, while the hosts had met a Sussex County League side just once, in 1990.
A six-match winning run coming into the tie certainly gave the Stags confidence, however, and in the 13th minute they took the lead, with Ollie Fortune meeting a free kick from Billy Jones with a far-post header after Phil Hawkins was caught in no man’s land by the teasing delivery.
The Uckers struggled to hit back immediately, and it was the hosts who instead enjoyed the best chances, albeit without managing to add to their advantage.
With Hawkins producing a double save to keep out Fortune and Dwade James, and Danny McCullock almost poking a cross in before Fortune headed over, the Uckers did well to withstand the pressure, and before the break fought back, forcing goalkeeper James Bransgrove into action with a cross that had taken a dangerous deflection.
Benefiting from the opportunity to regroup, the Uckers returned with a renewed impetus in the second half, preventing the Stags from settling as any rhythm was hard to find in an increasingly angsty match.
With the momentum appearing to shift, the Uckers converted on their gains with an all-important equaliser just five minutes into the half, with a free kick spread to the edge of the Stags box and Dee Okojie taking aim before lashing in via a deflection.
With the game there for the taking, the hosts would’ve hoped to had the next say in order to make good on manager Ryan Maxwell’s stated aim to reach the Vase Semi-Finals this season.
What followed, superbly for the Uckers, was decidedly off-script, as Ellis Cormack struck clinically in the 55th minute from Liam Baitup’s far-post cross, capitalising on the counter from a Stags corner to crucially pull ahead.
Adverse conditions began to affect the Wadham Lodge pitch more significantly after the hour mark, and clearly at home on an unpredictable surface, the Uckers struck next with their third. With a stunning effort from distance, it was captain Richie Welch who fittingly added to the scoreline, beating Bromsgrove at the far post after 72 minutes.
Refusing to cave in, the hosts dominated going into the final 15 minutes and crucially pulled a goal back in the 81st minute as McCullock worked in from wide and lifted a cross into substitute Samrai Gebrai, who headed in.
Despite attacking relentlessly, the Stags saw their Vase ambitions ebb away as each wave of pressure failed, and with a steadfast defensive effort from the Uckers, finally it was they who won progress, confirmed on the final whistle to spark wild celebrations.
The Uckers will discover their Third Round opponents – a side from the same South East region at this stage – this Monday, with news of all the ties set to be released on http://www.thefa.com/competitions/fa-vase as soon as the draw is made.
Most likely pending a pitch inspection, Anthony Storey’s side will return to action this midweek as well in the Sussex Senior Cup, with their Second Round tie set to take place at Eastbourne United this Tuesday night, kicking off at 7:45 p.m. at The Oval – a preview for that tie will be available shortly.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Smith, Maddock, Ryan Welch, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean, Baitup (Pearson, 90+3’), Cormack, Camara
Unused: Quebé, Loft, Alexander, Storey, James, Cooper
Credit to Graham Sullivan / @AfcUckfieldTown Twitter for the basis of this report.