On an afternoon that all at AFC Uckfield Town had been looking forward to since fixtures were released, their league meeting with Eastbourne Town produced a memorable occasion, with the Uckers pulling off a superb win, but the result was overshadowed by a serious injury to Town’s Zac Attwood, reports Will Hugall.
In a league fixture where the Uckers had only secured one win in the last six seasons, three changes altogether saw Ollie Duncan introduced for Matt Black in Steve Ives and Graeme Mintrim’s XI, while Alfie Headland and Dan Bolwell came in for the visitors.
With many familiar faces featuring on both sides, a fitting start to proceedings saw former Town goalkeeping coach Roger Lee, who sadly passed away this year, commemorated with a presentation by Jason Tibble, a moment that highlighted the close links between the teams this season.
Given changes in both dugouts for this season, the early action at a packed Oaks proved to be cagey, as former Uckers striker Trevor McCreadie aimed to get in behind for the visitors, while at the other end Morgan Vale swept a cross just beyond Jacob Turner on the edge of the box.
Before the game could truly find its stride, a massively unfortunate incident in the 10th minute saw Attwood go down just outside the box after flicking a free-kick on, with an injury that was soon found to be serious.
Thanks to a quick response from both sides, Attwood was fully attended to as assistance made its way to the ground. Emergency response and an ambulance crew both attended, and just over 45 minutes later the striker was taken to hospital for further treatment before the game resumed.
Both sides were understandably slow to find their full tempo afterwards, although Attwood’s replacement Nathan Crabb showed impressive urgency, testing Tibble with an effort into the top left corner with the first chance after the resumption before Dan Perry and Sam Carrington almost linked up at the other end.
Towards the half-hour mark, a pattern began to take hold in terms of where each side found joy, with the Uckers’ threat from wide areas met by the visitors’ control of the central space; the latter producing the better chances as Matt Astle forced Tibble into a spectacular tip over the bar with Town pouring forward in numbers.
While John Lambert’s side embraced their typical role as possession-heavy dictators of play, the Uckers quite comfortably settled into their role as counter-attackers; the first example of this dynamic coming as a Town penalty shout was waved away when Duncan and Crabb collided in the air, and Callum Ridley quickly teed Vale up in the Town box to blast a shot just beyond Chris Winterton’s far post.
Besides that action, the first half ended very quickly with neither side settling into any real sort of tempo, and in the rare circumstances of a second-half having to begin at 5pm, the late afternoon was very much set up for a dramatic conclusion.
Indeed, there were few surprises in the balance of play as the second half began, and Tibble was by far the busier ‘keeper as he tipped over a McCreadie header made difficult by the low sun, then collected a tame shot from Cole and crucially saved down low as Crabb, almost with too much time to pick his spot, shot straight at him from 15 yards.
By contrast, the best chance in this spell for the Uckers was a speculative effort from Perry which went just wide of Winterton’s goal, and when still under pressure, the hosts probably should have gone behind in the 58th minute, only for Crabb to send a far-post header wide after a superb Cole cross.
While Dan Bolwell saw an effort charged down soon after, it could have been any of a number of Town players to test Tibble as the visitors began to show their frustration, desperately searching for the result that would really kick-start their league season.
This mentality, coupled with the Uckers’ growing confidence as Duncan, in particular, did superbly to keep McCreadie quiet, led to the game opening up into the last 20 minutes as Vale sliced a shot over the bar, and then a Town free-kick sailed through to Cole, who flicked a header agonisingly onto the base of the right post and out.
Just two minutes after that chance, the ebb and flow of the play went back in the Uckers’ direction, and as the Town defence offered vulnerability for the first time all afternoon by losing out at a throw-in, Luca Page carried possession forward in a three-on-two.
The Uckers were intent not to waste the chance, and smart play from Page ensured Perry would well and truly cash in; a pull-back finding the onrushing home captain, and his drilled finish into the bottom right corner sending his new fans into raptures in the 76th minute.
With the afternoon already looking like one in which things would not go the visitors’ way, minutes later that feeling would only be compiled as another Cole cross found space at the far post, only for Astle to mistime his run before a clearance to frustrate Lambert’s side further.
Town would have all the possession and chances that remained, and their odds of an equaliser even improved in the 89th minute as Sam Cash received his second booking for an innocuous foul in midfield.
The exasperation of Town’s players would only continue after the Uckers went down to ten men though, with a final flurry of chances beginning when Astle almost beat Tibble with a left-wing cross. Winterton went forward for two set-pieces, and Dan Rogers had an excellent chance as he lashed a shot at goal, but Tibble was equal to the effort to protect the Uckers’ lead, proving to be the last vital contribution to a memorable win.
The Uckers now sit top of the tree in the SCFL Premier, and without any midweek action, can be sure of having a whole week of holding that honour before they host Horsham YMCA next Saturday, kicking off at 3pm at The Oaks.
Alongside just Saltdean United in having played five games, the accolade may not last long, but it is a fine marker of the side’s early form and a testament to the excellent work being done across the club, which all involved should be very pleased with.
Note: On Sunday evening, the Eastbourne Town Twitter page thankfully confirmed that Zac Attwood was released from hospital on Saturday after a CT scan on his injury. All at AFC Uckfield Town would like to wish Zac all the best with his recovery.
AFC Uckfield Town: Tibble, Duncan, Zabadne, Ridley, Hover, Cash, Vale (Lee, 90’), Samways, Perry (C), Carrington (Stevens, 62’), Turner (Page, 60’)
Unused: Harper, Platt
Eastbourne Town: Winterton, Astle, Cole, Headland, Rogers, Barlow, Vickers (Pritchard, 48’), Johnson (C), McCreadie, Attwood (Crabb, 12’), Bolwell (Taggart, 68’)
Unused: Shonk, Strevett
All images (c) Mike Skinner