In a match where momentum shifted in phases and finishing was key, AFC Uckfield Town scrapped out a draw with Little Common but could have had more to show for plenty of good play that bodes well for the near future, reports Will Hugall.
Only a week after the sides met in the FA Cup when Common came out 1-0 winners, there were seven changes from the two teams on that evening, and for the Uckers that meant first starts for Alex Plummer and Jacob Turner; in for Lloyd Francis and Dan Tear.
Quick starters in their subsequent 3-0 win against Steyning, the Uckers repeated the feat as the late summer sunset was casting itself over The Oval, with two offside decisions narrowly preventing Sam Carrington and Matt Black from big chances in the opening couple of minutes.
Fired up, the Uckers barely let the hosts breathe before they swept superbly into the lead, with the ball spread to the right wing and Morgan Vale playing a cross right into the slot hole between defence and goalkeeper, where Carrington was on hand with a well-timed, if slightly untidy, 5th-minute finish in off the left post.
Unsurprisingly, that start spurred Uckfield on for more, and when swallowing up Common attacks before they could even begin, chances came for Dan Perry, Vale and the ever-lively Black purely from concerted pressure, although Matt Cruttwell in the home goal was equal to them.
Rather than anything remarkable, the Uckers were profiting from doing the basics to a consistently high level as they continued ownership of the half; pressuring hard on any loose touch, passing into dangerous positions early and keeping chances ticking over, as Jack Samways’ free header from a corner just went wide.
Carrington had two further chances before the half, but both were tough and Common did begin to show some retort as substitute Sam Ellis rasped an effort narrowly wide of the left post of Jason Tibble’s goal, albeit needing far more to test the Uckers in the second half.
If Common had been hoping for a drop in Uckfield’s level, it certainly was not to arise at the restart, and the same energy and endeavour that had seen earlier success saw the Uckers threaten from a couple of promising set-pieces in the first returning minutes.
The hosts, however, had raised their standard, and after player-manager Russell Eldridge had previously set the example from centre-back, now it was the turn of midfielders Liam Ward and Kian Moynes to fire shots in at Tibble, with the latter’s turned behind for a corner.
Moynes, a set-piece specialist who starred in the previous meeting, took said corner and found, as he had at The Oaks, his target at the near post; this time captain Lewis Hole to peel off his marker and fire a bullet header past Tibble to level the game in the 59th minute.
Considering the scale of Uckfield control beforehand, the quick turn in momentum after Common netted was surprising, and with backs to the wall, the Uckers defence was thoroughly tested when Freddie Warren’s square pass found Moynes and Nathan Hover just about put the midfielder off his shot.
Sam Cash and Turner were soon booked in swift succession for fouls on Ellis, and from the latter’s, Moynes picked out Paul Feakins from the free-kick, with Tibble doing well to save the header from 15 yards.
As the Uckers restabilised, Perry became the key goal threat when felled by Eldridge on the edge of the box, and soon after was denied twice in a minute when a deflection carried his shot from a Vale cross wide, and his close-range effort from the resulting corner ended in a foul on Cruttwell.
Moynes could have nabbed the game for the hosts in the dying minutes with another free-kick, but even with the decoy of his centre-backs disguising a shot from 20 yards, Tibble was even to the teenager’s effort in the top left corner of the goal, and without any further big chances as the hosts did more of the late defending, the points were shared.
With the Uckers’ first three competitive games of the season producing a defeat, a win and a draw – with chances for victories in all – there is little doubt that lessons are being learned, and that with positive habits being instilled, further progress can only be around the corner.
An encouraging start to the season will give hope for the Uckers’ next fixture, as they travel to Saltdean United’s Hill Park this Saturday to face several familiar faces in a squad led by Anthony Storey and Bryan O’Toole in what should be a cracking match.
Kick-off is 3pm on the East Sussex coast as two sides unbeaten in league action so far put their records on the line.
Little Common: Cruttwell, Clark, Weeks, Ward, Parsons, Eldridge, Moynes, Miriam-Batchelor (Feakins, 63’), Hole (C), Warren (Smith, 90’), Richardson (Ellis, 35’)
AFC Uckfield Town: Tibble, Turner, Zabadne, Plummer (Ridley, 71’), Hover, Cash, Vale (Pearson, 81’), Samways (Clarke, 65’), Perry (C), Carrington, Black
Unused: Lee, Page