In a closely-fought encounter typical of the recent history between the two sides, AFC Uckfield Town edged out Saltdean United with a fortuitous 86th-minute winner, but had victory overshadowed by a serious injury suffered by captain Richie Welch, reports Will Hugall.
On a Hill Park pitch managed superbly to make playable, the hosts made a fast start as Phil Hawkins was drawn into a save by a shot from distance, but, while still in its early stages, the game soon took an unfortunate turn.
As Saltdean’s left-back tried to recover a loose touch infield, Uckers skipper Welch was able to clear but came off significantly worse from a late follow-through, and was stretchered off after a lengthy delay – later having surgery to repair a broken tibia.
With the match continuing, momentum was initially hard to rediscover, and a smattering of half-chances for both sides before the end of the first half saw strikers Dan Perry and Callum Smith each go close, while Ellis Cormack also lifted a shot into Billy Collings’ grasp.
In the opening stages of the second half, it was Uckfield who began to take a firmer grasp, and after Cormack headed a Bailo Camara cross over, Smith had the best chance of the match when Collings spilled a Camara corner – Smith forcing Dylan Gifford to clear off the line after hooking back over his head.
While Smith sent two further chances just wide, the hosts remained in contention as a shot across the box went agonisingly close to finding the inside of Hawkins’ far post, whilst also restricting the Uckers mainly to set-piece chances.
Eventually, however, that pattern broke, and in the 86th minute the Uckers struck in the nick of time as Camara found Stewart-Hunter inside him, and the defensive midfielder’s hopeful cross turned out to provide a moment of magic – sailing over Collings, who was possibly distracted by Liam Baitup’s far-post run and header as the ball nestled in the top corner.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Okojie, Stewart-Hunter, Hull, Welch (C), Samways, Maclean, Smith, Cormack, Camara
Subs (all used): Baitup, Norman, Townsend