Having already achieved history in their early league form, AFC Uckfield Town face what could be amongst the toughest challenges of the entire term this weekend, but certainly have reasons for confidence as they host an Eastbourne Town side who are eager to find full form after several stern challenges, writes Will Hugall.
Amongst followers of SCFL action, there would be little debate that Town, if not the predominant force, are amongst the top contenders in this season’s Premier Division.
Based on their consistency at this level alone – in six straight seasons now, they have finished in the top five – they are definitely listed amongst those best-placed to make a title push. That opinion is only bolstered by the fact that they are backed by probably the biggest, and arguably the best, fanbase in the division.
Last season represented one of their best chances to achieve a first return to the Isthmian League since 2015, when jostling for the lead in the table over several months with surprise contenders Lancing.
Despite sitting six points behind the Lancers at the point of abandonment in March, Town – with the best offensive and defensive records in the league at that stage – surely would have provided an intense title battle had the season been played to a conclusion.
Alas, that was not to be, but after strengthening with a number of interesting additions this summer, John Lambert’s team will be considered contenders for another shot at the league crown.
With Nathan Crabb, Trevor McCreadie, Jamie Crone and Wes Tate added to a powerful frontline and ‘keeper Chris Winterton protected by defenders with burgeoning reputations such as Alfie Headland and Matty Astle, there will be no shortage of experience or ability at The Saffrons this year.
An interesting side-narrative to this weekend’s meeting also, of course, will be that of a reunion in the dugouts, and also on the pitch.
Most of the Uckers’ new management team have been involved at Town in the recent past, with Steve Ives a previous first-team coach, Graeme Mintrim, Stuart Tibble and Dom Crowhurst all involved in the club’s youth progression, and Jason Tibble the custodian of the No.1 jersey.
As such, the meeting serves as an ideal opportunity to reunite with previous colleagues and test their efforts at the Uckers so far against what they each know is a well-oiled Town machine.
With the likes of captain Dan Perry, influential midfielder Sam Carrington and centre-backs Nathan Hover and Dan Tear also very impressive in their time at Town before joining up with the Uckers, there will be no shortage of headlines should any of them be decisive in the outcome of the game.
Beyond what ought to be a fascinating meeting of friendly faces this weekend though, there will also be important points on the line, with the visitors in need of a win to kick-start their season, while the Uckers are aiming to extend an unbeaten run that has become their best-ever at the start of an SCFL Premier season.
The fixture list has not been kind to Town in September, with visits in the FA Cup to Saltdean United and Faversham Town coupled with a league run taking in Horsham YMCA, Peacehaven & Telscombe and Newhaven – regular fellow contenders for league honours.
That scheduling has meant plenty of effort for four league points so far, as well as a frustrating exit from the FA Cup on penalties, despite not yet conceding more than a single goal in any game.
The aim for Lambert’s men will be to kick on after that spell and make an impact on a Premier Division where there are no clear front-runners, but in which the Uckers have made an impressive early mark.
Their latest result, a 2-1 win against Langney Wanderers, was perhaps the more fortunate result of their run so far, but after being frustrated by second-half goals at Little Common and Saltdean the week prior, the Uckers may feel their luck was deserved.
The challenge now will be to improve their levels for this test, and having never previously gone their first five league games of a season unbeaten since forming in 2014, the prize for securing a result in this fixture would be to make new history for the club.
Either way, the fixture is all set to produce entertainment of the highest quality at this level, so the best of luck to both teams involved.
Kick-off at The Oaks is 3pm for the game tomorrow, with entry £6 for adults, £3 for concessions and free for under-16s; all pay on the gate. All necessary safety measures such as track and trace are in place, and maximum capacity is 300, so we would love to see you down at the ground.
Come on you Uckers!