Football – Uckers respond superbly to pull off league shock

In their first-ever visit to a Horley Town side boasting form amongst the best in the nation, AFC Uckfield Town proved their resilience and ability to defy the odds, achieving a stunning late 1-0 victory with Alex Laing’s 83rd-minute winner after a tremendous performance throughout, reports Will Hugall.

Despite being without three suspended first-teamers and facing a Clarets side on an eight-match winning streak, the Uckers refused to let circumstances go against them on the Sussex-Surrey border, with their stubborn defensive performance crucial on an afternoon where control ebbed and flowed.

In his backline, boss Anthony Storey handed a full debut to Hastings United’s Dan Hull to partner Dean Stewart-Hunter in an unfamiliar set-up but saw the side adapt well early on, restricting the hosts – who had averaged 2.46 goals per home game this season – on a surface that was improving after a heavy winter.

After that relatively quiet opening spell, the chances began to flow at both ends before the half-hour mark, with the Uckers steadily having the better of the play; efforts from Liam Baitup and Matt Maclean narrowly missing the target, while the hosts tested Phil Hawkins on a couple of occasions.

While a potential penalty shout for Dee Okojie was then denied as the winger waltzed his way into the box, the Uckers could still be the happier of the two sides as half-time approached, withstanding more pressure from the hosts as they looked to kick-start their own counter-attacking game.

That complexion of the match rarely threatened to change at the restart, and Uckfield had another penalty claim waved away just minutes in when Bailo Camara was brought down – that decision only going on to provide further motivation for the frustrated visitors.

Having beaten leaders Lancing 1-0 just four days earlier at the New Defence, the hosts would have had high hopes of keeping their promotion push rolling, but were still unable to create much for top goalscorer Tony Halsey by the hour mark and faced the increasing possibility of just a fifth game without scoring all season.

The Uckers, on the other hand, began to strengthen at that stage, and after Baitup forced a reactive save from George Hyde from Camara’s set-up, the striker also curled a rising effort over the bar from another move, momentarily pinning the Clarets back.

Anthony Jupp’s hosts, however, responded with a more prolonged spell of pressure as the game entered the final 15 minutes, causing the Uckers’ nerves to particularly jangle as a cross struck Phil Hawkins’ crossbar and fortuitously bounced away.

As both sides upped the tempo, however, an Uckers break in the 83rd minute would turn out to be decisive, with a move finding itself out wide for Bailo Camara to deliver a superb cross towards the rising Alex Laing, and the forward finishing in fine style by directing a header past Hyde, giving the shocked hosts little time to respond.

Not intent to concede any points in a congested top five, Horley’s efforts did redouble as their earlier substitutions – including former Horsham forward Kieran Lavery – came into focus, pouring forward in search of an equaliser.

With the Uckers standing up to the test, however, and weathering all six minutes of added time, the points were eventually theirs to take home to East Sussex, seeing them move back up to 8th in the SCFL Premier Division and narrow the gap to 6th to four points in the process.

Storey’s side return to action this upcoming Tuesday, as they make the familiar trip to The Oval to take on Eastbourne United AFC – their fifth meeting in all competitions this season – in the Peter Bentley Cup Quarter-Finals, kicking off at 7:45 p.m.; a full preview for which will be available in the coming days.

AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Norman, Stewart-Hunter, Hull, Samways, Okojie, Maclean, Baitup, Laing, Camara

Unused: Ovenden, Loft, Creese, Perry, Storey

All images are © Mike Skinner (not to be used without express permission)

Goal Scorer Alex Laing with a diving header from outside the area into the top of the net.

A great save by Hawkins

Marks out of 10!!!!