Uckers face Langney test after strong opening fortnight

AFC Uckfield Town image (c) Mike Skinner

Following an encouraging unbeaten start to the league season, AFC Uckfield Town begin another big week in their development for 2020-21 as they welcome Langney Wanderers to The Oaks this Tuesday night, a match that – based on previous meetings – promises to be highly entertaining, writes Will Hugall.

With the first fortnight of the season passing incredibly quickly, what was unimaginable a few months ago – even getting fans into grounds – has become a normality already, leading to very encouraging scenes for clubs across the SCFL.

Some excellent football has also been on show in all four games the Uckers and their league compatriots have each played so far, in what has been an extremely well-managed return to the sport from all parties.

For as long as the season goes on, given fixtures will be published in monthly chunks and government guidelines will continue to be updated, those signs look like promising ones for the presence of the non-league game, which hopefully many fans will continue to support as professional outfits get the green light to re-open their gates.

As far as the Uckers are concerned, a run of three opening league fixtures without defeat – in which they have led in all three – has been the perfect tonic to a frustrating early FA Cup exit, and an endorsement of the work that managers Graeme Mintrim and Steve Ives, along with their coaching team, have done so far.

That run had its third leg at Saltdean United last Saturday, a fixture that had all the hallmarks of a classic early-season game; played in perfect sunshine, featuring two teams who hinted at even greater ability, and with a result only decided late on, as both sides could reflect on areas of strength and those to improve on.

As one of only four league fixtures to take place that weekend as other sides competed in the FA Cup, the result left Saltdean top and the Uckers in 4th, although standings will scarcely be reflected on at this stage of the season.

What will be more important to the Uckers is that performance levels continue in this test, against a Langney side that – despite featuring a handful of familiar faces – enter the season as a bit of an unknown quantity.

Indeed, in all four previous meetings between the Uckers and the Wanderers in the last two seasons, it has been Wealden’s finest that came out on top; memorably winning 4-3 on the August Bank Holiday in 2018, and 6-1 at Priory Lane on the same date in the calendar in 2019, while also securing a 4-1 away win in 2018-19 and most recently a 1-0 victory this January.

Those scorelines go a long way to emphasising the unpredictable nature of the Eastbourne side, who in five seasons (and two games this term) since joining the SCFL Division One in 2015-16, have been busy at both ends of the pitch, with their games producing an astounding average of 4.24 goals.

Former Uckers defenders Calum Sherriff, Ryan Welch and Harry Ducatel all now represent Wanderers, hoping to shore up a backline which conceded six in their opening league fixture against Pagham but also secured a 0-0 draw at Lingfield this time last week.

Langney’s exploits in the FA Cup have been their more notable achievement this term, with a 3-1 win against Tower Hamlets in the Extra Preliminary Round securing them their first-ever win in the competition. That led to another home tie in the Preliminary Round, and against Southern League side Harrow Borough they impressively forced penalties with an 88th-minute equaliser, before losing an agonising shoot-out 3-2.

While there will be disappointment for Alex Walsh’s side after that result, the schedule affords them immediate chances to bounce back, and it will be the prize of ending the Uckers’ unbeaten run that they will target here.

In the Uckers’ six-year history, they have gone unbeaten through their first four league games just once before. That was in the 2014-15 promotion-winning season, in which the Uckers’ current management team were involved, so if there were to be any lucky charm in that regard, it may well be in the dugout in this meeting.

With three good results to build on but a complete performance arguably still in the pipeline, there could be a perfect opportunity for the Uckers to prove themselves further in what ought to be a tight and exciting affair.

Kick-off will be 7:30pm at The Oaks for the game, with admission for adults at £6, concessions at £3 and under-16s able to enter for free.

The bar will be open and all safety measures are in place for a maximum capacity of 300 spectators. We’d love to see you there.

Come on you Uckers!