In their first match of the new decade, AFC Uckfield Town were unable to deliver any fireworks on a frustrating afternoon against Eastbourne United AFC, who, unhindered by the early dismissal of goalkeeper Jordan Hawkins, proved clinical late on to run out 3-1 winners, reports Will Hugall.
Already the fourth meeting between the two sides this season, the match was an understandably cagey one for much of its running time, but in a final 25 minutes featuring all four goals, it was the hosts who defied circumstances, sealing all three points with a late double salvo to complete a hugely impressive performance.
With the sides sat 7th and 8th respectively before kick-off and neither having regular action recently, a tight battle for points was always expected, and in the opening stages appeared to unfold as a half-chance for Uckers defender Calum Sherriff proved the greatest threat.
Interrupting that cagey opening, what looked like a huge turning point in the game arrived in the 16th minute as the Uckers set away with a direct move; playing over the top and exposing the United defence. With home goalkeeper Jordan Hawkins handling outside of his box, referee Adam Parry had little choice but to show a straight red card and reduce the hosts to ten men.
As defender Sean Roddy moved into goal in the absence of any substitute ‘keeper, United actually began to gain confidence as the half developed, enjoying the better chances as Phil Hawkins made a flurry of saves before Alfie Headland also sent a header over from a corner.
That frustrating tone for the Uckers continued until half-time, as after the hosts had a goal disallowed for offside, Liam Baitup was the recipient of Uckfield’s next chance, foiled as he headed into Roddy’s newly-donned gloves from an Ellis Cormack delivery.
Rallying after the break, the Uckers managed to respond with a more incisive attacking spell but still were without a killer chance; Sherriff bending an effort wide before the introduction of forward Gianfranco Mici, and a particular sustained move causing panic in the United box after the hour mark.
Such probing only made the hosts stronger, however, and in the 66th minute the Uckers were hit with a shock as United poured forward, Nathan Crabb was set free and the striker found Charlie Ball to finish past Hawkins; sending his side ahead in clinical fashion that suggested it was not to be the Uckers’ day.
Even that assumption was quickly overturned, as in the 68th minute the Uckers responded immediately and found inspiration from the deadlock finally being broken, with a move between Bailo Camara and Dee Okojie enabling the latter to deliver a destructive cross, which beat Roddy via a defender’s touch.
With the match back in the balance, neither manager chanced their hand with numerous substitutions despite tough conditions, and it was Anthony Storey’s side who understandably led the chances; Baitup sending a far-post chance just wide before Mici also steered wide from close range.
Those misses left the final few minutes still vulnerable to a dramatic finish, and in the 87th minute so the hosts delivered, to steal the game as Kane Penn’s corner was headed in by Sam Crabb, prompting huge celebrations.
In their last-gasp efforts to equalise, all the Uckers could do was pour forward and apply constant pressure, only to find a home defence still standing firm. In the 90th minute, their gamble was exposed on the counter, as United substitute Paul Wetherby struck the hosts’ third and final goal, and the three points were sealed in the direction of the home side.
Dropping one place to 9th as a result, Uckfield return to action this Tuesday with their first-ever visit to Alfold FC’s Dunsfold Road ground, kicking off at 7:45 p.m. in another SCFL Premier Division fixture.
AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa (Mici, 57’), Smith, Ryan Welch, McGuigan, Sherriff, Okojie, Maclean (C), Baitup, Cormack, Camara
Unused: Norman, Loft, Ovenden, Storey