On the first afternoon of the 2020-21 season where fans were welcomed back to The Oaks, AFC Uckfield Town helped to send football supporters home with a long-missing feeling, earning a 1-1 draw in their final pre-season friendly against Ramsgate FC, reports Will Hugall.
With both sides fielding a mix of experience and youthful talent, the match provided a chance for new Uckers managers Steve Ives and Graeme Mintrim to consider their options against quality opposition, and from the earliest action, it looked like being an even contest.
For the Bostik League side, winger Henry Arnold broke on the left and found George Nikaj for the first chance of the game, with the latter’s run only slightly mistimed to prevent him from converting. The Uckers responded as centre-back Nathan Hover, newly signed from Eastbourne Town, struck a rising effort just over the Rams’ bar minutes later.
Hover and centre-back partner Dan Tear impressed in their roles as the action got into a steady rhythm, and after they halted a couple of dangerous Rams attacks it was teammate Matt Black who threatened, powering away from two visiting defenders before firing into Ed Harvey’s gloves.
With expectation mounting, the Uckers’ patient approach paid dividends in the 30th minute as striker and captain Dan Perry notched his first home goal in Uckfield colours – and hopefully the first of many this season – from a move involving Ben Kirk-Patrick and Black, finishing their good work by firing past Harvey from close range.
Keeping their concentration, the Uckers defended resolutely from that point while under pressure, with the only clear Ramsgate chance before half-time falling to striker Roman Campbell, whose loose touch from an Ashley Miller pass allowed Jason Tibble to collect.
As expected, the second half saw a number of substitutions as both sides rotated, and momentum began to suffer the longer the game went on.
Uckfield had the better of the half as it started, with Perry finding space on the left and firing in a cross marginally out of midfielder Lloyd Francis’ reach, while Tear and Perry combined to give substitute goalkeeper Ollie Haines a scare when Kirk-Patrick’s free-kick was headed onto the post.
A flurry of subs soon after, however, allowed the Rams to regain control and ultimately equalise in the 62nd minute, with heavy pressure in the Uckers’ box seeing the ball break to Kane Rowland, whose effort took a heavy deflection to swivel past Tibble’s dive.
With both teams doing all they could to give game time to all those available, a scrappy final 20 minutes saw a number of fouls in midfield, although there were still chances to win the meeting at either end. Firstly, Max Glet’s chance when 3-on-2 against the Uckers defence ended up in the hands of Tibble, while ten minutes later, the Uckers almost capitalised on miscommunication in the Rams box, with a substitute striker picking up the loose ball to turn and shoot, striking the crossbar as the visitors breathed a sigh of relief.
Altogether, a draw was the deserved result for both sides after plenty of effort, and a fitting end to the long-awaited occasion of football being back at The Oaks.
The Uckers open up their season officially this Tuesday in the FA Cup, hosting one of 184 Extra Preliminary Round ties that kick off the non-league season as they welcome Little Common FC, with a 7:30pm start.
Once again, full capacity will be 150 spectators, and your support will be much appreciated in the return of competitive football to the town.
All images © Mike Skinner