In a game that provided a testament to the quality of the SCFL Premier this season, AFC Uckfield Town were pushed all the way by visitors Langney Wanderers and at times looked like being left empty-handed, only for two nerveless moments late on to give the Uckers all three points, reports Will Hugall.
Following positive performances from both sides the weekend prior, the only two personnel changes were for Langney, as Gary Ingram and Joe Summerbell were introduced to the side that exited the FA Cup on penalties to Harrow Borough in arguably the biggest game in the club’s history.
Showing no hangover from that tie, the visitors could well have swept into the lead at The Oaks after just 40 seconds, with Mohammad Ali Mekawir – the first-ever Solomon Islander to score in the FA Cup – beating Jacob Turner and playing a one-two with Tim Bennett, only to sky his finish over Jason Tibble’s crossbar.
Langney’s pace out of the traps was astounding, and Mo Zabadne was booked for a foul on Ingram just a minute later, leading to Shaun Lee heading into Tibble’s gloves from the free-kick on the right.
The Uckers have proven themselves to be no slouches this season though, and it was they who instead made the decisive impact early on, with incisive work by Zabadne in the left corner to lift a fine cross to the far of the 18-yard box, and then by Morgan Vale to carve a perfect right-footed finish back across goal and into the top left corner, stealing the lead in just the 4th minute.
An intimidating intensity remained from Langney, and in the next few minutes, Lewis Broughton planted a cross over the bar before Mekawir and Bennett were almost found free with dangerous passes into the half-spaces, with alert Uckfield defending keeping them at bay.
Owing partly to tactical Uckers play and partly to exertion, that pace dropped and the best chances to follow were from Langney free-kicks, from which Bennett headed simply to Tibble and former Uckers defender Calum Sherriff just fell short of poking a clipped pass from Broughton in.
Despite that, Alex Walsh’s side – the victim of four previous defeats to the Uckers – had a quick trio of opportunities which did examine the hosts more closely next, as Broughton fired a sharp left-footed shot low to Tibble’s left, Mekawir was released in space before Sam Cash came across superbly, and Ian Kula fired another shot in from the right at Tibble.
After all that action, the last 20 minutes of the half otherwise lacked note, and aside from a testing free-kick from Jack Samways which Neill Di Lucia saved, quality diminished with neither side seemingly content in how they had played, setting up a second-half where it was all still to play for.
Fittingly, a double change from Langney kicked off the half and almost had an immediate impact as Ingram drove in from the right and struck across goal, only for Callum Ridley to clear at the far post.
Again, momentum came and went as the game hit the hour mark, and Sherriff almost teed up Lee when he headed a deep corner back into the six-yard box, following a chance of his own sent into Tibble’s gloves.
As the Uckers had done it earlier, however, Langney pounced in the second half out of nothing, and in the 66th minute exploited Uckfield’s defensive positioning with a simple counter, as Summerbell played a penetrative pass to Mekawir and the winger held off Turner before firing into the bottom left corner to level the score.
The next few minutes brought further pressure, and the Uckfield defence did just enough to keep the prevailing force from Langney at bay; Trey Masikini forcing a pass just beyond a well-placed Marc Di Lucia for the biggest scare.
Having not truly clicked in the half, the Uckers realised they still had a good foundation on which to make a decisive play, and substitute Luca Page and opposite wide man Vale restored some threat in an encouraging few minutes.
When spotting a gap left by the tiring visitors, Turner drove forwards and laid off to Vale on the right in the 82nd minute, and as the Uckers winger swept a cross in, such a play came to pass. Sam Carrington got enough of a touch at the near post to force Di Lucia to parry, and as Alex Plummer burst into the box for the rebound, two Langney challenges failed to make contact with the ball. Dan Perry thus had a chance from 12 yards that he would not miss, dispatching into the bottom left corner with emphatic force.
The drama was far from over, and as Wayne Clarke was introduced, his first unfortunate act would be to get too hands-on at a Langney free-kick, being penalised by referee Thomas Price to give the visitors a near-immediate chance to equalise from the spot. Fortunately for the Uckers, the reactions of Tibble were again top-notch, and what seemed a rushed attempt from Masikini went high and central, allowing the Uckers ‘keeper to palm high over the crossbar and protect a precious lead.
A predictable Langney onslaught followed, but as a series of set-pieces came and went without any cutting-edge, the Uckers were able to see out victory from a rather unlikely set of circumstances.
Sitting an equally unlikely 2nd in the table after four matches, the Uckers face probably the biggest test of their league season so far with a visit from league grandees Eastbourne Town this Saturday.
Kick-off is 3pm for what should be a fascinating afternoon, and with match sponsorship available for a number of home games coming up, any interested parties can get in contact with the club via its social media pages for the opportunity in some crucial fixtures ahead.
AFC Uckfield Town: Tibble, Turner, Zabadne, Ridley, Hover, Cash, Vale, Samways (Plummer, 77’), Perry (C) (Clarke, 87’), Carrington, Black (Page, 64’)
Unused: Duncan, Platt
Langney Wanderers: N. Di Lucia, Kula, Ducatel, Stevens (C), Lee (Rainford, 84’), Sherriff, Broughton (M. Di Lucia, 46’), Summerbell, Bennett (Masikini, 46’), Ingram, Mekawir
Unused: Davidson, Phillips