AFC Uckfield end Eastbourne Town's unbeaten run
AFC Uckfield Town pulled off a shock result as they defeated Eastbourne Town and ended the visitors’ unbeaten league run through Nathan Hover’s first-half header, reports Will Hugall.
It was the perfect start to a busy Bank Holiday weekend for the Oakmen, who acquitted themselves superbly as underdogs by chasing every cause.
This aspect of their performance was crucial as the Uckers claimed a fourth win in this fixture in as many years, and one they entirely deserved after Town failed to take their chances in the game.
Bolstered by the return of Dan Tear and Farrall Ryder from injuries, Uckfield began the game purposefully as Morgan Vale had the first shot on target, driving low and hard to test Chris Winterton.
Town are regarded as a quality outfit for a reason though, and they could’ve been ahead had Dan Rogers’ free header from an early corner taken a cleaner connection.
John Lambert’s side took a stronger hold as the half developed, with Aaron Capon forcing Jason Tibble into a solid save before the Uckers hacked clear when a free kick was almost forced over the line.
While they didn’t have so many chances, Uckfield were full of grit which would soon pay off. In the 29th minute, George Cook won a corner and Ellis Wright was bang on the money with his delivery to the far post. Hover timed his run to perfection and rose high above Town’s players to crash the ball past Winterton, bringing great celebrations from Uckers players and fans alike.
It was the first time they had trailed this season, but the visitors didn’t lose their composure as Jack Samways and Capon both threatened in the next few minutes. Neither could prevent their side trailing at half-time, however. With Cook and Rogers exchanging fouls at the start of the second half while Tibble pulled off a number of saves to frustrate his old club, the rivalry in this fixture was proving entertaining, as well as a motivating factor for several players.
Cook, for example, was pulling the strings for Uckfield and could have doubled the lead as his inswinging free kick bisected the far post and Farrall Ryder’s late run to drift inches wide. Town’s threat, meanwhile, continued to be predominantly aerial. Around the hour mark, Capon, Rogers and Leon Greig all had headed opportunities but either directed them wide or only found Tibble’s gloves.
The introduction of Ben Overton was positive for Town as the midfielder blasted two shots at Tibble’s goal in the space of five minutes, but parity was still elusive. Uckfield had performed superbly to this point with a tireless pressing game, yet that effort had to be maintained right until the end to secure full returns.
Town applied endless pressure as the game entered added time, with two left-wing crosses narrowly evading Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa and Winterton going up for a corner which the Uckers somehow cleared. In the 94th minute, however, the visitors had their biggest chance of all. With the ball bouncing around the Uckfield box, possession eventually fell to Leke Ademola. The striker dug out a shot and watched on in hope, but could only hit the post before the Oakmen hacked the ball away to seal all three points.
It was an extraordinary performance, and one that rightly received top praise from manager Steve Ives. He said: “In terms of commitment to the gameplan every player was outstanding, I could probably go through every shirt and make a case for that player being man of the match. The match sponsors gave it to Cookie, I can understand why.
“I enjoy keeping a clean sheet, everyone played their part in securing that so I don’t really want to pick out any one individual... team game!”
Ives added: “I think the game was more about work rate and concentration rather than creativity or possession, probably most of the chances came from set pieces rather than open play. I was surprised Town didn’t offer a bit more on the ball, but I think at least a part of that was down to how well we pressed them and how disciplined we were with our shape.”
The personal connection between the two squads was of course a talking point too. Ives said: “Eastbourne Town is my club, if we don’t have a game, they are who I’ll go and watch – The Saffrons is five minutes from my house and I’ve got lots of friends on the pitch and in the stands.
“That said, we are building here, and all of us have committed a lot of time and energy into helping build Uckfield how we want it to be. There’s still loads of room for growth here, for example this game was the first time Uckfield Grasshoppers players have been in attendance as mascots, our U18s enter the FA Youth Cup for the first time this Wednesday, [and] we’ve now got live music and hot food at The Oaks for every home game!”
He added: “This is what I’m talking about by building a culture and there’s still loads to do. What we are able to do on the pitch is the same, we are still growing this team, at the moment there are glimpses of what we are capable of but we won’t stop until we are a top three side.”
AFC Uckfield Town: Tibble, Cash, Parsons, Plummer (Clarke, 90+4’), Hover, Tear, Ryder, Blewden (C), Vale (Baker, 70’), Cook, Wright (Pearson, 90+1’)
Unused: Kendall, Clement
Eastbourne Town: Winterton, Barbosa, Cole, Vickers (Scott, 13’), Rogers, Wilson, Samways, Johnson (C), Greig (Ademola, 74’), Hull, Capon (Overton, 78’)
Unused: Holman, Moynes