AFTER Friday’s misfortune away to Hassocks, attention turned on Tuesday to the allure of a cup final awith this John O’Hara Cup semi final at Shoreham against Pagham.
Selection saw England U18 keeper Tom Betts return between the sticks from international duty together with talisman Andy McDowell leading the line in the No 9 shirt.
Captain Ben Dartnell returned to occupy the deep lying midfield birth. AFC started the brighter in the opening minutes with Rich Greenfield outpacing the Pagham back line to the by-line only to shoot at a tight angle in the first minute.
Jack Divall, who proved a handful all game, was next up to call the Pagham keeper into action with another tight-angled effort on the other side. After 10 minutes Pagham grow into the game and gradually wrestled control of affairs with AFC defending stoutly and sitting deep.
The Lions’ tall No 9 got caught in the face requiring a change of his bloodied kit to No 17. Whilst having a majority of possession in the Uckfield half the first real effort came on 35 minutes with a long diagonal to the far post headed just wide. Shortly after Scott Murfin beat both the full back and covering centre half with a probing cross.
The last five minutes of the first half saw the favourites run out of ideas and AFC apply the pressure , andwhen McDowell went to ground and Divall picked-up the loose ball, he rifling it near post to force a save.
Pagham had the first real chance of note after the interval when a player found himself unmarked in the Uckfield “D” only to miscue the shot well wide.
AFC’s reply came on 49 minutes with the lively Divall finding space on the right flank and rolling a precision pass in behind the retreating back four for McDowell to latch on to and side foot coolly into the net.
Just before the hour mark an AFC free kick shock the upright. McDowell hit the other post six minutes later with very little in response to the goal from Pagham. on 64 minutes James Rhodes was swapped for Joe Cuttress to inject some energy into proceedings.
The trailing team’s best effort came on 75 minutes from a corner headed wide of the far post. Not long after that the rapid Tom Swancott replaced McDowell who had jarred his knee.
Putting aside the goal the major incident of the game came on 80 minutes when a Pagham player appeared to throw an elbow at the tricky Greenfield, who felt it appropriate to retaliate. The man in the middle (who was first class) had no option but to send both players off.
The bad blood continued on the way back to the changing room with the Pagham player clearly incensed by the actions of Greenfield. A scrappy game overall with Uckfield defending well in the first period and restricting the Lions to very few chances. AFC grew into the game in the second half which was a stark contrast to the 6-1 drubbing Inflicted at the Oaks two weeks previously.
Not a pretty game but Pagham seemed to struggle with AFC’s more direct style of play in the second half.
It was refreshing to have a game where all the officials delivered an extremely high quality of decisions. A cup final for the Uckers for the second year running on the back of a deserved victory on the evening. They meet Three Bridges at Hassocks on Good Friday for the final.