AFC Uckfield Town dug in deep on Saturday to overcome a persistent Haywards Heath in a 1st round Sussex County Division Two Cup tie at The Oaks.
Some weariness was understandable in what was the home side’s 4th game in 11 days, a heavy playing service also contributed to a game lacking a great deal of flair at times although neither side could be faulted for the grit and determination displayed.
After taking a 6th minute lead through a bullet header from centre half Kev Everest Uckfield failed to capitalise on a couple of good opportunities to extend their advantage. Firstly Scott Taylor was unable to steer his curling drive the right side of the post after some neat passing from Dan Dunford and Cal Legate, then Elliott Wood blazed over as he bore down on the helpless Heath keeper from ten yards.
As the half wore on both sides seemed to get slightly bogged down & if anything the visitors started to ask the louder questions. They were handed a golden chance to level the score when Lew Parsons was somewhat harshly adjudged to have upended his man in the penalty area, most spectators suggested that whilst the tackle was slightly clumsy it was definitely ball first. Thankfully for the home faithful Uckfield stopper Tom Bradford preserved the AFC advantage with an excellent reaction save, pushing the ball to safety and ensuring Town went into half time still ahead.
Knowing a response was required if they were to stay in the hat for the next round Haywards Heath tried to take the initiative in the opening exchanges of the second half. Howard Davey was introduced for AFC to inject some pace to the home forward line and immediately showed menace & intent with his willingness to run at players.
Uckfield negotiated a further reshuffle as Everest and Joe Miller came off injured. Despite the disruption Town continued to fashion chances on the break and centre forward Wood will probably be disappointed with himself for not managing to notch from a couple of decent openings.
The tie sprung back into life in the final ten minutes as Heath finally got the breakthrough they’d been searching for: an inswinging corner saw Heath substitute Rob Clarke slip his marker to head home the equaliser. Obviously in no mood for an additional 30 minutes the Uckers troops rallied their tired legs, Dunford slotting a through ball behind the visitors defence for sub Davey to drill home an emphatic winner with only a minute left on the clock.
After the game Manager Steve Ives praised his players for their character: “We’ve had a tough two weeks & it was evident today that some of the lads were running on empty towards the end. All three changes have been forced on us due to injury & we’ve had to ask Dave Harris to do the full ninety on his debut after not playing for a little while. I wouldn’t say it was always pretty to watch but it’s been effective, a goal from a corner & a harsh penalty are really all we’ve allowed them all day despite conceding a fair amount of possession at times. We’re forging a close knit competitive squad here & what we lack in experience we make up for in togetherness, we now eagerly await the draw in a competition that we realistically believe we’ve got a good chance of winning.”