FA Cup glory continued for AFC Uckfield Town, as they repelled the superior experience of visitors AFC Croydon Athletic and nicked a late winner to achieve an unthinkable First Qualifying Round victory, reports Will Hugall.
Enforced by the unavailability of leading goalscorer Callum Smith, a single change welcomed the tie, as Dee Okojie returned.
Unbeaten in nine matches beforehand, Croydon edged the opening stages, and used aerial opportunities to their advantage as Liam Harwood blazed a header over the crossbar.
While Matt Black – set through by Bailo Camara – lifted over the bar, the Rams continued to rule as striker Emmanuel Oleyede was stopped only by Louis Rogers’ outstretched right boot after darting into the Uckers box.
SEE ALSO Bowman on the Road: FA Cup pride for our Sussex Clubs | Brighton duo excited ahead of new season | Milestones loom as Sussex look for vital victory in Durham
Sam Butler unfurled a long-distance strike that ricocheted off the underside of Rogers’ crossbar in the 22nd minute, yet was foiled as the goalkeeper gratefully claimed the free ball before it could roll over the line.
Although Okojie was denied a penalty after falling under Chevan Xavier’s well-timed challenge, and Camara profited from an overhit cross to rush a chip into Nic Taylor’s gloves, opportunities remained rare, and the half drew to a conservative close.
Pandering to similarly industrious reputations, the unfamiliarity of the First Qualifying Round for both sides – neither having even won in the FA Cup in their present guises, before this season – continued to ensure a stifling encounter.
As half-chances were passed, Oleyede’s profligacy did not draw sympathy from his teammates; failing to convert from a cross half-cleared by a diving Rogers, and hooking a second delivery wide.
In order to disrupt the midfield dominance that had emerged, both managers rang changes; in the Uckers’ case, a pivotal development. With Regan Smith introduced, the entire complexion of the match altered; first, Richie Welch launched a half-volley wide from Smith’s free-kick, and in the 79th minute, the vital intervention came from the substitute himself, from a Camara corner, when emulating his elder brother’s heroics and putting the ball home into the bottom left corner.
Feeding off newfound momentum, the Uckers continued their late raid as Calum Sherriff directed a header wide, and Okojie had his shirt held in the penalty box after a trademark solo run.
Though Oleyede’s blast was bravely blocked by the Uckfield backline, the most nerve-shredding of Rams opportunities was fired in after four minutes of added time – centre-back Taylor Maddock crashed through to goal from the last-gasp corner, and as the ball broke to substitute Joe Nwoko, his decision to square rather than shoot was misjudged, sealing the Uckers’ inconceivable victory.
Speaking after the match, Anthony Storey was commending of all involved: “I felt the boys dealt well with the physicality. Obviously, Callum Smith’s absence was a blow for us, but even without him we were outstanding up front today, and the younger lads coming in and taking their chances is what we’re all about as a club.
“I’m just delighted for everyone around the club – everyone behind the scenes that made this day so special really deserves this. Drawing these crowds, you can see the amazing impact of these matches. We just have to try to keep this fantastic run going now!”
Returning to league action, Uckfield next face Eastbourne Town in the second episode of a four-match home run this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:45PM.
Line-up: Rogers, Ryan Welch, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Hickman-Smith, Sherriff, Richie Welch (C), Okojie, Maclean, Temba (R. Smith, 75’), Black (Loft, 85’), Camara. Unused: Norman, Ducatel, Janneh, Langley-Fineing
Mike Skinner and Gary King man-of-the-match award - Louis Rogers