AFC Uckfield Town storm into Peter Bentley Cup semi-finals

Showing no after-effects from a month’s weather-enforced absence, AFC Uckfield Town made a statement in their Peter Bentley Cup quarter-final by recording a decisive 3-1 win at Eastbourne United, fittingly led in spirit and success by the returning Callum Smith.
AFC Uckfield Town's Callum SmithAFC Uckfield Town's Callum Smith
AFC Uckfield Town's Callum Smith

The striker bagged a fine brace in his first appearance for six months.

The Uckers made three changes from the side which beat Little Common 3-0 in their last outing in early February.

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Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa and Jack Samways returned, while Smith returned from an ankle injury sustained at Horsham YMCA in late August.

An essential figure in manager Anthony Storey’s tactical set-up last season, Smith hinted early on that he could have the same impact at the start of a busy run of matches for the Uckers.

He played an important role in providing constant energy from attack as the side began confidently on the whole.

The better of the chances came from the Uckers’ ability to string together quick-thinking moves at this stage.

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A Rodrigues-Barbosa cross was crucially cut out, Smith drove wide and Samways also fired a shot narrowly over the United crossbar as the hosts were pinned back.

Eventually, this pressure - even at a relatively early stage - proved too much for a United defence with only one clean sheet in their previous 11 matches.

In the 24th minute, Samways picked up on a delivery in the hosts’ box and beat Jordan Hawkins for a well-timed first goal of his Uckers season.

Just three minutes later, Uckfield’s emphatic follow-up would be to double that lead from an unfortunate defensive error.

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Smith’s awareness and instinctive poaching ability allowed him to seize on the loose ball and slot home past Hawkins.

As the Uckers consolidated on their quickfire double, the hosts found a response hard to come by after the half-hour mark.

In the few chances that remained before half-time it was still Storey’s side who enjoyed the greatest threat; Smith heading an effort wide of the post from a teasing delivery late on, and having to settle for his one goal going into the break.

With the interval coming at the right time for the hosts, their opportunity to regroup made a visible difference after the break as an attack featuring all three Crabb brothers began to find their rhythm.

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As with the Uckers’ first-half spell, United’s pressure mounted as they gained confidence.

Around the hour mark, Phil Hawkins was first noticeably tested in the Uckers goal - preventing Sam Crabb from slashing the visitors’ lead in half with a strong stop to his right.

Matt Crabb’s side sensed that a goal at such a stage could be pivotal. Sam Crabb once again went close just minutes later with a header from Kane Penn’s corner; flicking narrowly past the post to give Uckfield a wake-up call.

The Uckers, finalists in last season’s edition of the cup, showed their steel to hold on throughout the extended period of pressure, and as Hawkins was drawn into another fine save to deny a downward header from close range home desperation grew.

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With the hosts having to commit, something had to give, and in the 83rd minute that set-up worked exactly in the Uckers’ favour.

Smith took advantage of space to demonstrate he had truly returned. He turned the home defence and applied a devastating finish from a tight angle for a memorable match-winner.

But the hosts did not allow Uckfield an easy last few minutes, and in the 89th minute, their efforts were rewarded. Substitute Dominic Cole drew back a consolation for the first goal of his stint.

The Uckers saw out added time and set up a home semi-final tie against Peacehaven & Telscombe - scheduled for later this month - and also secured the impressive record of reaching their fourth last-four spot in the last two seasons.

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Storey’s side will have little time to ponder that statistic, though, as they face Tye in their other last-four meeting this week.

They travel to Piddinghoe Avenue this Thursday (kick-off 7:45 p.m.) for a place in the SCFA RUR Cup final.

AFC Uckfield Town: Hawkins, Rodrigues-Barbosa, Cooper, Hull, Hickman-Smith, Welch, Samways (Ovenden 88), Maclean, Smith (Scott 84), Cormack (Okojie, 58), Camara.

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