ON the back of two comfortable wins and ahead of Tuesday’s John O’Hara League Cup semi-final with Pagham, AFC Uckfield ventured the short distance to Hassocks for this Friday night league fixture.
New signing Ben Courtnage, from Ringmer, went straight into the squad while notable absences amounted to Andy McDowell (toothache), Rich Greenfield (work), Ben Dartnell and Alex Burton (both unavailable).
AFC immediately exerted pressure on the opposition goal with an effort that was cleared off the line in the first minute.
Hassock’s first effort came on nine minutes when their striker found himself one-on-one with AFC keeper Mark Oldroyd, who performed heroics between the sticks throughout. He didn’t have a thought for his own safety as he rushed out, diving at the feet of the on rushing forward, to lay claim to the ball.
Five minutes later an AFC attack build down the left resulted in young striker Tom Swancott pulling the cross behind Jack Divall. As the ball changed hands the play then went back to front very quickly, with the home side counter attacking. AFC were punished as the flight of the long ball was misjudged by the defender. The Hassocks forward Nathan Miles skilfully brought the ball under control, beat the recovering defender and tucked it with precision past Oldroyd.
The home side weren’t in the ascendency for long though, as Uckfield’s No 9 Swancott again drifted out to the left flank to collect the forward pass, his blistering acceleration stretching the Hassocks back line as he cut in to deliver a thunderbolt into the far corner and level the scores.
Chances came for both sides in the next 10 minutes before a moment of sublime brilliance from the home side on 11 minutes before the break. Their winger James Weston dropped his shoulder and took on the Uckfield left back, who seemed to have things under control.
But Weston managed to get a shot past the defender that squeezed between the AFC keeper and his near post as it moved in the air from 20 yards.
The last 10 minutes of the first half saw the man in the middle lose control of the game by becoming what the visitors later described as “the centre of attention, with some strange and inconsistent decisions”.
With the AFC bench apoplectic and incandescent with rage the man in black felt it appropriate to dismiss one of the coaching staff for dissent.
Shortly after, a heavy tackle by James Rhodes resulted in a contentious decision, with the referee brandishing a second yellow card and the Uckfield player getting his matching orders. That left the visitors 2-1 down and one man down at the interval.
The second period saw Uckers come out with purpose, resulting in an immediate free kick in the Hassocks half. The ball went out for a double corner but with no end reward. Hassocks’ first real effort of the half came on 53 minutes when the 10 men were overrun, again Oldroyd coming to the rescue with the ball cleared quickly by the defence at the second attempt.
A great chance for the visitors came on 58 minutes with a long channelled ball for the rapid Swancott to latch onto; he outpaced the Hassocks back line who failed to attack the bounce.
The player delivered a rasping half volley from outside the box that resulted in a world class reaction save from the home side’s custodian.
A change at left back on 65 minutes saw the experienced Grant Harrison taking the place of Terry Garcia. As the visitors pushed for the equaliser, the Hassocks themselves found the back of the net, earning themselves a two-goal cushion against the run of play in the process. On 76 minutes and from some non-existent marking on a routine corner, a free header in the six-yard box saw Kieran O’Callaghan extend the hosts’ lead.
The 10 men of Uckfield never lost heart though and continued to man the barricades. New signing Courtnage injected some extra energy into the attack when he replaced Joe Cuttress immediately from the restart. But with five minutes to go, the visitors conceded a cruel fourth goal when James Westlake breached the AFC rearguard.
Swancott was replaced by Wayne Brown to see out the final few minutes. By this stage, the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the visitors, after a miserable evening, having to play an entire second half with a numerical disadvantage.
Some good football in patches was played by both sides, with both keepers making some real top draw saves.
The visitors certainly weren’t outplayed and the scoreline probably flattered the hosts.
UCKFIELD Town beat Rottingdean Village 4-3 in a high-scoring Division Three clash. Town’s goals came from Murray Heywood (16 minutes), Daniel Barnard (22), Liam Pears (80) and Joseph Miller (88).