Despite a diligent performance to preserve a narrow half-time lead, Uckfield were forced to settle for a point by visitors Loxwood after an agonising late equaliser, reports Will Hugall.
With their season kick-started by a historic FA Cup win against Glebe the week prior, the Uckers enforced four changes, with suspended goalkeeper Louis Rogers replaced by Josh Langley-Fineing for is debut since signing from Langney Wanderers, and Sam Cooper, Matt Black and Anthony Storey reinstated in place of the unavailable Callum Sherriff, Dee Okojie and Matt Maclean.
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Amid an enthusiastic start, a fifth minute Uckers penalty – awarded after away captain Ross Swaine’s clumsy challenge on Regan Smith – set the match’s subsequent tone; overseen by Storey, but met with a defiant stop by Sam Smith, diving to his right.
Consumed in midfield, the match retreated upon itself, yielding only few opportunities as Black, encouraged to drift inside from his left-wing berth, Callum Smith and Ellis Cormack failed to convert respective half-chances.
Previously nondescript, the Magpies offence eventually fixated on centre-back Eddie French’s aerial prowess; Alfie Gritt’s disallowed 27th finish, and further pot-shots, coming from French knock-downs.
As the Uckers exacted a final added-time test, creative pressure told; Bailo Camara almost drawing another penalty from the dazed Jordan Warren, before sweeping a low cross into the goalmouth, where Cormack’s touch allowed Callum Smith to instinctively stab home.
Each side aware of the other’s necessary risk, the restart proved cagey, with Uckfield again the more incisive outfit – particularly as Matt Penfold dithered from a shooting opportunity, allowing Storey to sweep a cross-field pass to Camara, whose by-line return proved too high for an unmarked Smith.
Pressed for a response, the West Sussex side remained true to tactics, not as midfield aggressors, but growing in set-piece competence as centre-back Sam Smith forcefully headed wide from an hour-mark corner.
After Regan Smith, in pursuit of a winning effort, had misjudged an earlier cross to brother Callum, a 79th minute Black one-on-one – saved low by ‘keeper Smith – proved the eventual catalyst for the hosts’ defensive recoil. Though thriving under invitation, the visitors’ best chance seemed to have passed, 89 minutes in, with Matt Hards; inconceivably skewing wide from Dean Wright’s pull back.
With the Uckers on the verge of victory once clearing yet another rushed service beyond the far post, failing to account for a lurking Warren, pushed forward from left-back, proved a telling blow; a stunning half-volley beating Langley-Fineing for a heart-breaking 92nd minute equaliser.
Deprived of what – curiously – would have been an opening league victory in their second home match, again against a West Sussex-based side, for the fourth consecutive season, the Uckers will lick their wounds before travelling to Eastbourne United this Tuesday, kicking off at 7:45pm.
Line-up: Langley-Fineing, Norman, R. Smith, Hickman-Smith, Cooper, Richie Welch (C), Black, Storey, C. Smith (Loft, 89’), Cormack (Rodrigues-Barbosa, 79’), Camara. Unused subs: Ryan Welch, Ducatel, Janneh