AFC Uckfield are grounded at Gatwick
AFC Uckfield Town provided plenty of Bank Holiday entertainment but could not match it with a result as they fell to a 3-1 defeat against an experienced Crawley Down Gatwick side.
The schedule hadn’t been overly kind to the Oakmen in one of only four 11am fixtures they will have all season, with the 40-mile round trip to West Sussex paling only to Lingfield’s visit to Hassocks for the longest journey of the day.
That said, Uckfield showed no signs of rustiness early on, with Alex Plummer shooting wide on the half-volley after Alexx Kendall’s cross to Aaron Baker was headed away.
While attacking play at both ends was brightening up an overcast morning, smiles would be taken off Uckfield faces by an Anvils goal in the 17th minute.
In a manner that would go on to be repeated throughout the game, a counter-attack proved the Uckers’ undoing, with Phil Johnson running onto a simple through-ball, rounding Tibble and slotting a finish beyond Dan Tear’s last-ditch tackle.
Uckfield fought back, with Morgan Vale driving a shot wide before Tibble made an important save from Johnson’s 20-yard effort.
The thick of the action was certainly in the two boxes, and fittingly, it took someone involved at both ends to level things up in the 40th minute.
As Tyler Pearson’s free-kick was blocked, the striker’s rebound met the head of Dan Tear, who had all the instincts of a striker to head past goalkeeper Alex Bellingham after picking up a smart onside position.
It was a finish that Tear certainly knew less about than his first Uckers goal at Peacehaven, but the Oakmen weren’t going to complain about being level.
The hosts returned with purpose, and soon should’ve been ahead as Johnson shot into the side-netting after again side-stepping Tibble on the counter.
While Pitcher – the division’s second-top goalscorer before the game – had been kept quiet until the hour mark, Uckfield knew they had to make any defensive success count at the other end.
A high-energy game was close to getting rewards, with Wright and Vale combining on the break and almost setting up substitute George Cook, who couldn’t quite reel in Vale’s cross.
When Vale clipped Bellingham to concede a free kick, however, the hosts would make haste in finding Pitcher. Inevitably, as an in-form striker with space to roam, his curling shot beat Tibble to make it 2-1 after 62 minutes.
Frustratingly, the game was sealed for the hosts shortly after.
Uckfield could’ve levelled as Cook had only a defender to beat from close range, but the hosts blocked and ran free, allowing Oli Leslie to tap in from Pitcher’s ball across the face of goal after 65 minutes.
The double salvo took the wind out of Uckfield’s sails, and in the remaining 25 minutes, all that was left to cheer was an excellent spell in added time, in which Cook struck the crossbar with a free-kick and Wright drew a fine low save from Bellingham.
While it is now a remarkable five straight defeats from Uckfield’s visits to The Haven Field, the Oakmen can take credit for their overall performance in this one.
Manager Steve Ives seconded that view when speaking after the game.
Ives said: “I certainly don’t begrudge Crawley Down the victory and don’t want to come across the stereotypical deluded manager, but I genuinely felt it was an even contest for 80 minutes.
“There was a spell of five to 10 minutes just after the hour mark when we lost our concentration and they were able to punish us.
“[That was] very frustrating, as we were aiming to back up Saturday’s win with at least a point.”
There was plenty to dissect from a tactical point of view, as Ives said: “CDG matched our set-up which I don’t think is their normal formation, whether that was tactical or coincidental, I’m not sure. But it basically made the game 1v1 all over the pitch, meaning whoever controlled the space and kept concentration better was likely to prevail.
“First half, our movement was really good at times, which is pleasing as it’s something we work on regularly.
He added: “There was definitely a spell in the 2nd where they were able to capitalise on a couple of fast breaks.
“Jay should have done better with the second [goal] but mistakes happen at this level, [while] the third was a quality move started by a sweeping long pass and exceptional first touch from Charlie. I still felt our marking at the back post should have been better.
“After that, we had to throw caution to the wind a little which resulted in a really open game, their keeper has made a couple of great saves and we finished strongly which is a positive.”
The Oakmen return to action next Tuesday (7th September) as they travel to face Seaford Town in the Peter Bentley Cup, with both sides entering at the Second Round. Kick-off will be 7:30pm at The Crouch for an intriguing local derby.
Crawley Down Gatwick: Bellingham, Chowney (Wood, 46’), Blake, Spence (C) (Brown, 88’), Pelling, Scally, Leslie (Sullivan, 85’), Belli, Pitcher, Johnson, Gadd. Unused: Moore, Enticknap
AFC Uckfield Town: Tibble, Cash, Kendall, Plummer (Wilkes, 68’), Hover, Tear, Baker (Cook, 55’), Blewden (C), Vale, Pearson, Wright. Unused: Parsons, Bignell