Folkestone Invicta 1-1 Leatherhead (1-3P) - The off-the-field situation has got to improve - Cugley

Saturday 03rd May 2014

(after extra time – Leatherhead win 3-1 on penalties)
Ryman League Division One South Play-Off Final
Saturday 3rd May 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Cheriton Road

FOLKESTONE INVICTA manager Neil Cugley says he’s feeling gutted after missing out on promotion in the cruellest way.

Leatherhead celebrated their return to the Ryman Premier League after an absence of two years after their keeper Deren Ibrahim, 23, saved two penalties in the shoot-out, before Folkestone midfielder Dane Luchford hit the left-hand post with the eighth-penalty to ensure that Leatherhead sealed promotion by winning the penalty shoot-out 3-1.

It was a cruel and devastating blow for Cugley and his players, after finishing the Ryman League Division One South campaign in second-place, having clocked up 89 points from 46 games, three more than a Leatherhead side that finished in third-place.

Leatherhead defeated Guernsey 3-2 at Fetcham Grove in the play-off semi-final on Tuesday night, while Folkestone Invicta needed extra-time to see off fifth-placed Hastings United by the same scoreline.

But Folkestone Invicta put in a nervy first half and Leatherhead capitalised in front of the Kent club’s largest crowd of the season of 1,287 after 951 watched the midweek win over Hastings United.

Tom Bradbrook looped in his 36th goal of the season to give Leatherhead an early advantage.

Only two of Leatherhead’s sixteen-man squad (Matt Smart and Kev Terry) have not featured for Kent club’s during their careers and as a result this game had an Kent derby feel to it.

But Folkestone Invicta sent the tie into extra-time through Paul Booth, 37, who headed in his 26th goal of the season with three minutes of normal time remaining.

As expected, the game was settled by a penalty shoot-out and Leatherhead buried ghosts of their 5-3 penalty shoot-out defeat on this same ground in the play-off semi-final in 2010, which led to Folkestone winning promotion with a 2-1 win over Godalming Town in the home final.

The club spent one struggling season in the Ryman Premier League and were relegated with 27 points, with only five wins to their name.

Bradbrook stepped up and scored the first penalty, finding the bottom left-hand corner, before Folkestone Invicta equalised when substitute Phil Stevenson found the same corner following a short run-up to the ball.

The home fans were given hope when Ian Draycott’s penalty was virtually hit straight at Folkestone keeper Tim Roberts, who smothered the ball low to his left.

But Ibrahim twice flouted the laws when he took a couple of steps off his line before making crucial saves.

He first dived to his left to save Matt Newman’s penalty, before looking on to see his defender Jamie Coyle send Roberts the wrong way to give Leatherhead a 2-1 lead.

Johan Ter Horst, 18, who was playing his last game for Folkestone Invicta before his move to Premier League club Hull City, brought a fine one-handed save out of the diving Ibrahim, high to his left.

Darren Smith, who served Folkestone Invicta with distinction as captain, scored the decisive penalty for Leatherhead, despite Roberts diving to his left and getting his left hand to the ball.

But Luchford fell to his knees in agony and wanted the ground to swallow him up after watching his right-footed penalty bounce agonisingly against the left-hand post, which sparked wild celebrations from Leatherhead’s players and fans, before Smith held aloft the glass trophy to signal the Surrey side’s elevation after each of his team mates, management staff and club officials collected their play-off winners medals from Ryman League officials.

“It’s not the best way (to settle a game),” said a bitterly disappointed Cugley inside his office after the game.

“I just felt first half we didn’t play.  When we changed our system, we absolutely mullered them and should have won the game comfortably really.

“We missed so many chances and half chances and it’s the disappointing thing for the players really because we know we didn’t play well first half.

“The lad Bradbrook always scores against us anyway to be fair to him.

“I just felt second half and extra time we were the better side. That’s the disappointment. If you had lost and you’re not the better side you just think fair enough but if you look back at some of the chances we had, you think we should have won that!”

Leatherhead created the first chance of the game after only 52 seconds, but Roberts made a comfortable save at his near post to deny Bradbrook scoring from an angled drive from the left-hand side.

But Bradbrook capped off an excellent season in front of goal, scoring a brilliant goal inside the opening 13 minutes.

Smart played the ball up to Smith, who swept the ball out wide to right-back Ryan Mahal, who was in an advanced position.

The former VCD Athletic man was given time and space to whip in a cross, which came out to Smith, who played the ball forward and Bradbrook hooked his shot over his shoulder, which looped over the outstretched Roberts into the top right-hand corner from 12-yards.

Cugley said: “Bradbrook scores against us any way!  I think he just has to walk on the pitch and score!

“After that we played him really well. Bradbrook is a good player, he’s a (Ryman) Premier League player.

“But I thought earlier on they were a lot better than us.  They won all the seconds, they got hold of the game, they were better than us.”

The goal knocked the stuffing out of Folkestone Invicta, who put in a poor first half performance in front of a sun kissed Cheriton Road crowd.

The Tanners should have doubled their lead in the seventeenth minute when Mahal once again progressed down the right wing before whipping in another cross, which was headed away and Draycott’s left-footed drive screamed just over the crossbar.

Roberts caught Bradbrook’s speculative right-footed drive from 35-yards, but Folkestone Invicta should have done better with a free-kick on the half-hour mark.

Everybody inside the Leatherhead penalty area was expecting Luchford to whip his free-kick into the box but he cut the ball back to Josh Vincent, who sliced his right-footed shot over the bar from 20-yards.

Folkestone were flat during the first half and they should have taken full advantage of another Luchford free-kick.

The ball was half cleared by the Leatherhead defence and Yianni picked the ball up on the edge of the box and cut the ball back to Chris Elliott who whipped in a cross into a crowded penalty area but Vincent’s header was comfortably gathered by Ibrahim.

Folkestone Invicta had to wait until injury-time to create their best chance of the half.

Skipper Liam Friend crossed the halfway line with a mazy run before releasing Yianni who strode forward before stroking his left-footed drive towards goal from 20-yards, which forced Ibrahim to make a comfortable low save to his right.

“I think that was the only shot we had first half, that’s why we had to try to change this around to cause them some problems and I think we did that,” said Cugley.

“That was pleasing because the last time we played at Leatherhead we lost 1-0 in the league and we never caused them problems at all, where today we’ve caused them loads of problems.”

With calls of “sort it out Neil” coming from the hugely populated banks of terracing at the cricket ground end of the ground, Cugley spent the half-time interval rallying his troops to put in a much better second half performance.

He said: “We changed the system at half-time and I just felt after that we were in complete control of the game and disappointed that we didn’t go on and win.”

However, Leatherhead were resilient at the back and hit Folkestone with a wave of counter attacks.

A headed clearance out of defence by Friend was latched onto by Terry, who burst forward from the half-way line before stroking a right-footed shot towards goal from 12-yards, which forced Roberts to save comfortably to his right.

But Folkestone Invicta should have equalised in the 51st minute.

Chappell – who scored the first goal of the game against Hastings United in midweek – hung a cross towards the Leatherhead box where Micheal Everitt played Ter Horst in behind the Leatherhead defence and Ibrahim dived to his right to block the shot with his legs.

Seconds later, the ball came out to Booth on the right and his cross-come-shot sailed over Ibrahim’s head and agonisingly dropped down and caressed the top of the crossbar a couple of times before dropping down towards safety.

Cugley added: “You can keep going (talking about our missed chances).  There was a lot of chances that we had.  That’s football.”

Leatherhead went close too.  Ryan Cooper played the ball out of defence to release Terry (the only survivor for the club from that penalty shoot-out defeat in 2010), who cut in from the left but stroked his right-footed shot from 20-yards, which was initially spilt by Roberts, who gathered at the second attempt.

Draycott broke down the right before sweeping the ball to the left-hand side to Bradbrook, whose poor touch forced him to poke the ball harmlessly wide of the near post from a tight angle.

Cugley was left frustrated when another decent chance went begging in the 57th minute.

Vincent clipped the ball over the top of an otherwise solid Leatherhead back four to put Booth through on goal, but he angled his right-footed shot across the diving Ibrahim, who got the slightest of touches to tip the ball around the post.

The Folkestone manager said: “Mostly he puts them away. He’ll be disappointed he hasn’t shot a little bit earlier and the lad just got a tackle on him.”

Leatherhead were to be denied a match clinching second with little more than 20 minutes of normal time remaining.

The Tanners hit Folkestone on the break again and Bradbrook raced through the middle before releasing Terry, who burst into the box and his shot was blocked well by Roberts, who recovered swiftly to make a fine block to deny substitute Paul Semakula scoring from the follow-up.

“That was at an important time,” admitted Cugley.

“That was only the other chance they had and it was a massive, massive double save to be fair to Tim.  A really good save, a double save that was important.  That kept us in it at that time.”

Folkestone Invicta were to be frustrated by a Leatherhead defence that were winning plenty of balls in the air and giving nothing away.

Stevenson lashed his right-footed drive over the Leatherhead crossbar after Newman retrieved the ball after the Tanners had headed away Chris Elliott’s left-footed free-kick.

Leatherhead brought on Maidstone United Academy graduate Daniel Johnson for the final eleven minutes as manager Richard Brady parked the bus in front of goal.

But despite that move from the former Sittingbourne manager, Folkestone Invicta still created chances.

Cugley’s side squandered an excellent chance to level with eight minutes remaining.

Luchford swung in a right-footed free-kick into a crowded goal-mouth where substitute James Everitt threw himself at the ball and planted his header just wide of the left-hand post.

Leatherhead midfielder Smart cracked a right-footed volley over the Folkestone crossbar from 25-yards, before Folkestone Invicta made the breakthrough with three minutes remaining.

Newman floated over a free-kick from the left into the middle of the penalty area where Booth glanced his header over Ibrahim into the roof of the net for a deserved equaliser.

Cugley added: “I just think the momentum was with us, that’s why I’m in shock we didn’t finish up winning the game.

“I think going into extra-time, even the chances we had, I’m disappointed that we didn’t get a winner.”

Invicta pressed for the winner in normal time, but couldn’t find the way through.

Vincent played the ball up to Booth, who laid the ball off to James Everitt, whose right-footed drive was saved comfortably by Ibrahim, who then saw Booth cut into the penalty area only to slice his right-footed shot harmlessly wide.

Folkestone Invicta were coming towards the end of their 58th game of the season so extra-time was the last thing they needed.

Both sets of players were clearly tired during extra-time, despite both sets of supporters behind each goal giving their heroes excellent vocal support throughout the entire contest.

Ter Horst stroked his right-footed angled drive past the far post inside the opening two minutes of extra-time, before Leatherhead went close from a corner.

Smart delivered an out-swinging corner from the right, which was flicked on by Coyle but the ball dropped to Bradbrook, who stabbed his shot wide of the near post.

Alert goalkeeping from Roberts inside the opening five minutes of the second period saw him smother the ball at Draycott’s feet inside the penalty area after Mahal cut in from the right flank to set up the former Maidstone United man.

A sublime diagonal pass from Smart released Leatherhead substitute Theo Fairweather-Johnson down the left and the former Thamesmead Town attacker stung Roberts’ fingers with an angled right-footed drive from 25-yards.

But Cugley’s side should have won the game outright in the final four minutes of extra-time, but Ter Horst fluffed his big moment.

Cugley said after the Hastings game that the scene was set for Ter Horst to score the winning goal in his last game for the club in the play-off final.

Booth picked the ball up inside his own half and penetrated the Leatherhead defence straight through the heart of the pitch before playing the ball out to Luchford on the right.

Luchford centred low towards the near post but Ter Horst swept his right-footed shot agonisingly wide of the right-hand post from eight-yards.

Cugley anguished that miss and said: “I honestly thought it was in from where I was.  I expected the net to bulge!

“To be fair to Johan, he’s had a really poor game today and it’s a bit sad for him to go away.  He had a good game us on Tuesday, maybe everything, the expectation on him and everything else. Maybe he needs now to be a full-time pro and get his head down. He’ll be disappointed how he’s performed today.

“The script was sort of written for him to be the hero or the villain and I’m afraid he was a bit of a villain today so that’s sad for him because he’s been great for us.”

Folkestone Invicta squandered their final chance when Friend latched onto Booth’s clever pass in behind the Leatherhead defence, but the central defender rolled the ball across the keeper and past the far post from a tight angle.

Cugley said: “Friendy had a chance. Johan had a chance. You think we’ve had a lot of things bobbling around the box. I was a little bit disappointed we didn’t take one of them.”

Those two late chances were decent chances that proved fatal for Folkestone Invicta as Ibrahim, who is employed full-time by Dartford as Academy coach alongside first team manager Tony Burman and two others, was Leatherhead’s hero with two fine saves in the penalty shoot-out.

Luchford’s miss inflicted more agony for Cugley, who deserved a successful climax to the season for battling through another off-the-field crisis at Cheriton Road.

Cugley admitted after the Hastings game and today’s game that his side do not practice penalties.

“At this standard it’s not like you can practice every day, you’re not here every day and you’ve just got to go with the people that feel confident,” he said.

“I never blame people who take penalties.  I used to play and I used to hate taking penalties.  I said in there, I never blame the person who’s strong enough to take a penalty.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve lost three penalty shoot-outs this year to Hungerford in the FA Trophy, Margate in the League Cup and then today so that’s disappointing.

“I’m not against them (penalties) but you just like to win them sometimes.  The only one we’ve won funnily enough was against Leatherhead to get us in the Premiership before.”

Cugley refused to point the finger of blame to the three players that cost the club a place in the Ryman Premier League after finishing fourth, fifth and second in the past three seasons at this level.

“Dane, Matt Newman and Johan have all missed. I’m not going to knock anyone that takes a penalty.  You go up there and you’re there to be shot so all credit to them for just all standing up.

“It’s the third penalty shoot-out that we’ve missed this year. That was the most important one!”

Cugley deserves recognition for producing winning teams despite fighting off-the-field battles year after year.

The club hastily installed 28 red seats on the front terrace step of the “Grandad Stand” after the Hastings game – the only seating available after the stand was condemned after the roof blew off in the storms over Christmas.

“It’s been a hell of a difficult season really at Folkestone, I’ve got to say that,” said Cugley.

“I’m absolutely worn-out and I’ll go away and think about things and go from there really.

“I need to talk to a few people. We need to get the club run better. Always it seems a big club and it’s great that we get support.

“We’ve got so many problems behind the scenes that needs to be rectified to make it a big club to try to take it on.  I want to take it on but it’s really difficult.

“It needs the club to move on, doesn’t it?  You have to try to push the club.

“This year we ran out of money in February, the roof of the stand has gone. It always seems to be something. We’ve got to try to get away from that.  We’ve got to be a little bit more professional in everything that we do.

“I would have loved to be in the Premier League. I’m gutted as a person because I want to manage in the Ryman Premier League but there’s certain things that we have to get right to push us on that way and at the moment they’re holding us back.”

Cugley paid tribute to his players for picking up runners-up medals after finishing 18 points behind promoted champions Peacehaven & Telscombe.

“I’m not knocking back the players, the players, what they’ve done here are brilliant for the club.  I’m talking things off the field. We need to get things right to get it better on the field.

“The players have been absolutely brilliant coming third from bottom and since October-November we’ve gone on this tremendous run and players have been brilliant and they deserve a lot of credit.

“We’re not a big paying club.  We haven’t got the finances to throw money.  We have to be careful who we bring in and how we do it and the players have been absolutely brilliant for this club.”

The Folkestone Invicta boss also paid tribute to the club’s supporters, who after all made this possible.

One fan handed Cugley £100 after the win over Hastings to buy the players a round of drinks and fans backed Cugley with £10,000 to put into the playing budget.

When asked how he is feeling, Cugley replied: “Pride in how we turned it round. Proud of the supporters who kept this team together. You’ve got to remember we ran out of money in February and if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have been here today. We wouldn’t have had these two games if it wasn’t for our fans putting in the money.  The side would have all gone and that’s something that we need to look at.  The off-the-field situation, that’s absolutely has got to improve.”

Folkestone Invicta: Tim Roberts, Josh Vincent, Chris Elliott (James Everitt 73), Liam Friend, Frankie Chappell, Matt Newman, Dane Luchford, Michael Yianni (Phil Stevenson 46), Johan Ter Horst, Paul Booth, Micheal Everitt.
Subs: Roland Edge, Simon Austin, Tom Hadler

Goal: Paul Booth 87

Booked: Josh Vincent 116

Leatherhead: Deren Ibrahim, Ryan Mahal, Ryan Cooper (Theo Fairweather-Johnson 90), Matt Smart, Jamie Coyle, Jerry Nnamani, Ian Draycott, Tom Parkinson (Paul Semakula 63), Tom Bradbrook, Darren Smith, Kev Terry (Daniel Johnson 79).
Subs: Mohamed Eisa, Adam Burchell

Goal: Tom Bradbrook 13

Booked: Tom Parkinson 15, Darren Smith 82, Deren Ibrahim 83, Daniel Johnson 104

Attendance: 1,287
Referee: Mr Sam Purkiss (Highbury, London N5)
Assistants: Mr Karl May (Gillingham) & Mr Alex Gray (Lambeth, London SE11)
Fourth Official: Mr Wade Norcott (Harlow, Essex)


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