Folkestone Invicta 0-3 Merstham - We just lacked that litlte bit of quality to get us over the line, admits Folkestone Invicta boss Neil Cugley

Friday 01st May 2015
Folkestone Invicta 0 – 3 Merstham
Location Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5JU
Kickoff 02/05/2015 15:00

Ryman League Division One South Play-Off Final
Saturday 2nd May 2015
Stephen McCartney reports from Cheriton Road

FOLKESTONE INVICTA manager Neil Cugley admits his side lacked that little bit of quality to get over the line after suffering play-off heartbreak for the fourth successive season.


The players’ runners-up medals will be little crumbs of comfort despite collecting 98 points from 46 games as fourth-placed Merstham (93 Points) sealed promotion into the Ryman Premier League for the first time in their 123-year history.

Merstham knocked Faversham Town (97 points) out of the Ryman League Division One South play-off Semi-Finals by winning 5-4 on penalties after an uninspiring game at Salters Lane finished goal-less after extra time.

Folkestone Invicta also needed extra-time to beat fifth-placed Whyteleafe (81 points) 2-1 at Cheriton Road last Tuesday to set up today’s winner-takes-all showdown.

A crowd of 1,465 flocked through the turnstiles at Cheriton Road and the Folkestone Invicta faithful were left shaking their heads as to how their side lost this game.

Merstham were clinical in front of goal, with winger Taurean Roberts tapping home from close range to score his nineteenth goal of the season with only 05:21 on the clock.

The Surrey side doubled their lead with only their third attempt on the stroke of half-time when former Bromley midfielder Tutu Henriques scored his sixth goal of the season to give Invicta a mountain to climb.

And Fabio Saraiva’s 26th goal of the campaign was the icing on the cake for Merstham when he scored from a 30-yard free-kick seven minutes into the second half.

“I said it would take three years’ to create what I wanted,” said Bird after his club’s promotion.

“I’m used to working higher in Carshalton and Bromley so I needed to get my head around to what was required in this level.

“But you’ve got to give credit to the people behind the scenes because they gave me an amazing platform to work. They’ve let us build a new team. The club is now ready for the Ryman Premier Division and the guys behind the scenes really deserve this as much as the players’ deserve it.”

Cugley, meanwhile, cut a disconsolate figure inside his office, speaking while the Merstham players’ were celebrating inside the visitors’ dressing room down the corridor.

He said: “It’s just a manager’s nightmare, isn’t it? You know how they’re going to play. You’ve got everything sorted out and you miss open goals and you’re giving terrible goals at the other end.

“It’s one of those things, what can you do? You’re sitting there and it sounds like an absolute horror show because you’re actually playing well and they’ve cleared two of the line. We’ve missed two open goals!

“We’ve given a sloppy goal in the first few minutes away and not marked the lad from a corner so you’ve come in and you’re 2-0 down! You’re shocked to be 2-0 down!

“Honestly, with the way that we were playing up until then, I thought we’d get back into the game and then our goalie’s dived over the ball from the free-kick and really that’s end of the game then yet at 2-0 I honestly through we’d get back into it!

“Ironically we didn’t play well against Whyteleafe and if we’d have lost Tuesday I think you’d taken it on the chin a little bit but if we’re completely the better side and all over them but you can’t do the two things, give away two silly goals and not take your chances!”

Folkestone Invicta camped themselves inside the Merstham final third for the opening five minutes, forcing a trio of corners, before Merstham went up the other end and scored with their first attack.

Taurean Roberts, who impressed during the stalemate at Salters Lane in midweek, twisted and turned Josh Vincent down the left channel, cut the ball back to left-back Anton Douglas, who swept a deep cross to the other side of the penalty area.

Merstham’s right-back, Simon Cooper, who has 11 goals to his name this season, played the ball back across goal and Taurean Roberts slid in at the far post to stab the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from close range.

Cugley said: “People said it was offside, I couldn’t see.  You shouldn’t be playing the offside in that situation – you’re too deep to play offside so I felt that was a terrible goal to give away too early but after that we’ve completely and utterly dominated and they’re clearing things off the line, we’re missing open goals and you’re just thinking we’ll get one.”

Bird said: “It was a dream start, wasn’t it? It was the dream start to the half and it was a dream finish to the half! It’s Roy of the Rovers stuff isn’t it? You write a story on that and you say that’s not going to happen. It’s too good to be true. It was a great start to the game.”

Folkestone Invicta were to be denied by a goal-line clearance following their fourth corner of the game inside ten minutes.

Ronnie Dolan swung in the corner from the right and Micheal Everitt stabbed the ball through a crowd of players, which was cleared off the line beside the post.

Dolan swung in his next corner towards the far post again and Frankie Chappell came up from the back to power his towering header over the bar.

Merstham keeper Brannon Daly, who saved Stuart King’s first penalty in the shoot-out at Faversham Town in midweek, made a great one-handed save after eighteen minutes.

Matt Newman clipped in a right-footed free-kick from just outside the right-hand corner of the box towards the far post and Chappell’s downward header from eight-yards forced Daly to dive to his left to use a strong left hand to push the ball away.

“Brannon is a goalkeeper that has evolved with the team,” explained Bird.

“He came to us as a young man two years’ ago and a really good young player with a lot of potential and he’s beginning to show everybody what a really good young player he is.”

The Merstham keeper then made another fine diving save after 26 minutes during a dominant spell from the Kent side.

Forty-three goal striker Ian Draycott bent his right-footed free-kick around the wall from 20-yards, but Daly dived to his left to parry, but Liam Friend or Chappell could not make a connection to the loose ball and the chance was gone.

Merstham’s first chance arrived on the half-hour mark when Saraiva stroked his left-footed free-kick from 30-yards, which bounced into Tim Roberts’ hands for a comfortable save.

Another chance went begging for Folkestone Invicta when Dolan whipped in a right-footed free-kick from the left and striker Richard Atkins held his head in agony as his header glanced just past the far post.

Folkestone Invicta brushed the underside of the crossbar in the 36th minute when Newman played the ball forward into Draycott, who laid the ball into Atkins’ path and his right-footed shot from a tight angle, just ten-yards from goal flew over Daly’s left shoulder but clipped the woodwork.

Draycott was involved in the next move when he played the ball into Atkins, who set up winger Jordan Wright, whose right-footed chip over the advancing keeper dropped agonisingly over the crossbar.

Merstham grabbed a second goal – against the run of play – following their first corner of the game.

Saraiva floated in the ball from the left and Henriques planted his free header into the roof of the net – over Tim Roberts’ right shoulder – from four-yards.

It gave Folkestone Invicta a mountain to climb going into half-time.

Cugley said: “You go through it, it’s just amazing really! You can’t believe you’re 1-0 down, instead actually you go 2-0 down!

“We had two cleared off the line, two open goals, Friendly should have scored, Atto (Atkins) with the free header should have scored and there’s other chances, loads of chances when you think about it.

“They’ve got a corner, really against the run of play and Friendy’s lost his man and the lad’s headed it in!

“For them to get the second goal, even at 2-0, honestly at half-time we were bubbling in the changing room. We thought we’d get it back in because we thought we’d get a goal in the first 20 minutes and Tim’s made a mistake for the third one.

“It must have given them a massive lift,” Cugley said of the second goal just before half-time.

“We were playing so well. We played some great stuff and created chances.  I thought even 2-0 down I thought we could get back in but the third one killed it off really.”

Bird admitted: “It was the perfect time to score the second goal.

“Folkestone would feel very unfortunate to go 2-0 down at half-time, let’s be fair to Neil and his team, they didn’t deserve to be 2-0 down at half-time.

“Half-time came at the right time for me. I could do my job to make sure it’s not going on to win four or five-nil. It’s about they don’t score. Technically we organised them to make it really difficult for them and I think the boys’ did that really well. That’s just my experience of high-profile games. We’ve done it all season.

“We’ve played some great football this season but these games are not about entertaining, these games are all about winning and sometimes you have to give away a little bit of the entertainment to play more strategically and we’ve done that in both of the (play-off) games because look at the amount of goals that both teams (Faversham 111 and Folkestone 107 in the league) have scored all season and they haven’t scored against us.”

Bird was quick to pay tribute to Peter Adeniyi and Henriques.

He said: “Tutu and Peter are the biggest people in the football club. I think they are as important as me and the staff in the football club.  The experience and the knowhow in addition to having that burning desire to win is immense.  

“I don’t think we would be in this position, as good as Taurean (Roberts) and the Fabio’s (Saraiva), the Tommy’s (Hutchings), the Brannon’s (Daly) and the Kalvin’s (Morath-Gibbs) as good as they are and they’re really good footballers, without Peter and Tutu I don’t think we would be here.”

Merstham shaped up with five men at the back with a diamond in front of them with Adeniyi and Henriques expertly marshalling the middle of the park.

Merstham’s fans were signing “we are going up!” when Saraiva killed the game off from a 30-yard free-kick as early as the 52nd minute.

It was a quality finish from the former Maidstone United midfielder, who bent his low left-footed free-kick around the wall and past the diving keeper for the ball to nestle into the bottom left-hand corner.

Bird said: “Great free-kick! I think free-kicks are really important in this situation because play-off games are normally tight affairs and how you attack and defend free-kicks are crucial to win the game.

“Fabio has such quality with his left peg. I didn’t know he would score but I knew he would work the keeper. I thought it was a really good strike!”

Cugley disagreed, adding, “He got stuck behind the wall and when he dived he should have saved it.

“Tim’s had a very good season for us but he knows that he should be covering that side of the goal! I f the lad can curl it into the top corner the other side then I’ll accept that but when it goes over that side the goalie has to get there.”

Folkestone Invicta called Daly into making another save on the hour mark.

Vincent played a sublime diagonal ball from inside Merstham’s half towards the far post and Draycott’s downward header from 12-yards forced was pushed away by Daly, diving to his left.

Cugley said of his star striker: He’s a diamond! He’s been great for us. We were chasing the game. All the time it’s hard as a forward. You want it the other way around. If you go 1-0 up you can then catch teams on the break.”
Adeniyi, who has now won three Ryman League promotions after helping Bromley (Premier play-offs) and Dulwich Hamlet (Ryman One South title), went close within two minutes.

Saraiva drilled the ball out to find Cooper in an advanced position on the right and the right-back cut the ball back to Hutchings, who set up Adeniyi, who took a touch before his left-footed drive from 16-yards screamed just wide of the left-hand post.

Hutchings drilled his left-footed free-kick just over the Folkestone crossbar from 20-yards as time was running out for the shell-shocked hosts.

Wright drove a ball forward towards the edge of the Merstham box and Atkins turned and looped his right-footed shot wide.

Hundreds of disappointed Folkestone fans started heading towards the exits as their side have added Merstham to Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United (both semi-finals) and Leatherhead (on penalties in last years’ final), the sides that have ended their promotion dream over the past four years.

Cugley added: “They come to the big games, just have to give them bigger games. Hopefully they’ll come here again next year. Hopefully we’ll get over the line.

“The chairman (Jim Pellatt) is happy, he’s delighted. Play-offs do make us a lot of money so he’ll be happy. We can work out what we’re doing next year but at the moment play-offs’ let me down and I’ll go away and I have to think what I’m going to do, where we’re going with everything really.”

Merstham finished the game on the front foot as substitute Junior Kaffo swept the ball out on a diagonal to find Taurean Roberts, who played the ball into Cooper, whose right-footed drive from 20-yards was tipped over by Tim Roberts, high to his right.

Another substitute, Reece Hall, skipped past Newman and Friend to create a chance for himself, only to drill his shot wide.

Taurean Roberts then prodded his shot just past the foot of the right-hand post, before Merstham’s Greatest Day was complete and they can now look forward to hosting Ryman Premier League football at Weldon Way for the first time when the new season kicks off again on Saturday 8 August.

Bird said: “I haven’t really thought about it too much because you can’t think too far ahead because we could have lost today. 

“My thoughts now go to the Surrey Senior up Final against Met Police (at Woking) on Wednesday but after Wednesday I’ve given myself a couple of days off and then we’ll start planning towards next season.

“This is three years’ of my work and three years’ of building and organisation and the evolution of the team and one or two additions like we did this season with Peter Adeniyi and I think they will do very well.”

Cugley was devastated that he has failed to get his side back in the Ryman Premier League despite finishing in the play-off positions in the past four years.

“Four years running. It does hurt because I think when we played Dulwich and I lost to Dulwich in the play-offs and we lost to Maidstone they were big clubs.  No disrespect to Merstham, Whyteleafe and Faversham, we’re all about similar and not that big but they were both clubs and gone off and shown that.

“We always felt we were as good as them, whoever we were going to play and to get home advantage was a big thing.”

When asked whether he’d love to scrap the end-of-season lottery, Cugley replied: “You know the rules before you start. I think the play-offs are a great thing. You wouldn’t get 1,400 to games very often so I love them. I think they’re a great part (to the season). I just want to win them!

“That’s obviously hurt me that day today. It’s embarrassing really, the scoreline in a lot of ways.  It’s just the way of the defeat, just not the defeat. You take defeats. I think that’s our first loss in 16 games. The goals that we gave away and the chances we missed, it was a strange game.”

When asked about his plans for next season, Cugley replied: “There’s no lie. If we’d have gone up it would have been the same budget and the same budget for this (division) and I think we’ll go with the same players’ we’ve got and just hopefully we’ll do it again.”

Cugley revealed that he needs financial backing to mount another promotion push next season.

“We need to find a millionaire. That’s what Margate have done and that’s what Dover have done and they’re bigger clubs and if you want guaranteed promotion you need finance behind the club but to be fair what we do we do well.

“We’ve got out of debt, we’ve paid the CVA off so we should be proud of that. We’ve always wanted to get out of the play-offs and we never thought we’d get second in the league and I’m proud that we’ve done that but finishing today on a massive low.

"We just lacked that little bit of quality to get us over the line.

Folkestone Invicta: Tim Roberts, Josh Vincent, Nat Blanks, Liam Friend, Frankie Chappell, Matt Newman, Jordan Wright, Ronnie Dolan (Jon Pilbeam 54), Ian Draycott, Richard Atkins, Micheal Everitt (Ashley Miller 74).
Subs: Callum Wraight, Simon Austin, George Fender

Booked: Liam Friend 71, Ian Draycott 82

Merstham: Brannon Daly, Simon Cooper, Anton Douglas, Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, Marc-Anthony Okoye, Tutu Henriques, Taurean Roberts, Peter Adeniyi, Tommy Hutchings (Junior Kaffo 84), Fabio Saraiva (Omar Folkes 66), Aaron Rhule (Reece Hall 83).
Subs: Dean Gunner, Yannick Makiese

Goals: Taurean Roberts 6, Tutu Henriques 45, Fabio Saraiva 52

Booked: Simon Cooper 39, Peter Adeniyi 61, Aaron Rhule 79

Attendance: 1,465
Referee: Mr Gary Parsons (Lymington, Hampshire)
Assistants: Mr Chris North (Aldershot, Hampshire) & Mr Elliott Heward (Guildford, Surrey)
Fourth Official: Mr David Spain (Westfield, East Sussex)