I think the weight of expectation is on Folkestone’s shoulders, rather than Merstham’s, says Hayden Bird
MERSTHAM manager Hayden Bird says the weight of expectation is on Folkestone Invicta’s shoulders ahead of the winner-takes-all Ryman League Division One South Play-Off Final showdown at Cheriton Road tomorrow.
Bird has guided the Surrey club to their best ever season finishing in fourth-place on 93 points from 46 games and they are now only 90 minutes away from reaching the Ryman Premier League for the first time in their 123-year history.
PROMOTION BID: Merstham manager Hayden Bird insists the pressure is on Folkestone Invicta ahead of tomorrow's play-off Final.
Photo: Merstham FC
They came away from Faversham Town glorious on Tuesday night, winning 5-4 on penalties after both sides didn’t give anything away during a 120 minutes stalemate.
Former Folkestone Invicta striker, Stuart King had the first penalty saved by Merstham keeper Brannon Daly, who watched Fabio Saraiva, Taurean Roberts, Omar Folkes, Tutu Henriques and Peter Adeniyi convert their spot kicks to earn a place in the showpiece Final.
“I think Faversham shaded the first half,” reflected Bird.
“We changed one or two things tactically at half-time and I think in doing so we pretty controlled the rest of the game without really imposing ourselves on it.
“You can’t go hell for leather against a team like Faversham. They’ve scored 111 goals in the league, they’re probably the best team in the league on the counter attack so you have to attack them in a controlled way.
“It was probably cat and mouse throughout the whole game.”
Bird was delighted that plenty of practice on the training pitch came to fruition when it came to the penalty shoot-out.
“Well, you know, I don’t know holding your nerve is the right expression because we’ve been working on penalties solidly for the last three weeks,” revealed Bird.
“I know there’s a theory in football that you can’t capture the tension of a penalty shoot-out in training, but if you practice and practice and practice and practice it certainly gives you more confidence that we’re going to score – and that’s what we did!”
Bird’s side are more than capable of gatecrashing Folkestone Invicta’s promotion party.
Neil Cugley’s side reached the Play-Off Final last season but two penalty shoot-out saves from Leatherhead keeper Deren Ibrahim stunned the Cheriton Road faithful.
“Well, finals are for winning,” insisted Bird.
“Not dissimilar to the Semi-Final, these games are not about a good game and putting on a spectacle. They’re all about winning!
“It’s going to be a difficult game for both sides. There’s two good sides in the final. I think it’s the two right teams in the final and we’re confident that we can book a place in the Ryman Premier Division by a quarter-to-five.
“Neil’s done a very good job with Folkestone. I’m sure that they’ll be feeling a little bit of pressure, obviously they missed out last year in the penalty shoot-out. They’re at home, they finished second in the league and the pressure’s on them.
“Merstham have just had their best season in their club’s history. We look forward to another Cup Final (the Surrey Senior Cup) on Wednesday night.
“I think the weight of expectation is on Folkestone’s shoulders, rather than Merstham’s.
Victory over favourites Invicta will bring the highest ever level of football to Weldon Way next season.
“We’ve never finished as high as fourth in the league. Last season’s final placing of seventh was previously the best but it’s something that we’ve been working towards,” said Bird.
“It’s something that I’ve been working towards, what the club and the players’ have been working towards – and we’re ready! I think we’re ready now.
“If we’re promoted tomorrow it will be fantastic for everybody in this football club, not only on the pitch, who have been great, but off the pitch really are deserving of this.
“If not, then we’ll have to go again and go one better and look to win the league next year.”
Visit Merstham’s website: www.mersthamfc.co.uk
Folkestone Invicta v Merstham
Ryman League Division One South Play-Off Final
Saturday 2nd May 2015
Kick Off 3:00pm
At Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5JU