We'll give it the best we've got, says Leatherhead keeper Deren Ibrahim
Neil Cugley’s Folkestone Invicta finished their 46-match campaign in second-place in the Ryman League Division One South table, finishing with 89 points – 17 points adrift of a Peaceheaven & Telscombe side that won the title at the first attempt.
However, the Kent club finished runners-up because Leatherhead were found guilty of a registration irregularity and as a result the Surrey club were deducted six points last Friday and slipped down a place to third with 86 points.
Folkestone Invicta flew to Guernsey sitting in third-place and returned following their 2-2 draw with confirmation that they would receive runners-up medals and have home advantage in the play-off final should they get there.
Folkestone Invicta won a thrilling play-off clash against Hastings United in the semi-finals on Tuesday night, winning 3-2 after extra-time.
Folkestone Invicta took an eighth minute lead through Frankie Chappell’s eleventh goal of the season. A very good return for a central defender.
But Hastings United levelled through Tim Olorunda’s seventh goal of the season, four minutes into the second half.
Cugley’s side regained the lead after 68 minutes through Dane Luchford’s first time finish, following a run and cut back from Hull City bound striker Johan Ter Horst.
But Hastings United weren’t going to go down without a fight and Sam Adams drilled home an equaliser to force extra-time.
The game was destined to head towards a penalty shoot-out but Josh Vincent’s ball forward took a lucky deflection off Hastings substitute Nathan Ferguson and looped over keeper Josh Pelling to drop into the net to the delight of Folkestone’s largest crowd of the season of 951.
Leatherhead, meanwhile, needed only 90 minutes to knock out Guernsey 3-2, courtesy of goals from former Folkestone Invicta skipper Darren Smith and a brace from Tom Bradbrook, the brother of Dartford’s Elliott, before Guernsey pulled two late goals back.
“It’s been a good season overall considering we signed a lot of players in the summer,” said Tanners goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim, 23, who is full-time Academy coach at Dartford, alongside first team manager Tony Burman, Steve Mosely and Jason Long.
“We all gelled really well and I think that has shown with the team spirit over the whole season.”
Reflecting on their home win over Guernsey, Ibrahim said: “We got off to the best possible start with our skipper scoring early on and I think that settled our nerves.
“We always knew Guernsey would have a lot of the football. It was about being tight as a unit and working hard for one another and I think we did that for 80 minutes of the game. The last ten we didn’t and we nearly got punished.”
Ibrahim is disappointed that the club must travel for tomorrow’s play-off final.
He said: “Losing six points was obviously disappointing. I think it was more disappointing knowing if we won the semi-final we would have had home advantage because it would have been nice to reward the fans with a home final.
“However, that’s not the case. We re-group and we go to Folkestone with a strong backing from our fans and give it the best we’ve got.”
Ibrahim has been involved in two play-off finals in the past two years for both Dartford and Maidstone United for their successful victories over Welling United and Faversham Town respectively.
Tomorrow’s winner-takes-all has an air of a Kent derby feeling because a high percentage of Leatherhead players – and manager Richard Brady – have played for Kent clubs in the past.
Ibrahim said: “Folkestone are a great side with some great players and they have an excellent manager in Neil Cugley.
“Each year they are there or there abouts, which is a great achievement.
“With a strike force of Paul Booth, Dane Luchford and Johan Ter Horst, they have three of the top four strikers in the league, just behind our very own Tom Bradbrook.
“We’ll be fully prepared for them.
“We were in training last night. We’ll be up for the game, no doubt about it!”
Ibrahim says he wants to make his play-off final debut one to remember.
“This will be the third play-off final in three years for me – hopefully it will be my first start,” he said.
“I’m still only 23 and I think people forget that as I’ve played from a young age.
“I’m still learning my trade and it’s a pleasure to be involved in massive games like tomorrow.
“Hopefully it will be a big turnout with both sets of fans raising the roof.”
Defender Tom Parkinson had to watch Tuesday’s win over Guernsey from the bench.
Parkinson, 22, joined Leatherhead from Hythe Town and works full-time in Maidstone United’s Academy set-up where he is a coach alongside his older brother Jack, who plays for the Stones.
Leatherhead finished fourth-from-bottom in the Ryman Premier League at the end of season 2011-2012 and finished in sixth-place in this current division last season, just missing out on the play-offs.
Parkinson said: “It’s been a really good season for us this.
“Our aim at the start of the year was to make play-offs as a minimum and challenge for the title, which we did, but fair play to Peacehaven, they have been worthy winners this season.
“Every time we put a run of wins together they did as well and didn’t really have a bad patch.
“But overall we are pleased with our season. We have a good bunch of lads who have worked hard all season and we have really good team spirit.
“Defensively we have been very good this season. Del (Ibrahim) and the back four have been superb and with Bradders scoring over 30 goals, it’s been good.”
Reflecting on the point’s deduction, Parkinson said: “To be honest the six points hasn’t really affected what we’ve done this season, we’re still in the play-offs.
“All it meant was we don’t get home advantage in the final. But it’s the play-off final it doesn’t matter where the game is played. We will all be up for it and our fans will be there behind us all. If anything, it has brought us together more.”
Parkinson echoed the thoughts of Ibrahim, after The Tanners stifled the Green Lions roar, thus stopping Guernsey to secure three promotions on the bounce.
“We played really well Tuesday night against Guernsey for 80 minutes of the game,” said Parkinson.
“We should’ve been five or six up but fair play to Guernsey they never gave up, threw bodies forward and managed to get a couple of goals towards the end.
“Guernsey are probably the best footballing side in the league so to win and dominate most of it was good.”
Parkinson is relishing the “derby” against Folkestone Invicta tomorrow.
“I think everyone expected us and Folkestone to meet in the final,” he said.
“The league table doesn’t lie and us two have been up there since Christmas in the play-offs and if they hadn’t had such a bad start to the season they could’ve done much better.
“Like us they are a very good side, they have good players and a good manager who has them well organised but so do we.
“We have a good young manager (Brady) and a very good set of players.
“It’s got the makings of a decent game but were confident that if we can play as we did on Tuesday and how we have done most of the season then we can get a result.”
Folkestone Invicta v Leatherhead
Ryman League Division One South Play-Off Final
Saturday 3rd May 2014
Kick Off 3:00pm
At Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5JU