Folkestone Invicta 2-1 Horsham - I think there's any of 12 teams that can win the league, I honestly do, I think it's that open, says table-topping Folkestone Invicta boss Neil Cugley

Saturday 07th December 2019
Folkestone Invicta 2 – 1 Horsham
Location Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5JU
Kickoff 07/12/2019 15:00

Isthmian League Premier Division
Saturday 7 December 2019
Stephen McCartney reports from Cheriton Road

FOLKESTONE INVICTA manager Neil Cugley says his side can win the Isthmian League Premier Division title if his players have a bit of luck and avoid feeling nervous during games.

Folkestone Invicta completed the double over Horsham in this top-of-the-table clash to extend their lead at the summit to three points after 19 league games.

The home side went into this game sitting on 38 points, while Dominic Di Paola’s side were in second-place a point behind.

Horsham should have been two goals up inside the opening five minutes and 15-goal striker Chris Smith was guilty for miss-of-the-season when he missed an open goal after skipping past the Folkestone keeper.

Folkestone Invicta striker Jerson Dos Santos saw his penalty saved by visiting keeper George Bentley, who also saved two spot-kicks at Littlehampton Town in the shoot-out win as Horsham progressed through to the Sussex Senior Cup Quarter-Finals after a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night.

Referee Lee Dyson awarded his second penalty of the game, which was converted by Folkestone Invicta wide striker Ira Jackson to take his goalscoring tally to 14 goals for the season.

Jackson was denied a second goal as Horsham centre-half Joe Shelley slid the ball into his own goal as Jackson put the ball across the face of goal.

Horsham stalwart centre-half, Gary Charman, 35, came off the bench to play up front and buried a header to pull a goal back but Folkestone Invicta claimed a massive three points to maintain their title charge.

“Obviously delighted, top two teams, you’re going to tell me in a minute how many chances they had in the first 10 minutes or so where we really look nervy, which has been a little bit of a problem recently against Lewes and Kingstonian,” said Cugley.

“It’s getting our players’ to relax a bit more and be a little bit more composed on the ball.  I think slowly we came out second half and we were good but earlier on we were poor but at the end of the day we weren’t bad.

“Massive win? Yes, it is, you can’t deny that.  First-versus-second.  I don’t think either team are playing as well as they were a few weeks ago to be fair.  I think they had a couple of weeks off and so did we and I think it shows a little bit but hopefully if we can get back to where we were playing really well about two or three weeks ago, we have to get back to those standards.”

However, it could have been a different story, as Horsham squandered two glorious chances during a dominant opening 10 minutes at Cheriton Road.

Shelley, Horsham’s right-centre-half, hit a long ball out of defence which released right-winger Kieron Pamment, who was in acres of space as Folkestone left-back Alfie Paxman was nowhere to be seen.  The winger cut into the box and dragged his right-footed shot across the keeper and past the far post after 60 seconds.

“I think we started badly, I didn’t realise it was after a minute! Yes, it was a poor start,” admitted Cugley.

Smith gave Folkestone Invicta a massive let-off when he somehow missed an open goal from a couple of yards out with four minutes and 12 seconds on the clock.

Folkestone Invicta centre-half Callum Davies rolled the ball into Ronnie Dolan some 30-yards from goal and his poor back pass towards goalkeeper Henry Newcombe was intercepted by Smith, who easily skipped past the keeper and all he had to do was put the ball into an empty net.

Instead, Smith drove his shot across the face of goal and past the far post and expect that miss to be shown on social media in years’ to come.

“That was a big miss at that stage of the game,” admitted Cugley.

“He’ll be disappointed he hasn’t put that away, that was an important minute of the game.”

Horsham won the corner count 7-2 today and went close again with seven minutes and 22 seconds on the clock.

Pamment raised his right arm before swinging in a poor right-footed corner from the right, which failed to beat the first man and was headed back to him by Kieron McCann.  Pamment put the ball back in and the ball was cleared out to Charlie Harris, who drilled his first time right-footed shot screaming past the right-hand post from 16-yards.

Folkestone Invicta weathered the early Horsham storm and took 17 minutes to create their first opening.

Paxman played the ball into McCann, who fed Johan Ter Horst, who was playing wide left in the absence of the suspended Scott Heard.

Jackson took a touch which saw him cut past his marker before drilling his left-footed angled drive from 16-yards towards goal, which was comfortably saved in Bentley’s midriff on his knees.

“We were starting to get back more into the game but I didn’t think we were very good in the first 20 minutes or so, I think we were a bit poor,” highlighted Cugley.

“I think players have got to take that (expectation) on board and enjoy it and I think we looked a bit nervy.”

Folkestone Invicta were often losing the midfield battle during the first half and Horsham were keen hitting the channels with Pamment offering a threat down the right and causing Paxman problems.

Folkestone Invicta started to regain some control in the game and Paxman threw the ball into Dos Santos, who took a touch, cut inside and drilled his right-footed shot past the near post from 25-yards.

Paxman found himself inside the final third and pounced on a loose ball but his left-footed angled drive from similar range flashed across the keeper and trickled past the far post.

Horsham had a goal chalked off for offside in the 29th minute when right-centre-half Dylan Merchant pinged a diagonal ball out to left-winger Harvey Sparks, who cut inside and drove in an angled drive, which flashed across the keeper and nestled into the bottom far corner, only for Smith to be flagged for offside for possibly getting the slightest of touches to the ball in the middle.

“I think he was well over, the linesman’s flag was well up early and the blokes turned it in but the flag was already up. It was definitely offside, I think,” said Cugley.

The impressive Pamment played the ball low in from the right into Charlie Harris, who cut inside and stroked his left-footed drive flashing past the near post from 22-yards.

Folkestone Invicta created an opening following their first corner on the half-hour mark.

Ter Horst took it short to Dolan, who floated in a deep cross towards the corner of the six-yard box but Folkestone Invicta right-back Josh Vincent rose at the far post and couldn’t keep his header down.

McCann and Ter Horst linked up well down the right and Ter Horst delivered in a cross, which was flicked on by Dos Santos and Jackson controlled the ball with his chest before smashing his right-footed volley over the bar.

Folkestone Invicta’s best chance of the first half, however, came in the 39th minute but they were to be denied by Horsham’s 18-year-old goalkeeper, who is on loan from Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion.

Dolan’s delicious through ball split open the Horsham defence (cutting open left-back Metcalf and centre-half Merchant) to put Dos Santos through on goal.  The striker cut inside Merchant, who ended up slipping over and ending up on his backside but Bentley stood tall and narrowed the angle and made the vital save.

“Jerson will be disappointed, he done the hard bit, it was a great ball from Ronnie, a really quality ball and Jerson done the hard work and a bit disappointed that he hasn’t put it in the net,” added Cugley.

The home side finished the half on the front foot and Ter Horst played a sublime raking diagonal pass to release Jackson in down the right. He cut inside Metcalf and hung over a cross which was hooked wide by Dos Santos at the far post just six-yards from goal.

Cugley said he was feeling confident that his side would go on and win the game.

“I told them to just relax a bit more, just enjoy it. The game’s there to be won. I just felt we would win it but it’s just being a bit more composed really.   I thought second half we completely dominated for the majority of that.”

Both sides were cancelling each other out at the start of the second half before Folkestone Invicta were awarded a penalty in the 51st minute after Jackson cut into the box and was tripped by Merchant.

Dos Santos missed his last penalty, dinking an arrogant attempt over the bar which would have given them a 3-0 lead at Maldon & Tiptree in The FA Trophy Second Qualifying Round on 13 November 2019, only to miss and suffer a 4-3 defeat.

Today, Dos Santos stepped up and his right-footed penalty was saved by Bentley, who dived to his right to parry.

Cugley revealed that Dos Santos has now been relieved of his penalty taking duties.

He said: “On the day it wasn’t the best of penalties. It’s always difficult when someone’s missed one before.  Do you give him another one or do you leave it or do you let the players’ decide? Jerson wanted to take another one, which is fair enough. He wanted to put that one behind him, he’s missed at Maldon and what happens, he’s missed again and then you’ve got to take it away from him now.

“But I’ve got to admit, I think apart from Ira Jackson, everybody else has missed a penalty for Folkestone on that pitch. It’s amazing! In the play-offs, in different games when we’ve gone to penalties after cup games, I think everybody apart from Ira has missed a penalty for Folkestone, so I’m glad he hasn’t missed that one later on!”

Bentley was called into action on the hour-mark, diving to his right to hold Dos Santos’ right-footed drive from 20-yards, which was heading towards the bottom far corner, after Hasler and McCann linked up in the final third.

Cugley said: “To be fair to Jerson, he didn’t let his head go down, he could’ve so easily.  It wasn’t his day today. He kept working hard and sometimes that’s all you can do isn’t it?  He didn’t let the penalty get him down too much and I give him some credit for that.”

Folkestone Invicta’s dominance finally paid off when they took the lead with 20 minutes and 8 seconds on the clock.

Dos Santos was taken out by Merchant down the right-hand side of the penalty area and the Horsham centre-half was lucky not to be sent-off having only just been booked for a foul on Matthew Newman.

Jackson sent Bentley the wrong way with a clinically taken right-footed penalty – and Merchant was swiftly substituted and Cugley could return to looking at the action on the pitch.

Cugley said: “Delighted! I didn’t watch that one, I looked away at that one and when you hear the roar you knew but you’re thinking he’s the only one who’s never missed one for Folkestone so it was nice for him to score.  I’m pleased and obviously delighted when that one went in.”

Horsham were now and truly on the back foot as Folkestone Invicta kept banging on the door for a second goal.

Midfielders Hasler and McCann linked up and the ball was rolled out to Paxman, who cut the ball back to Hasler, who played a fine first time diagonal pass back to Paxman, who cut into the box and his right-footed shot was weak and rolled into Bentley’s hands for a comfortable save inside the final 20 minutes.

“We played really well then, we were completely in control of the game,” added Cugley.

“He finished up on his right foot, which isn’t his strongest. I think he’s tried something else there but it was good football and to be fair to Alfie he’s done well to get us up the pitch so you’ve got to give him some credit for getting in the box.”

Set-piece specialist Hasler floated a deep free-kick towards the by-line, which was met by Vincent’s trademark around the back header, a diving header which flashed just past the near post from a tight angle.

Folkestone Invicta deservedly sealed the deal by scoring their second goal of the game, which was timed at 32 minutes and 52 seconds on the clock.

Paxman hit a sublime ball out of defence which sailed over Metcalf and was superbly brought under control by Jackson, who charged into the box from the right and his initial shot was parried by the outstanding Bentley.  Jackson had a second bite of the cherry and squared the ball which was slid into his own net by Shelley from inside his own six-yard box.

“It’s a shame it isn’t Ira’s really because as you say there was some good play there,” said Cugley.

“The lad Paxman done really well there, a great touch from Ira to get it down and then drive towards goal. It was a shame the ball didn’t go straight in. It was an important time in the game.”

Horsham, however, pulled a goal back just 89 seconds later.

Harris, who by this time was playing wide on the left instead of a deep number 10 role, whipped in a great cross from within the channel towards the six-yard box and Charman rose and buried his header into the roof of the net to score his first goal of the season.

“We got Mev (Micheal Everitt) on as quickly as we could for his experience and we were getting all that ready when they scored,” said Cugley.

“Charman, I’ve seen him do that for years and years now! He’s tremendous in the air, he’s great in the air. A great, great leap of a person, he’s brilliant!

“We did say we’ve got to be careful of him when he came on, any free-kicks and corners, he’s a handful and he got on the end of that cross, maybe the keeper should come, I don’t know, I’ll have to have a look at that again (on the video) but it was so disappointing because we were in so much control of the game then but they’ve got nothing to lose have they?”

Ter Horst fed Dos Santos, who split open the Horsham defence to put Jackson in on goal but he dragged his shot across the keeper and past the far post when he only had Bentley to beat.

Cugley said: “He’ll be disappointed not to have done better with that! It was the time of the game when we were attacking and attacking weren’t we. It’s so end-to-end, you just know another goal will finish the game.”

Jackson cut in from the right and teed up McCann, who swept his first time shot from outside the box towards the far corner, only to see the ball go through a crowd of players and clip the far post with the keeper rooted to the spot.

Cugley said: “It’s a shame really. It would’ve been nice for that to go in for the fans. It would’ve killed the game completely off and all credit to Horsham, they’re bombing us, they’re trying anything to get another chance.”

Horsham threw four men up top for the closing exchanges as they went in search for an equaliser and they created a couple of late headed opportunities, in front of a great bunch of travelling vocal supporters, who always give their side excellent vocal support wherever they go.

Harris was putting in some excellent deliveries from set-pieces and his corner from the left was poorly punched by an under-pressure Newcombe but Charman steered his header straight back into the keeper’s grateful hands from a tight angle inside the six-yard box.

Horsham won three corners on the spin at the end of the game but Cugley admitted to be feeling relieved when Horsham missed a great chance to snatch a point with 48 minutes and 33 seconds on the clock.

Paxman committed a foul in a dangerous position, Harris floated in a free-kick from the right which was asking to be buried but holding midfielder Jack Brivio rose to plant his header over the crossbar from within a crowd of players on the edge of the six-yard box.

“I can’t deny I was pleased to see that go over after we’ve just hit the post the other end,” admitted Cugley.

“That’s how it’s going to be in the last few minutes, they’ve got nothing to lose, they’re going to throw everything forward and I was pleased to see that one go over.”

Every side in the top five have played 19 games, other than Hornchurch, who have got one game in hand.

Folkestone Invicta remain at the summit on 41 points and the four play-off places are occupied by Worthing (38 points), Horsham (37), Hornchurch (35) and Carshalton Athletic (35).

Cugley takes his side into Essex to play bottom six side Bowers & Pitsea, who came away from Enfield Town with a 4-0 win today.

“I keep saying it, I think there’s 12 good sides.  Somebody has chucked me the results at me just now, a lot of these lads are now starting to put some results together. A lot of the top teams won. I think there’s 12 of them can win the league, I honestly do, I think it’s that open,” he said.

When asked whether Folkestone Invicta can win the title, Cugley replied: “If we have a bit of luck and players’ sort of don’t get so nervy and do the right things.   We didn’t decide to talk to them after the game, we’ll have a chat on Tuesday because there were things we shouldn’t do in these games. We’ll go through that on Tuesday and have a chat with the players, sometimes it’s hard because of the emotion of the game.

“I’ve always said we’ll stick together this year.  We lost Ade Yusuff (in the summer) to go to a higher standard (National League South side Dulwich Hamlet and full-time football) but we all said let’s all stick together this year and then see how it goes from there.”

On next week’s trip to Bowers & Pitsea, Cugley said: “Cor, that’s a great result! Until you told me that (they won 4-0 today) I was looking forward to it.  We’ll be alright, we’ll always be alright, all you can do. We’re Folkestone. We’ll just keep it going.”

Cugley was delighted with the response from supporters, who have raised over £6,000 for the club during an appeal to raise funds due to not playing a home game during November.

“We had a good response for asking for extra money to try to keep the team together.  Hopefully money will keep coming in and we can keep everybody together.  At the end of the day, I’ve not got a bad squad really. I’ve got players like Mev (Everitt) to come on.  Finn (O’Mara) didn’t play, Blanksey (Nathaniel Blanks) didn’t play and Scott Heard is suspended so we’ve got a nice 16 man squad, which for Folkestone is quite a lot.

“We’re trying to keep everybody happy, it’s difficult but we’ve got a League Cup coming up, the Kent Senior Cup game coming up so hopefully everybody will get minutes and credit to the lads who have been on the bench, they’ve been very supportive of the players out there and supportive of myself and they’ve really been very professional in how they’ve taken it, obviously disappointed and they’ve been really good.”

Folkestone Invicta host Bognor Regis Town in the Velocity Trophy (21 December) and travel to Tonbridge Angels in the Kent Senior Cup Second Round in January, so they are fighting on three fronts.

“The league’s the main thing.  How you finish in the league is how you determine your season.   The other things, yes we’d like to do well, we’ll keep going and with the bigger squad that we’ve got now, we can maybe do well in one of those competitions.

“I keep saying it’s a difficult league. Every game is hard and with Bowers & Pitsea winning 4-0 at Enfield that shows every game is hard and you’ve got to be doing the right things.

“I’m delighted, delighted. I’m pleased for these fans, they’re good people and they keep getting behind us. I thank them all for putting some money in.”

Folkestone Invicta: Henry Newcombe, Josh Vincent, Alfie Paxman, Sam Hasler (Micheal Everitt 81), Callum Davies, Matthew Newman, Johan Ter Horst, Ronnie Dolan, Jerson Dos Santos, Kieron McCann, Ira Jackson.
Subs: Finn O’Mara, Nathaniel Blanks, Tyler Sterling, Tim Roberts

Goals: Ira Jackson 66 (penalty), Joe Shelley 78 (own goal)

Booked: Johan Ter Horst 52

Horsham: George Bentley, Jerry O’Sullivan, Steve Metcalf, Jack Brivio, Joe Shelley, Dylan Merchant (Ben Dyett 67), Kieron Pamment (Archie Goddard 79), Lea Dawson, Chris Smith (Gary Charman 64), Charlie Harris, Harvey Sparks.
Sub: Sam Karl

Goal: Gary Charman 80

Booked: Harvey Sparks 60, Dylan Merchant 63

Attendance: 536
Referee: Mr Lee Dyson (West Malling)
Assistants: Mr Dan Friar (Rainham) & Mr Aaron Conn (Gillingham)