We're all itching to get back in action at home, says Folkestone Invicta boss Neil Cugley
FOLKESTONE INVICTA missed the chance to climb to second in the table when Wednesday’s game at Eastbourne Town was washed out by continuing rain down on the Sussex coast, but Neil Cugley’s side could find themselves in that lofty position - for at least for an hour or two - if they beat first-time visitors Guernsey at Cheriton Road on Saturday.
The early kick off means that a victory over the Channel Islands side would put Invicta behind only runaway leaders Peacehaven & Telscombe before the rest of the day’s league games get underway at three o’clock.
Cugley told www.folkestoneinvictafc.co.uk: “I wasn’t too disappointed about the Eastbourne game being off.
“Yes, we could’ve gone up to second, but we can still do that by beating Guernsey and depending on other results we might even stay there. I’ve always been confident that if we get ourselves into the play-off positions we can stay there.”
The manager remains very bullish that the pitch is in good shape.
“It’s alright because we simply haven’t used it since before Christmas,” said Cugley.
“We’ll be okay - I certainly can’t see us calling the game off.
“It could’ve been second against fourth in the table, but it’s still sixth versus fourth and let’s hope we get the kind of crowd that a game between two good attacking sides deserves.”
Guernsey FC, in its present entity, at least, was established as recently as 2011 with the aim of giving footballers from the Channel Islands a platform to show off their skills to a wider audience.
They stormed up through the Combined Counties League, largely thanks to the goals of 26-year-old striker Ross Allen who has netted an almost incredible 143 goals in 104 games for the club and is something of a sporting celebrity in the Channel Isles.
His 25 league/league cup goals make him the leading scorer in the Ryman League Division One South - including a double hat-trick in Guernsey’s 11-0 annihilation of Crawley Down Gatwick (who had lost 8-0 in their previous game at Folkestone).
Keeper Chris Tardif, 34, had Football League experience at Portsmouth, Oxford United and AFC Bournemouth, and has played against Invicta before when he was playing for Newport (Isle of Wight).
But Tardif was missing at Ramsgate earlier this week when his young stand-in Tom Creed’s penalty save from James Everitt was not enough to save the Lions - as they are known - from their fourth away defeat of the season, or to prevent a double over them by the Thanet side who won 2-1 after an impressive and convincing 4-1 win on the island earlier in the season.
The Guernsey Lions other defeats on the road - though so much of their travel is necessarily in and out of Gatwick by air - have come at Leatherhead (0-2), Walton & Hersham (0-4) and Horsham (2-6).
Their victories on the mainland began with a 1-0 win at Herne Bay on the opening day of the season and were quickly followed by success at Corinthian Casuals (2-1) and Burgess Hill Town (3-0).
But Guernsey’s last win away from home came with a 2-1 win at Faversham as long ago as November 2.
For their part, Folkestone are unbeaten in the last 11 home games and, apart from penalty shoot-out defeats against higher league opponents in both the League Cup and FA Trophy, they have lost just twice in the last 18 games overall.
Dane Luchford remains Invicta’s leading Ryman League goalscorer with 16, but the inspirational Paul Booth is rapidly catching him up with 15 goals in only 12 games since joining the club from Maidstone United in early November.
Frankie Chappell (groin) is manager Cugley’s only injury worry, and has a late fitness test but the continued good form of Matt Newman and skipper Liam Friend at the back means that Invicta do not need to rush the outstanding defender back into action.
Folkestone are hoping for one of their bigger crowds of the season in this return to action follow storm damage to the main stand.
Cugley, meanwhile, has praised the contribution to Invicta’s promotion play-off efforts being made by former Faversham Town and Horsham manager Justin Luchford, who has been acting as scout for the club since around the time that his brother Dane joined as a player, at the beginning of 2013.
Cugley said: “Justin’s a really knowledgeable guy about football at our level and he’s been a big help to us - especially this season when we’re genuinely aiming to make the play-offs for the third year in a row.
‘“We don’t get as wound up about the opposition as some do, but it’s always nice to know what to expect and his reports have often proved invaluable.
“He does it all on a voluntarily basis and rarely gets anything like the credit he deserves.”
Luchford was at Southwood Stadium on Tuesday, watching Guernsey, go down 2-1 to Invicta’s Kent rivals Ramsgate, and Cugley added: “We’ve watched them before this season so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what they’re about and how they’re set-up.”
And with Dane Luchford still Folkestone’s leading goalscorer this season so far, it’s fair to say that the Luchford brothers are playing their part.
Cugley added: “We’re all buzzing and itching to get back in action at home. It should be a cracking game and if we win we could end the day second in the table, which would give everyone at the club a terrific boost after what has been a difficult month in some ways.”
Folkestone Invicta goalkeeper Tom Hadler, 18, has been selected for England Under 18s squad in the 2014 Victory Shield following extensive trials at Lilleshall.
The goalkeeper, who comes from Canterbury and was introduced to Folkestone by assistant manager Simon Austin, a former manager of the City side, played for Invicta in their 2-0 FA Cup victory over Eastbourne United and subsequently narrow single goal defeat away to Conference South Ebbsfleet United in late September.
Hadler, who made an impressive debut as a second-half substitute in the Kent Senior Cup tie against a very strong Charlton Athletic side - a game which Folkestone lost to a solitary first half goal, has since been heavily involved in schools and representative football.
The 2014 Victory Shield games which take place in early Spring, see England taking on Wales at Wrexham (March 14), playing The Republic of Ireland at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate (March 28), then travelling to Belfast to meet Northern Ireland (April 4) and, finally, meeting the Auld Enemy, Scotland at Ewood Park, home of Blackburn Rovers FC, on April 11.
A proud Cugley said: “Being chosen for England Schoolboys is a terrific honour and we all wish Tom every success in the tournament.”
The Victory Shield is usually featured on Sky Sports so Folkestone fans should keep an eye on the forthcoming TV schedules if they wish to follow this outstanding young goalkeeper’s progress.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 12:45pm.
Folkestone Invicta v Guernsey
Ryman League Division One South
Saturday 18th January 2014
Kick Off 12:45pm
at Cheriton Road, Folkestone, Kent CT19 5JU