‘The magic of the cup’ is a phrase closely associated with the beautiful games oldest cup competition, which up until the 114th minute at the Cheriton Road stadium was close to coming true.
Folkestone’s opponents Eastleigh knew this game was not going to be your standard ‘rub of the green’ type fixture. Despite two divisions between them, Invicta showed their credentials in Saturday’s 3-3 draw, a game in which they did lead 3-0 before Eastleigh’s second half comeback which featured a 90th minute equaliser, agony which Folkestone felt again on Tuesday night in the replay.
Around 1,300 optimistic spectators packed out the Cheriton Road ground, preferring the thrill of the FA Cup to some stellar Champions League ties.
There was little thrill in the air however as Folkestone defender Josh Vincent was sent off with 53 minutes played as Eastleigh maintained a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Tom Whelan and former Southampton man Jake Hesketh.
At this point majority of Folkestone fans within the ground resigned themselves to the worst-case scenario, a potential mauling on a night which started with so much optimism. After all a good cup run can prove vital to such clubs on a non-league level, for example Marine FC’s own cup run last season who eventually earned themselves a tie with one of England’s most prestigious clubs in Tottenham Hotspur. No doubt some Folkestone fans were dreaming of such a feat for themselves.
When the hour mark hit, hope however was restored. Invicta striker Ade Yussuf pounced on a loose ball at the back post which once again got the Invicta fans believing in the impossible.
Anyone who saw Folkestone’s second goal would have easily been forgiven for thinking that they were the team from two divisions above. Midfielder Matt Newman produced a beautifully weighted loft over the Eastleigh defence to allow Scott Heard to finish first time and level the scores forcing extra time.
Despite eventually losing to Dan House’s back post volley six minutes from time, Invicta can be extremely proud of their performances from both games of the tie. Even Folkestone manager Neil Cugley had joked about the difference levels between the two sides in his pre-game interview. Talking to Kent Online Cugley said: “They are full-time so I imagine they will have already been in, doing something this week. My players will have been digging up roads or something, it’s a different world! But we are ready to go again.”
Eastleigh certainly will be pleased to see the back of Invicta’s orange and black striped shirts, but surely will of have gained some respect for the Kent side. After all Eastleigh can boast a squad of players with professional backgrounds. Captain and striker Tyrone Barnett had previously played for numerous football league sides including Peterborough United and Ipswich Town, as well as teammate Jake Hesketh who is a product of fellow Hampshire side Southampton and their world renown youth system.
Despite Eastleigh’s quality finally getting the better of Folkestone, it’s a perfect reminder for bigger clubs to take the so-called smaller teams properly, after all it’s what makes the FA Cup so appealing to so many.
The stories of part time footballers who work as postmen or supermarket workers will never stop putting a smile on the face of football fans alike. There’s just something beautifully comical in seeing such semi-pro footballers test themselves against some of the game’s elite.
Although this year won’t be Folkestone’s year, they can certainly use their FA Cup performances to improve. Invicta currently sit sixth in the Isthmian League Premier Division, just outside of a play-off spot and remain undefeated. Invicta have been ever presents in the division since 2016 following promotion. If last night’s result has shown anything it’s that Folkestone are more than capable of producing performances well above their expected levels.
The FA Cup run can certainly channel optimism for Invicta to challenge for promotion to the National League system and rival local teams such as Dover Athletic, Maidstone United and Ebbsfleet. The club has progressed in recent years having reached the Isthmian League play offs in 2017/18 but a 4-0 away defeat to Hendon ended their hopes for promotion in that campaign.
Over the summer the club invested money into improving the Cheriton Road Stadium by upgrading fences surrounding the pitch, new scoreboards, and improving one of the stands behind the goal. All may seem little factors but go a long way in helping improve the future of the club.
With the experience of long-term manager Neil Cugley at the helm the club are in safe hands. Cugley, who has been in charge since 1997, recently told Kent Online that the club is in the best position it’s been in for decades. Cugley said: “We are in a really good position. The pitch is great, the bar is nice, and we are hoping to get new floodlights soon.
“There is the other pressure that goes with it. As a manager, it is great, but the fans have come to see your team win so you need to win to keep them happy. But I would rather have that sort of pressure than have less fans there.”
Invicta will now look to push for promotion in what could still be a very fruitful season for the club, one which they could look back on and see last night’s FA cup result as the catalyst for success.