Folkestone’s FA Cup dream came to its conclusion for another year in dramatic circumstances as they agonizingly missed out on their first FA Cup first round appearance since 2005 as they fought back in vain to fall just short in the closing minutes of extra time, at the end of a true cup classic that will live long in the memories of both fans.
Seventh tier Invicta’s rollercoaster FA Cup adventure, which saw them knock out National League North outfit Gloucester City in the previous round, ran out of steam in front of the packed terraces at The BuildKent Stadium as the raucous atmosphere couldn’t push their heroes over the finish line and into a meeting with Boreham Wood, with National League Eastleigh, stealing the place.
As Invicta saw those around them in the league drop points over the weekend, leaving them in the driving seat to top the league should they take advantage of their games in hand, they travelled along the south coast to face an Eastleigh side two leagues apart, in the oldest club competition in the world.
The game and especially the opening 20 minutes made it impossible to believe the two clubs were separated by 36 places in the non-league pyramid. An electric opening 18 minutes by the Stripes saw them 3-0 up with two goals from Alfie Paxman and one from Scott Heard, leaving everyone in the stadium in disbelief.
However, as the clock ticked on and fitness levels showed, the hosts staged a remarkable second half comeback with the sealing moment coming with the very last kick of the game as Christian Maghoma steered home to plunge the dagger into Folkestone hearts.
Three days later, the matter was to be finalised in the replay, this time Eastleigh making the 278-mile round journey. The worry that the part-time hosts would’ve ran themselves into the ground on Saturday and would be brushed aside by the fitter and stronger full-time outfit, was rubbished early on as the underdogs again started the better, with Invicta matching them for not just 90 but 120 minutes.
A gutsy performance from the hosts in the face of adversity would’ve left any neutral at the game wondering what team was the professional outfit after the Seasiders battled back from 2-0 down and a man down, with Ade Yusuff and Heard resurrecting the tie late in the second half.
The opener, a well taken, close range volley by Tom Whelan from Vincent Harper’s cross on 23 minutes, set the visitors on their way. A controversial red card for Invicta defender, Josh Vincent, after two yellows in no time at all, only 5 minutes into the second half, was shortly followed by former Southampton man, Jake Hesketh’s, superbly struck shot from 20 yards out doubling the lead and giving the hosts what seemed a mountain to climb as the game looked to be petering out into a routine final half hour for Eastleigh. But the visitors failed to learn the harsh lessons their opponents did in the first game, it ain’t over til it’s over.
Invicta’s top scorer, Dave Smith’s, powerful surge into the box on 63 minutes, created the opportunity for Invicta to get back into the game, he drilled a cross along the six yard line forcing it to be deflected into the path of Yusuff who finished the easiest goal of his prolific career into an empty net from point blank range to drag his side back into the tie from the abyss.
The vast majority of the 1237 in attendance were sent into raptures as Heard drew Invicta level on 78 minutes with no one quite believing the position they had dragged themselves from. Stalwart centre half, Matt Newman, drove forward towards the edge of the Eastleigh box before producing an outrageous clipped pass, that any playmaker in the country would’ve been proud of, into the path of Heard who latched onto it and lofted over the on rushing keeper, sending all four corners of the ground delirious.
However, it wasn’t meant to be in extra time for Invicta as they failed to muster up a clear cut chance and the pressure from the Spitfires told with 115 minutes on the clock with the clubs top scorer, Ben House, volleying home from 8 yards out into the far bottom corner. To the relief of the travelling contingency as they eventually saw off their part-time opposition and saved their blushes.
After their FA Cup journey ends in a gutting but proud fashion. Invicta will turn their attentions solely on the league and their attempt to close the gap to those above with the games in hand they’ve accumulated by being in the cup. The leagues only unbeaten side are back at home again on Saturday as they host Kingstonian in another hotly anticipated tie with both teams fighting out at the top of the table.
The incredible home support that Folkestone have received so far this campaign, will have peaked at last nights game, however, the league crowds are drawing an average of 828 per match, only second in the division to Worthing. Many of those who attended tonight will return on the weekend, with those who sparsely attend, surely keen to see the Stripes reaction as the club braces itself for the long road ahead chasing promotion into the National League South, for the first time in the clubs history. Allowing them to take a step towards facing opposition like Eastleigh every week. Something that the group of players, punching well above their weight tonight, showed they can handle and give a run for their money on any day.