A mild Tuesday night and FA Cup action was afoot, there was a drum banging and locals had turned up in their numbers. This competition has provided many special upsets over the years and the BuildKent stadium was preparing for another one, after all if Saturday was anything to go by the Seasiders were favourites.
18 minutes played, Eastleigh 0-3 Folkestone Invicta, an Alfie Paxman brace and Scott Heard half volley, those plucky away fans were dreaming of Sunderland away. Eastleigh came out scrapping in the 2nd half though and by the 62nd minute the Spitfires had two goals. It was eventual heartbreak for Folkestone when Christian Maghoma bundled the ball in deep into added time. A replay would be needed.
“Really frustrating, actually more than frustrating it’s really disappointing, it was hard for me to watch and probably for everyone in the stadium” said Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens after Saturdays whirlwind affair.
Don’t let the two-league gap fool you, Eastleigh have had a slow start to the season by their standards, just three wins from a possible 10 games whilst Folkestone are unbeaten in the Isthmian Premier Division after eight games and now, they want a spot in the 1st Round of the FA Cup.
Invicta looked bright in the opening stages, zipping the ball from left to right but it was the visitors who opened the scoring on 24 minutes. The National League side showed their quality with neat intricate play, with the ball finding its way on the left wing to Vincent Harper, he delivered an inch perfect cross, Tom Whelan the recipient, he flicked it into the far corner.
Less than 10 minutes into the 2nd half Folkestone were reduced to 10 men when Josh Vincent was shown a controversial 2nd yellow. The defender was given his marching orders much to the delight of the traveling Eastleigh fans. Within four minutes they had another reason to celebrate as Jake Hesketh had doubled their lead, a low drilled effort into the bottom corner and Eastleigh were on their way booking tickets to Boreham Wood away.
Coming into this fixture Invicta boss Neil Cugley still believed his side could cause an upset, 63 minutes on the clock and that upset was back on track when Ade Yusuff bundled the ball home in front of the home faithful after some nice footwork by Dave Smith on the right-hand side.
With 12 minutes left on the clock Scott Heard tore up the script and got the slightest of touches on a deep cross. Cue absolute limbs at the Cricketers end. The comeback had been complete, that drum started to get a little louder.
It wasn’t to be though, with just five minutes left in extra time, the towering Ben House popped up at the back post and volleyed into the far corner, just one small lapse in concentration and the hopes of a 1st round tie had disappeared.
Eastleigh were in disbelief they even had to play 120 minutes; they had been peppering poor Alexis Andre Jr all game but couldn’t beat the young shot stopper. On 19 minutes Tyrone Barnett disposed Ryan Johnson 35 yards from goal, he found space and time, but Andre Jr got down well and held his powerful effort. I think if I had to recite every Eastleigh attack this report would go on forever.
Whelan ran the show in the middle, he was gliding past Invicta players for the entire match, the technical quality of this Eastleigh side was put on display for all to see. And it was the No.20 who almost stopped the game going to extra time, Whelan beat a few players and found Ryan Hill, but he fired his effort over the bar. The Invicta fans could breathe again.
Just moment later Eastleigh had another effort off the line, Danny Whitehall’s header was flicked on, and a mad scramble saw the ball eventually cleared and the full-time whistle blew. Players on both sides collapsed to floor, Invicta had run themselves into the ground whilst Eastleigh couldn’t believe they had to play another 30 minutes against this part time outfit.
The Spitfires kept up their pressure in the 1st half of extra time, Andre pulled off a couple top saves to keep it level, but Invicta had the best chance with a near post flick on from a corner that flashed its way across goal, but no one could get on the end of it.
Just minutes into the 2nd half of extra time House found space inside the box but the young Frenchman in the Invicta net had other idea’s and tipped it out for a corner. This game was always Eastleigh’s to lose they had chance after chance and really struggled to find the net, but manger Strevens is happy that his side are through to the next round.
“We’ve made hard work of it, they’ve (Folkestone) been brilliant over the two games, we may have made hard work of it but were through.”
Invicta’s FA Cup run does come to an end and as an inconsolable Yusuff stood in the centre circle with his shirt over his face you could really see how much this competition means to people. 1237 came down to support their local club and the money made from tonight will help Invicta massively for the rest of the season. There was no magic in the air on Tuesday night, but it was definitely another FA Cup classic to get the fans talking.