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Three goal first half blitz all but ends Invicta title chances as Chapman's all-conquering Hillians charge on towards the championship

BURGESS HILL TOWN 3

FOLKESTONE INVICTA 1

Folkestone’s five match winning run and 10-game unbeaten away record came to an end when they lost 3-1 away to all-conquering Ryman One South leaders Burgess Hill Town on Wednesday night.

The Hillians raced into a 3-0 half time lead despite having captain Darren Budd sent off for comments directed at an assistant referee.

in this vital top of the table clash at the somewhat bizarrely named, Green Elephants Stadium, Invicta eventually pulled a late goal back through their own skipper Frank Chappell, pictured, but it was always going to be too late to salvage anything but a modicum of pride.

Shock

 This was Invicta’s first defeat on the road since they went of the League Cup on penalties at Ramsgate in early October and their first away league defeat since a shock 2-0 defeat at East Grinstead on September 23.

Burgess Hill are the only club in the top eight levels of English football to remain unbeaten in league games so far this season and they duly go marching on.

Invicta kept the same starting eleven that had won 5-2 at home to Ramsgate at the weekend with central defender Liam Friend (broken bone in foot) again watching from the sidelines in the sort of encounter that he would have relished.

The visitors made a positive start but it was the home side that had the first noteworthy chance of the game as Rob O’Toole let fly from outside the penalty area in the 11th minute but Invicta goalkeeper Tim Roberts touched the ball past the post for the opening corner of the match.

But Invicta were themselves desperately close to taking the lead a minute later when a good Jordan Wright ball in was well met with a fine header from Richard Atkins (right) only for home goalkeeper Josh James to produce an outstanding save to concede another corner.

Town’s Callum Saunders then broke dangerously down the right on the quarter hour mark but badly miscued his shot.

Invicta’s previous two visits to Burgess Hill had both resulted in goalless draws and this fixture paired the two sides with the best defensive records in the division so far this season.

The first goal here was, therefore, always going to be particularly significant but there was soon to be a big momentum switch.

Invicta threatened when Ronnie Dolan played a neat one-two with Ian Draycott to go clear down the right hand side of the penalty area but the midfielder chose to square the ball across towards Atkins rather than going for a shot himself and the chance slipped away.

And while the visitors were still rueing that missed opportunity Burgess Hill took a 19th minute lead when Pat Harding broke down the right and found Budd who cut the ball back for O’TOOLE to find the net despite Roberts getting something on his shot.

Goalscorer O’Toole also fired against the post on 25 minutes when a Sam Fisk throw-in came back out to him.

Invicta responded as Dolan played the ball in to Atkins a minute later but the striker could not guide his header on target and the ball  went harmlessly out for a goal-kick following a promising move involving Matt Newman and Jon Pilbeam.

And it was 2-0 in the 28th minute when midfielder Dan Pearse’s headed clearance evaded both Dolan and centre back Callum Wraight in the middle to leave striker Pat HARDING clear with time and space to slot the ball into the net.

There was a further twist to the game just after the half hour when Budd was shown a straight red card for using insulting language to an assistant referee – a somewhat stupid sending off on the  Burgess Hill, playmaker’s part.

It was the second successive game in which Invicta had found themselves against ten men after a straight red card.

The Hillians, however, have arguably the tightest defence in this division and an outstanding young goalkeeper in James who has dominated the ‘safe hands’ awards so far this season.

Pivotal

The third goal in this game was now potentially pivotal and Invicta had a chance when Wright got behind his defender as the ball was played through to him in the middle of the penalty area but that man James cleared any danger seven minutes before the break.

And the second of two quick corners taken by Callum Saunders led to Burgess Hill’s third goal of the game, scored by left back Sam FISK off the far post in the 40th minute after Joe Keehan headed the ball across goal.

Invicta changed things around at half time as Flavius Fedor came on for fall guy Wraight and the visitors went three at the back.

Neil Cugley’s side enjoyed good possession during the second half as ten-man Burgess Hill sat back on their comfortable lead and conserved their energy for Saturday’s big FA Trophy tie at home to Dartford – the only side to have beaten them in any kind of game so far this season.

Burgess Hill had won 1-0 in an FA Trophy replay away to Invicta before enjoying a memorable 1-0 win at Aldershot Town in December to set up a re-match against The Darts who had beaten them in the FA Cup earlier this season – and as history would show, also finished on top - this time by 2-1 as the former Trophy winners were to win again on three days after this important clash with Folkestone.

And Invicta kept trying their luck going forward as they tried to reduce the home side’s three-goal lead.  

Atkins raced in by fired wide from just outside the penalty area when substitute Fedor laid the ball back just two minutes after the restart.

A 51st minute Fedor shot from the left hand side of the penalty area was saved by James and Dolan’s effort  from outside the box was then deflected harmlessly towards the grateful Hillians keeper two minutes later.

Fedor (left) - already a favorite with the fans, despite limtied chances to make his mark - made room for himself in the 66th minute but his shot from the left hand side of goal dipped just wide.

Burgess Hill had already taken control of the result and were happy to defend what they had, though O’Toole did hit a low 74th minute shot at Roberts after cutting in from the left.

Midfielder Keehan had taken over as captain when Budd was sent off but also had to limp off and hand the armband to goal-scorer Harding who became the home side’s third skipper of the night.

A late shot by Dolan was saved by James at his near post for a corner when Nat Blanks played the ball in to Atkins.

Invicta’s consolation goal came two minutes from the end of normal time iwhen CHAPPELL got forward to head in a Pilbeam cross from the right.

Aside from Budd’s dismissal, there were no bookings in a game that was again well handled by referee Jim Paterson who had also taken charge of the 0-0 FA Trophy draw between the two clubs here back at the Green Elephants Stadium in November.

A certain mutual respect has developed between the two clubs in the past couple of seasons.

Burgewss Hill manager Ian Chapman is a former Gillingham team-mate of Invicta’s assistant manager Roland Edge and gets on well with his Invicta counterpart Neil Cugley.

A further recent link has also been developed following young striker Greg Luer’s new year move from Burgess Hill to Hull City, where he made his Academy debut alongside former Folkestone star Johan Ter Horst in a 2-0 defeat against Rotherham United.

Burgess Hill Town: James, Watts, Fisk, Budd, Pearson, Miles, Pearse, Keehan (Martin 80), P Harding, Saunders (L Harding 67), O’Toole (Perry 85) Subs not used: Slaughter, Pointing

Folkestone Invicta: Roberts, Vincent, Blanks, Wraight (Fedor 45), Chappell, Newman, Wright, Pilbeam, Draycott, Atkins, Dolan. Subs not used: Palmer, Edge, M Everitt, Fender. 

Attendance: 353.

Corners: Burgess Hill 3 Folkestone Invicta 3