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Missed chances and crucial decisions cost Invicta dear in second successive home   play-off final defeat

FOLKESTONE INVICTA 0

MERSTHAM 3

Invicta suffered Ryman League Division One South Play Off Final heartbreak at home for a second successive year as Neil Cugley’s side went down 3-0 against Merstham in front of a season’s best 1,465 crowd at The Fullicks Stadium on May 2nd.

Goals at either end of the first half and early in the second period gave Merstham an eventually comfortable victory.

Invicta had gone into the game on an unbeaten run of 15 matches and were left to rue going in 2-0 down at half time after having had the better of the opening 45 minutes.

The corner count of 9-2 in the Folkestone side’s favour will be of no consolation to Cugley’s side – once again the nearly men as a Surrey club celebrated promotion at The Fullicks Stadium again following Leatherhead’s success after a penalty shoot-out 12 months earlier.

Invicta went into the game with an unchanged starting 11 and won five corners in the opening ten minutes including three in the opening five minutes.

But it was Merstham who had the first half chance of the game when a volley from captain Fabio Saraiva was blocked following a good run down the left by the always confident  Taurean Roberts.

And it was ROBERTS who opened the scoring in the sixth minute when he slid on to score from close range at the far post after right back Simon Copper had found himself in space inside the Invicta penalty area as the home defence appealed in vain for offside.

This was the first of two key decisions by referee Gary Parsons that went against the home side and clearly had a major effect on the way the game panned out.

But Invicta responded as a tenth minute Micheal Everitt header was cleared off the line by Aaron Rhule after Ronnie Dolan’s corner from the right.

Ian Draycott then charged down Anton Douglas’s attempted clearance a minute later but the fullback recovered at the expense of another Invicta corner from which Frankie Chappell headed powerfully, but sadly over the bar.

And Chappell was then denied by a great one-handed save by Merstham goalkeeper Brannon Daly when the central defender headed Matt Newman’s 18th minute free kick after a foul on Richard Atkins following a ball forward from Invicta captain Liam Friend.

The most controversial incident of the final also involved Chappell when Merstham centre half Marc Okoye was at the centre of a head-butting storm in the 25th minute.

Those in both Brian Merryman Stand and – far closer to the incident in the Remland Stand had a clear view of Okoyo thrusting his head forward at Chappell after a couple of pushes between the pair and how he escaped unpunished only disappointingly weak referee Gary Parsons and his assistant will know.

Even one senior Ryman League official commented: “That was as clear a red card as I’ve seen for a long time.”

The flare up had followed a foul by Okoye and goalkeeper Daly got down to save Draycott’s subsequent free kick.

But Invicta should have made their own justice when three players just failed to force the ball home when a Matt Newman free-kick was somehow allowed to drop at the far post by the otherwise impressive, if often overly physical Moatsiders’ huge defenders.

When Friend fouled the lively Rhule on the half an hour mark Merstham captain Saraiva tried to catch Tim Roberts out from the free kick but the Invicta goalkeeper got behind right behind the ball to save.

Roberts finishes the season as the club’ only ever present having appeared in each of the 59 fixtures in all competitions during 2014-15.

There was a big moment two minutes later when Atkins shot against the underside of the crossbar and out for a goal kick when Draycott touched the ball to the right of the box in a move started by Newman.

People then began to wonder if this might not be Invicta’s day.

Jordan Wright got to the ball before goalkeeper Daly when Atkins touched it through but could only lift his effort over the crossbar in the 38th minute.

Okoye and fellow defender Tutu Henriques had been incredibly fortunate not to have their names taken earlier, but luckless

right back Cooper was booked for a comparatively innocuous foul on Chappell.

Cooper was involved again on 43 minutes when his throw-in reached burly striker Tommy Hutchings who evaded the attention of Friend, but Chappell blocked well.

And Friend headed away a minute later when Saraiva cut in from the left.

But Merstham went in 2-0 up at half time as they struck again from their first corner of the game as big centre half HENRIQUES headed powerfully in from a central position after Saraiva’s cross from the left.

Henriques had been with manager Hayden Bird at both Bromley and Carshalton Athletic and along with central midfielder Peter Adeniyi – one of, it not the best player in Ryman One South – have given Merstham a strong spine this season.

If that psychologically crucial second goal in first-half stoppage time was a body-blow to Invicta, Merstham’s third - early in the second half - effectively made sure of promotion for the visitors.

After himself having been fouled, the skilful SARAIVA stepped up and hit a well-struck low free-kick around the wall and past Roberts from 25 yards.

Another Saraiva free kick from the right two minutes later took a touch off an Invicta defender and was put over at the far post by Adeniyi as the visitors threatened to rub even more salt into the wound.

Roberts – who had opened the scoring - was booked in the 53rd minute and Invicta made a change a minute later as Jon Pilbeam replaced Dolan.

The ball was played into the penalty box towards Pilbeam around the hour, but Kalvin Morath-Gibbs slid across to block and Daly made another good save seconds later as he touched away a header from Draycott.

Adeniyi was booked seconds later and then curled a shot wide as he tried to pick his spot after an exchange of passes between Saraiva and Cooper as Merstham started to really  enjoy themselves with promotion now almost in their pockets.

The home fans’ villain Okoye volleyed at Roberts from the left hand side of the penalty area when another Merstham free kick was not fully cleared by Newman following a foul by Friend on Hutchings.

Friend was booked a minute later when Rhule went down after receiving the ball from Cooper and Hutchings hit the subsequent free kick just over from the left.

Atkins shot narrowly wide on the turn for Invicta from the edge of the penalty area in the 78th minute.

Both number nines were then booked in quick succession – Merstham’s Hutchings for a challenge on Josh Vincent and Invicta’s Draycott  after a clash with Henriques.

It was not to be Invicta top goalscorer Draycott’s day after scoring 43 goals in his debut Invicta season.

The striker had won the play-offs with Maidstone United in 2013 and Leatherhead in 2014, but he was to be denied an unprecedented successive treble with three different clubs.

An 86th minute Cooper shot deflected over following a run from substitute Omar Folkes and Roberts shot wide after receiving the ball from Adeniyi during stoppage time.

There was still time for one last Invicta chance as Vincent got up to meet a Pilbeam corner from the left but Daly climbed to keep out the header.

Merstham were left to celebrate on the pitch as Invicta’s disconsolate players could only look on for a second successive season.

Six of them had played against Leatherhead in last season’s final.

One of the new boys, Wright, was making his 50th appearance for the club and will have other far better days – but that came as little consolation for the the 20-year-old.

Even the neutrals should have felt  sympathy for the Invicta players – and manager Cugley – runners up for a second successive season and beaten in the play-offs for four successive seasons.

They would have loved another crack at the Ryman Premier League.

But that was not to be.

FOLKESTONE INVICTA: Roberts, Vincent, Blanks, Friend, Chappell, Newman, Wright, Dolan (Pilbeam 53), Draycott, Atkins, M Everitt (Miller 73)

Subs not used: Wraight, Austin, Fender  

MERSTHAM: Daly, Cooper, Douglas, Morath-Gibbs, Okoye, Henriques, Roberts, Adeniyi, Hutchings (Kaffo 83), Saraiva (Folkes 65), Rhule (Hall 81)

Subs not used: Gunner, Makiese. 

Corners: Invicta 9 Merstham 2

Referee: Gary Parsons

Assistants: Chris North & Elliott Heward

Fourth Official: David Spain

Attendance: 1,465