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 FOLKESTONE INVICTA                0

                                    MERSTHAM                                    3

Folkestone 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 Saturday’s showpiece game in front of a 1465 crowd at The Fullicks Stadium.

Goals at the start and finish of the first half and early in the second half gave Merstham what in the end was a comfortable victory.

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

The corner count of 9-2 in the Folkestone side’s favour will be of no consolation as a Surrey club celebrated promotion at The Fullicks Stadium again after Leatherhead last season.

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

But it was Merstham that had the game’s first half chance when a volley from captain Fabio Saraiva was blocked after a good run down the left hand side from Taurean Roberts.

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 for offside.

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

Ian Draycott then charged down Anton Douglas’ attempted clearance a minute later but the left back recovered at the expense of another Invicta corner from which Frankie Chappell headed over Dolan’s delivery.

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.

The Brian Merryman 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 referee Gary Parsons and one of his assistants will know.

Okoye got away with one there which does not reflect well on the match officials.

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

When Friend fouled 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 it.

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

Invicta striker Atkins then did not get enough on his header after a 34th minute Dolan free kick.

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 hand side of the penalty area 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 the ball over the crossbar in the 38th minute.

Merstham right back Cooper was then booked for a foul on Chappell.

Cooper was involved again in the 43rd minute when his throw in reached striker Tommy Hutchings who evaded the attention of Friend but Chappell blocked his shot.

Friend then 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 during stoppage time when centre half HENRIQUES headed in from a central position after Saraiva’s ball in from the left.

Henriques had been with manager Hayden Bird at both Bromley and Carshalton Athletic and along with central midfielder Peter Adeniyi – arguably the division’s best player – have given Merstham a strong spine.

If that was a body blow to Invicta then the third goal early in the second half effectively settled things.

After himself having been fouled the skilful SARAIVA stepped up and hit a well-struck free kick 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.

Merstham’s Roberts was booked in the 53rd minute and Invicta made a change a minute later as Join Pilbeam replaced Dolan.

The ball came into the penalty area towards Pilbeam around the hour mark but Kalvin Morath-Gibbs slid across to block and Daly made another good save seconds later when he got across to touch a Draycott header away.

Adeniyi was booked in the 61st minute and then curled a shot wide when he tried to pick his spot a minute later after passes between Saraiva and Cooper as Merstham were enjoying themselves.

Okoye volleyed at Roberts from the left hand side of the penalty area when another Merstham free kick was not fully cleared by Newman in the 68th minute 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 hand side.

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 for one on 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 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 right back Vincent got up to meet a Pilbeam corner from the left but Daly got up to keep out the header.

Merstham were left to celebrate on the pitch as Invicta’s disconsolate players had to 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 days – which won’t come as any consolation now.

You have to feel 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.

It was not to be.

FOLKESTONE INVICTA: Roberts, Vincent, Blanks, Friend, Chappell, Newman, Wright, Dolan (Pilbeam 53 mins), Draycott, Atkins, M. Everitt (Miller 73 mins).  Unused subs: Wraight, Austin, Fender.  

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

Attendance: 1465.

Corners: Invicta 9 Merstham 2