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Folkestone Invicta boss Neil Cugley says his team's struggles to recreate early-season form has cost them in failed Isthmian Premier play-off bid


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Manager Neil Cugley accepts Folkestone’s struggles to recreate their early-season form has cost them dearly in the end.

Invicta’s Isthmian Premier play-off hopes ended on Monday as Margate earned a 1-0 derby win at Cheriton Road, with Jay Saunders’ side completing a league double in the process.

Benas Vaivada, of Margate, and Folkestone midfielder Scott Heard battle for the ball in Invicta's 1-0 home loss on Monday. Picture: Randolph File
Benas Vaivada, of Margate, and Folkestone midfielder Scott Heard battle for the ball in Invicta's 1-0 home loss on Monday. Picture: Randolph File

Folkestone had started the season well but, since March 19, they have collected just four points from seven league fixtures - winning 1-0 at bottom side Leatherhead last Saturday through Luke Wanadio’s effort.

“I don’t think the players are playing as well as they were at the start of the season,” conceded Cugley.

“We’ve tried a number of different players in several different systems but, unfortunately, we just could not get back to the higher standards.”

Apart from the win at Leatherhead, the only other victory for Invicta across all competitions in April so far came in the Kent Senior Cup against higher-league Ebbsfleet.

Cugley reflected: “It’s just been a disappointing month, really. We have achieved so much this year and it seems a bit disappointing at the end of it all.

Margate's Sam Odaudu is closed down by Ryan Johnson. Picture: Randolph File
Margate's Sam Odaudu is closed down by Ryan Johnson. Picture: Randolph File

“We are in one semi-final and got to another one (in the Velocity Trophy where they lost at Horsham). We had a great run in the FA Trophy and played Eastleigh twice in the FA Cup, but we look back and it looks a bit disappointing now. It’s hard to take.

“But I always think the league table doesn’t lie at the end of the season. I think those five are the best sides in the league. They deserve to be up there.

“They are all fairly big clubs and we could just not quite achieve what we wanted to in sneaking into that fifth spot.”

A crowd of 974 watched Folkestone on Monday and Cugley added: “The fans have been brilliant.

“I feel like we have let them down, really. It’s horrible.

Luke Wanadio and Crossley Lema in action. Picture: Randolph File
Luke Wanadio and Crossley Lema in action. Picture: Randolph File

“Yes, we had injuries at the wrong time but we have players back now so we cannot use that as an excuse. To not get over that last little hurdle is disappointing.”

Cugley’s men end their league campaign at 17th-placed Haringey this Saturday and could still finish sixth.

Since being promoted to Step 3 in 2016, they have only finished higher in the table once - they came fourth and made the play-offs in 2018 before also finishing sixth the following season.

Cugley commented: “You can see the clubs we can finish above this year if we win on Saturday. They are big clubs.

“We have finished above a lot of clubs that I thought would finish above us. But the top five are the best sides.

Invicta duo Callum Davies and Johnson crowd out a Gate player. Picture: Randolph File
Invicta duo Callum Davies and Johnson crowd out a Gate player. Picture: Randolph File

“We will look to finish the season well on Saturday for the fans.

“Everything - apart from the last month - has been excellent this season, and the players deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Invicta will travel to rivals Hythe for the Kent Senior Cup semi-final on Wednesday (kick-off at 7.45pm).

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