Published: 22:26, 19 October 2021
| Updated: 17:09, 20 October 2021
Folkestone suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 extra-time defeat to Eastleigh despite an heroic display from their 10 men during the thrilling fourth qualifying round tie on Tuesday night.
Neil Cugley’s men came from 2-0 down after goals from Eastleigh men Tom Whelan and Jake Hesketh, despite having defender Josh Vincent sent off, with Ade Yusuff and Scott Heard scoring to bring Invicta level.
But it was Eastleigh who got the all-important goal in extra-time as Ben House found the net for the National League side.
Isthmian Premier promotion-chasers Folkestone created the first opening of the game on six minutes, Jordan Wright blazing high and wide after a corner was only half-cleared.
Away skipper Tyrone Barnett stung the palms of Folkestone goalkeeper Alexis Andre Jr at the other end with Eastleigh’s first real attack in the 19th minute.
Whelan tried his luck for Ben Strevens’ men soon after from a similar position just outside the penalty area, as he bent his effort wide.
The Spitfires had started to find their groove by now and, midway through the first period, they broke the deadlock when Vincent Harper’s left-wing cross was superbly volleyed in by midfielder Whelan.
Confusion reigned on the half-hour mark, with referee Robert Whitton trotting over to the dug-out and eventually being replaced by fourth official Peter Conn in the middle.
Home captain Callum Davies came frighteningly close to steering an Eastleigh corner into his own net with 38 minutes played.
But Folkestone were dangerous and their best chance of the first half came in the final seconds of the opening period. Yusuff’s cross-cum-shot flashed inches wide with strike partner David Smith not far away from connecting, either.
Folkestone started the second half well too and Alfie Paxman, who scored twice on Saturday, blasted wide six minutes after the restart in front of a bumper crowd of 1,237, their best attendance for a competitive game since a 6-0 win over Walton & Hersham in 2016.
But a couple of minutes later, the hosts were reduced to 10 men when Vincent was sent off by Mr Conn after a challenge on Hesketh earned him a second booking in a matter of moments.
Eastleigh swiftly made their man advantage count on 58 minutes as frontman House drilled in a left-wing cross which was brilliantly controlled by Hesketh before he found the bottom corner.
Things looked to be getting away from Folkestone at this stage but they pulled a deserved goal back in the 63rd minute.
Smith whipped in a dangerous ball which was too hot for Eastleigh keeper Joe McDonnell to handle and Yusuff hammered home to give his team a lifeline.
With the home side pushing for an equaliser, the game became stretched with Eastleigh a threat on the counter-attack.
But Folkestone snatched a leveller 12 minutes from time when Matt Newman floated a ball over the top and midfielder Heard broke through and expertly dinked the ball beyond McDonnell to spark wild scenes.
The visitors were now looking to re-establish their lead and House broke through, only to be denied by a massive save from Andre.
With six minutes of normal time to play, substitute Harry Pritchard dragged wide.
Another glorious opportunity fell the way of the visitors with 90 seconds of normal time left, substitute Ryan Hill blasting over after a low right-wing cross from Hare.
Eastleigh were pushing for a goal but were constantly thwarted by fine Folkestone defensive work as the match went into extra-time after an enthralling 90 minutes.
It was the visitors who had the first opportunity in extra-time, too, Whelan’s effort not testing Andre with 95 minutes on the clock.
Five minutes later, Andre made a fine save to deny Whelan before substitute Danny Whitehall beat the offside trap but dragged wide with the home defence continuing to put their bodies on the line in admirable fashion.
Full-time outfit Eastleigh’s superior fitness had started to show as they became camped in the Folkestone half, although they still couldn't find a decisive fifth goal of the match.
Six minutes from the death, though, Eastleigh did retake the lead when House expertly volleyed into the bottom corner after a high ball from the right had been floated in to seal the win.
Eastleigh will visit league rivals Boreham Wood in the FA Cup first round and pocket the £9,375 in prize money which was on offer as well.
The sides had drawn 3-3 at the Silverlake Stadium in the original tie, with Heard and Paxman (2) getting the Folkestone goals.
Folkestone manager Cugley named an unchanged starting line-up, although the club’s all-time record scorer Ian Draycott returned to the bench having missed the weekend’s match due to family commitments.
Eastleigh, meanwhile, made four changes.
Ex-Gillingham defender Hare, Andrew Boyce, Whelan and House came into the side.
Folkestone: Andre, Vincent, Wright (Freeman 114mins), Newman, Davies, Johnson (Sterling 118mins), Heard, Dolan, Smith (Draycott 82mins), Yusuff, Paxman. Subs not used: O’Mara, Collins, McCann, Everitt.
Eastleigh: McDonnell, Hare, Maghoma, Boyce, Broadbent (Hill 85mins), Harper, Miley (Hollands 118mins), Whelan, Hesketh (Pritchard 74mins), House, Barnett (Whitehall 61mins). Subs not used: Flitney, Kelly, Smart.
Ref: Robert Whitton.