A shrewd summer strike-force signing by veteran boss Neil Cugley has fired-up Folkestone for the fresh campaign.
Three goals in as many games from Ade Yusuff helped Invicta initially to an unbeaten start. However, early excitement has since faded after a 0-2 home loss at the hands of Needham Market, on Saturday.
The Angels were also brought back down to earth, with a defeat by the same score-line at Harrow Borough. Steve McKimm’s men began 2017/18 with two victories and a draw.
Where Monday’s visitors are concerned, they added several new faces during the summer, including the ex-AFC Hornchurch forward who netted on his debut at Enfield Town. The 23 year-old’s strike on the opening day earned a valuable draw (1-1), against opposition expected to be in the promotion hunt.
Positivity continued days later (Tuesday August 15) when Merstham were defeated 2-1 at Cheriton Road and that victory was followed by a useful point picked up at Burgess Hill (1-1) on Saturday August 19.
It bodes well for an Invicta outfit that endured an anxious few weeks as last term drew to a close – the first in the Isthmian top-flight for years. The previous season’s runaway Division One South champions (title clinched by a 24-point margin in 2015/16) needed to wait until the final day to confirm a place in the 2017/18 Bostik Premier. A convincing 3-0 success at the already-doomed Grays Athletic ensured safety.
Chief Cugley, at the helm for more than two decades (since 1997), is a canny wheeler-dealer and a busy summer on the Kent Coast was always on the cards, especially after a survival scare. The recruitment drive involved the return of a stalwart sterling servant, plus a mixture of proven or promising talent (please see pen pictures, in the Angels’ award-winning programme).
The former Hythe and Ashford boss has been around a long time and almost certainly possesses a contacts’ book that is second to none on the south east’s semi-professional circuit.
The astute talent-spotter is adept at picking up players in lower divisions and moulding them into regulars for his evolving teams. Home-grown products are also nurtured.
Some starlets have been signed by full-time clubs with striker Harry Smith’s transfer to Millwall, in 2016, and Johan Ter Horst’s move to Hull City, two years earlier, providing recent examples.
The art of persuasion is another attribute judging by the impressive CVs held by various people past and present. Several that currently pull on the amber and black of Invicta, previously adorned shirts of similar colour while representing the county town club, or the blue of Kent’s only long-time league team.
Although keen on fresh faces for squad strengthening purposes, the 60 year-old seems to prefer a settled side, usually sticking to a tried and tested formula. Selections for the opening three matches were almost identical, suggesting strong faith in individuals and tactics.
The latter mostly involves an entertaining philosophy and plenty of prolific marksmen have made their names courtesy of Cugley coaching, throughout a managerial career that began in the late-1980s. And that is probably not surprising, as the boss broke Folkestone’s goal-scoring record during playing days, with 46 way-back in 1982/83.
The incumbents of the front-line, such as the aforementioned Yusuff and ace Ian Draycott, will be aiming to follow in those footsteps – or boot-steps.
The latter has already gone close, twice reaching 40-plus, with 43 in his debut campaign of 2014/15 falling a fraction short of the manager’s milestone. The former Leatherhead and Maidstone man has scored more than 100 times in just a few seasons at Cheriton Road. An impressive honours’ haul for the 29 year-old includes a couple of Golden Boots, player of the year accolades, three promotions from the Bostik South, plus the kudos of being named by Isthmian bosses in their 2014/15 team of the season.
Cugley’s career in charge of Kent clubs spans three decades and each employer tasted success, such as promotion. And there have been many honours, including a fairly recent Isthmian Manager of the Year, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Non-League Paper.
The situation at Folkestone proved challenging for long periods because of the spectre of financial problems – now a thing of the past. For several seasons debt repayments restricted recruitment and squad size, plus a 10-point deduction in 2009/10 effectively denied the club the Isthmian South championship. The East Kent side earned promotion via the play-offs, but soon returned to the lower level.
Later, following disappointments in win-or-bust contests (two semi-final and two final defeats), the team clinched the South Division championship by a massive 24-point margin in 2015/16. Many of the medal winners remain at the club, although some strengthening involved adding talent with wider experience.
Folkestone started brightly last term but faltered as the campaign progressed - a 1-7 thrashing inflicted by Bognor in March undoubtedly a low point. The aim will be for more consistency throughout 2017/18 and early signs are encouraging.
The Bank Holiday derby should be an entertaining affair, as both clubs prefer attacking football, plus likely to be played in a sporting spirit – with a track record of fair play and respect recognition handed to Invicta and the Angels in recent years. Such a bold declaration probably puts the kybosh on that and the outcome will be an ill-tempered 0-0 stalemate!
Our mascot for today's match is Ethan Scutchings. Have a great day with us Ethan!
Joking aside, the day’s dugout dwellers might not be disappointed with a point, from a tussle between highly-respected and skilled protagonists.
The Bostik Premier clash between Tonbridge and Folkestone on Bank Holiday Monday (August 28), at Longmead Stadium, Darenth Avenue, is a 3pm kick-off.
Avoid spending a frustrating day in traffic jams and pop down to see your local team, where there is a large free car park plus other amenities at the well-appointed stadium.
Updated 22:19 - 26 Aug 2017 by Jim Rowe