Twenty-two year old Shahdon Winchester lit up a drab top of the table clash at the Hasely Crawford Stadium last night as Digicel Pro League leader, DIRECTV W Connection, stormed a whopping 15 points clear of the pack with a 2-0 win over second place North East Stars.
Winchester, who re-joined Connection in the January transfer window after a loan spell in the Finland Premier League, opened the scoring with a blast from outside the area in the 27th minute before Joevin Jones wrapped up the proceedings in the closing seconds.
In the earlier affair, Police FC shook off a run of three matches without a win with a last gasp 2-1 triumph over San Juan Jabloteh at the same venue.
Jameel Perry scored his second goal in successive matches in the 37th minute after Jabloteh custodian Shane Mattis parried an effort from his brother, Kareem Perry. Mattis was one of a stream of debutantes in the Jabloteh squad including ex-Petrotrin and “Soca Warriors” defender Kareem Smith and former national youth team players Jean Luch-Rochford and Brandon Welch.
Rochford, a two-time World Youth Cup player, has endured a topsy-turvy senior career so far as a promising start with Joe Public led to a less dynamic stint with Caledonia AIA and a disastrous time at North East Stars. But his Jabloteh reincarnation began well as he came off the substitutes’ bench to beat Police custodian Adrian Foncette with a dipping effort from 25 yards in the 77th minute.
Jabloteh could not hold on though.
Police utility player Elijah Belgrave, a former St Ann’s Rangers defender who was promoted higher up the pitch to take advantage of his fierce shot, snatched all three points for the “Lawmen” with a trademark blast from distance in the dying seconds.
The result lifted Police to third and only goal difference separates coach Richard Hood’s men from Stars.
Point Fortin Civic can leapfrog Police and Stars with a win over visiting Central FC from 3.30 pm at the Mahaica Oval today. But there seems to be no catching Connection.
The “Savonetta Boys” continued their inevitable march towards a record fifth Pro League title last night with a typically chanceless triumph over Stars. At present, Connection and Jabloteh have four League crowns each while Defence Force, the current defending champion, has three.
Much has been made of Connection’s penchant for South American signings but there were nine Trinidad and Tobago players in coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier’s starting team last night. Winchester was the pick of the bunch.
A former Naparima College wonderkid who made his senior Connection debut at 16, the composed striker is blessed with technique, strength, a decent passing range and a knack for finding space in crowded areas.
But Winchester has not always shown the tenacity needed to stand out among equally gifted players and, as a result, his senior international record reads a disappointing four substitute appearances with no starts or goals.
There are signs that he might be turning the corner and Soca Warriors coach Stephen Hart, who looked on from the stands, would have noted Winchester’s positional versatility and increased mobility; as the one-time specialist striker spent his night dashing inside from either flank and running through his repertoire of flicked passes.
Arguably, it is easier to stand out in such a drab affair.
There were four shots on target over the entire game—all from Connection—and three of them came in the last four minutes.
Connection conceded a League low five goals this season with seven clean sheets from 11 outings before last night’s clash. While Stars captain and custodian Cleon John had let in just six goals before last night and his club had not conceded from its previous three League games in 2014.
John and Stars coach Angus Eve might be disappointed by the opener last night as Winchester took full advantage of a momentary lapse on concentration.
Connection captain and St Kitts international Gerard Williams charged forward from his post as midfield anchor in the 27th minute but was knocked over by Stars enforcer Jeromie Williams. As Williams and his teammates appealed loudly for a free kick, Winchester blasted goalward from outside the area and the ball squirmed under John for the opener.
It was not until the 88th minute that John was called into action again as he pushed a powerful Alvin Jones free kick around his post.
And, two minutes later, Connection doubled its lead as teenaged Surinamese substitute Demitrie Apai broke clear from the inattentive Aquil Selby and, although John blocked the initial effort, Joevin Jones rammed home the rebound for his sixth goal this season.
Jones, who is nominally a midfielder but has license to roam by Fevrier, is Connection’s leading scorer for the second season running while only Jabloteh’s Kerry Baptiste (eight goals) and Point Fortin’s Marcus Joseph (seven) have been more prolific in the League.
But, in the points tally, Connection is in a league of its own.
North East Stars (4-2-3-1): 22.Cleon John (GK) (captain); 23.Kennedy Hinkson, 5.Aquil Selby, 19.Glenton Wolfe (41.Neveal Hackshaw 84), 25.Keryn Navarro; 6.Jeromie Williams (40.Jomoul Francois 75), 12.Jayson Joseph; 8.Keron Cummings, 15.Chike Sullivan (7.Elijah Manners 70), 4.Keithy Simpson; 20.Trevin Caesar.
Unused substitutes: 1.Stefan Berkeley (GK), 9.Akeil Guevara, 18.Kaashif Thomas, 48.Jesus Perez.
Coach: Angus Eve
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 39.Alvin Jones, 19.Joel Russell, 15.Mekeil Williams, 2.Kurt Frederick; 3.Gerard Williams, 7.Silvio Spann (11.Tremain Paul 84); 10.Joevin Jones; 65.Neil Benjamin (4.Daneil Cyrus 75), 14.Hashim Arcia (32.Demitrie Apai 70), 16.Shahdon Winchester.
Unused substitutes: 18.Julani Archibald (GK), 13.Devaughn Elliot, 25.Christian Viveros, 31.Jerrel Britto.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Referee: Neal Brizan
Digicel Pro League
(Fri Jan 24)
Police 2 (Jameel Perry 37, Elijah Belgrave 90), San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Jean-Luc Rochford 78) at Hasely Crawford
W Connection 2 (Shahdon Winchester 27, Joevin Jones 90), North East Stars 0 at Hasely Crawford
(Sat Jan 25)
Point Fortin Civic vs Central FC, 3.30 pm, Mahaica Oval.[standings league_id=1 template=extend logo=true]