Bankers Insurance Central FC struck first but, in the end, slumped to their third successive defeat after another decisive contribution from DIRECTV W Connection captain Hughtun Hector.
Hector, who scored the lone goal in Connection’s 1-0 midweek Pro League win over Central, managed a double tonight as the “Savonetta Boys” romped to a 4-2 win over their out-of-sorts Couva rivals in the Lucozade Sports Goal Shield semifinals at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
The result means Connection will face Morvant Caledonia United in next Friday’s final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
It will be Connection’s third cup final of the 2015/16 season, after they helped themselves to the First Citizens Cup and Toyota Classic Cup titles. And Morvant Caledonia would be hard pressed to deny coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier’s troops a hattrick.
The “Eastern Stallions” own progress was unnecessarily complicated, as they squandered a first half lead and a flurry of goal scoring chances before seeing off Police FC via kicks from the penalty mark.
Their appearance in next Friday’s final says much about Morvant Caledonia’s progress over the last three months.
On 8 January 2016, Morvant Caledonia crashed to a 7-0 loss against the Defence Force in Port of Spain and, a week later, lost 5-0 to Police.
Morvant Caledonia were in a transition period then, partly brought on by financial issues due to the non-payment of a Ministry of Sport subsidy.
These are calmer days now—Sport Minister Darryl Smith cut the subsidy but at least clarified the State’s position—while, maybe just as crucially, former Europe-based players Akim Armstrong and Robert Primus have landed and re-acclimatised.
Police started as favourites but were always in trouble.
Guyana international poacher Pernell Schultz and veteran captain Kareem “Tiny” Joseph had already fluffed three clear scoring opportunities between them before the pair combined for the opening goal in first half stoppage time.
Joseph pulled a cross back to Schultz on the edge of the opposing penalty area and his precise left footed strike into the far corner was a thing of beauty.
The “Lawmen” poured officers forward in search of an equaliser and had a touch of fortune in the 77th minute, as Caledonia failed to deal with a charge by Police substitute Dylon King and Kareem Freitas stroked home the loose ball from close range.
Joseph hit the bar with a free kick in the 84th minute. But there were no more items in regulation time.
In the subsequent shoot out, only Police right back Jibiri McDavid found the target, as Trinidad and Tobago international goalkeeper Marvin Phillip denied Todd Ryan and Makesi Lewis while left back Dexter Alleyne hit the bar.
And, although Police goalkeeper Adrian Foncette saved from Primus and “Tiny” struck the bar again, Armstrong, Sheldon Holder and Schultz converted to fire Morvant Caledonia to the final.
The second match of the double header between Central and Connection was always likely to be more explosive. Two bitter cross-town rivals, the Pro League’s first and second place team respectively, the establishment against the new order.
Central had just lost successive matches for the first time under new coach Dale Saunders. And, worse, their second defeat—just three days before the semifinal—was against Connection.
Saunders rejigged his starting line with his opponent mind.
Speedy flanker Darren Mitchell was used at left back while Kadeem Corbin and Rundell Winchester both started wide on either flank in the midfield. It meant the “Couva Sharks” had plenty pace to handle Connection’s wing play.
“The idea was to push back Connection’s full back,” Saunders told Wired868. “It was a more attacking team for us too because we wanted to score more goals in the first half.”
And it reaped impressive dividends early on, as, within seven minutes, Jason Marcano put Central ahead with a close ranged finish after a low cross from his teenaged strike partner, Nicholas Dillon.
Just as telling was the battle in middle earth where Central captain Leston Paul kept watch on opposing skipper and deep-lying playmaker Hughtun Hector and holding midfielder Nathaniel “Spanish” Garcia emphatically bullied Connection’s veteran maestro, Andre Toussaint.
If there was a heat map of Garcia’s movement around the centre of the field, it would probably resemble a bush fire.
Both coaches raved about his ability but noted that he is a work in progress and still learning his role as midfield sweeper.
“Nathaniel is a player with very good ability and work rate,” Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier told Wired868. “He just has to grow tactically now… He has to be able to analyse the situation and know the solution.”
Saunders, who won over 50 international caps for Trinidad and Tobago in Garcia’s current role, said Garcia’s rookie error that led to Connection’s 19th minute equaliser, off a deflected Alvin Jones free kick.
“Nathaniel has not being doing badly but he needs to understand his role better,” said Saunders. “Sometimes when he needs one or two touches, he takes three. He took an extra touch on top of Connection’s 18 yard box and they countered and won a free kick that gave them the equaliser.
“I see him there (as a defensive midfielder) because he has energy and he can win the ball back. (But) you need to be more simple when you are in that position.”
The game pivoted on a halftime shuffle by Connection, though, as towering Dominican defensive midfielder Briel Thomas, who is recovering from a hip injury, replaced pocket sized ex-Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 midfielder and former Central employee, Kevon Goddard.
“I thought we needed someone with more physical presence, as Central were playing a lot of long balls and I felt Briel could deal with that better (than Goddard),” said Fevrier. “Also they were playing two strikers and I wanted someone to help the defence more and create a three (defenders) against two (forwards) situation…
“I wanted two players in one. (Someone who could operate as) a stopper and a defensive midfielder.”
There was a scare for Connection in the 52nd minute, as Dillon lifted the ball over Cyrus’ head on the edge of the penalty area and was only denied by alert goalkeeping from Terrence Lewis, who was standing-in for injured custodian Julani Archibald.
Archibald was concussed in Connection’s midweek fixture but is expected to resume training next Monday. Defenders Kurt Frederick and Triston Hodge were out with injuries too while flanker Aikim Andrews is on trial at Major League Soccer (MLS) team, Toronto FC.
Kittian defensive midfielder Gerard Williams was not fully fit either and had trained just once this month, after he suffered an ankle injury during the last international break last month. But Fevrier sent him into the fray on the hour mark to replace wide midfielder, Jabari Mitchell.
“Looking at the game, I felt we needed more control of the midfield of the field,” said Fevrier. “So, I sent Gerard on to play the role of Briel and asked Briel to cover Hector and Toussaint, so they could focus more on our offence…
“Nathaniel and Paul are younger and Toussaint and Hector were having too much defending to do. And in terms of their experience in organising our attack and their decision-making, (Toussaint and Hector) are two of our best players.”
Hector pushed into Mitchell’s role and scored within 47 seconds of the change.
Neil Benjamin Jr, who looked lost at sea for much of the night, stormed into the penalty area and the ball broke for Toussaint, who passed to Shahdon Winchester to his left.
Winchester did not react quickly enough. But Hector did, as he calmly steered the opportunity past Central custodian Akel Clarke.
“It was a great tactical change by the Connection coaching staff,” said Saunders. “It made an impact one time, although we got caught ball watching.”
Saunders responded by replacing wingers Corbin and Winchester with Sean De Silva and Ricardo John respectively. After some early promise, Central failed to impose themselves on either flank, where Jones and Jelani Peters gave accomplished performances.
“I thought it was a mistake (by Central) to target us on the flanks because we are tactically very varied and we can build the ball in different ways,” said Fevrier. “I feel where we have the edge on many of our opponents is our game understanding tends to be a bit better.
“I teach the game and we do a lot of video sessions on the tactical side, which helps our decision making.”
De Silva forced Lewis into an awkward save on his goal line from a direct free kick. But Connection were defending comfortably and, as always, were a threat on the break.
Toussaint, who was finding much more space now as Central players bombed forward, nearly increased the lead in the 77th minute but saw his shot pushed for a corner by the capable Clarke.
However, Thomas met Hector’s corner kick with a flicked header past Clarke at the near post to provide the Savonetta Boys with a two goal cushion.
Connection defender Maurice Ford gave the Sharks a glimmer of hope, as headed past his own goalkeeper in the 80th minute. But they held firm and got a fourth in stoppage time, when Jones broke clear on the right and crossed for another composed Hector finish.
And Central were out. Saunders and company will turn their attention to the million dollar league title—they are three points clear of Connection with a game in hand—while there are also the Caribbean Club Championship and TTFA FA Trophy competitions left.
“We need other teams to beat Central to win the (Pro League) title, so I am not concentrating on that,” said Fevrier. “It is up to Central really. They have the title in their hands (and) they have to make sure they keep it in their hands.
“All we can do is win our games so, if they slip up, we have a chance.”
Connection have the Lucozade crown within their grasps though. Morvant Caledonia will need to bury some bad recent memories at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, if they most stop Hector and the gang from their third knock out trophy of the season.
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 1.Terrence Lewis (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 25.Daneil Cyrus, 4.Maurice Ford, 27.Jelani Peters; 13.Hughtun Hector (captain), 23.Kevon Goddard (8.Briel Thomas 46); 11.Neil Benjamin Jr (43.Malik St Prix 80), 14.Andre Toussaint, 34.Jabari Mitchell (3.Gerard Williams 60); 9.Shahdon Winchester.
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 20.Jamal Charles, 40.Isaiah Garcia, 46.Anfernee Frederick.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 30.Akel Clarke (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 4.Andre Ettienne, 12.Jamal Jack, 11.Darren Mitchell; 19.Nathaniel Garcia; 77.Rundell Winchester (45.Ricardo John 68), 22.Leston Paul (captain), 9.Kadeem Corbin (8.Sean De Silva 66); 7.Jason Marcano, 14.Nicholas Dillon.
Unused substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 2.Elton John, 24.Kevon Villaroel, 25.Elijah Manners, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Referee: Keilon Bacchus
Man of the Match: Hughtun Hector (W Connection)
Lucozade Sport Goal Shield semifinal results
(Friday April 15)
Morvant Caledonia United 1 (Pernell Schultz 45), Police FC 1 (Kareem Freitas 77) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
*—Morvant Caledonia won 3-1 via kicks from the penalty mark;
Central FC 2 (Jason Marcano 7, Maurice Ford OG 80), W Connection 4 (Alvin Jones 19, Hughtun Hector 61, 90, Briel Thomas 77) at Ato Boldon Stadium.