Central FC are not messing around. The two-time defending Pro League champions notched their third consecutive win of the 2016/17 league season as they thumped Defence Force 4-1 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night.
The “Couva Sharks” have caught the early attention of their opponents in the truncated season with a new bright pink kit, and, last night, they continued their rich vein of form after 2-1 results over Club Sando and rivals DIRECTV W Connection in their first two league games.
“We are just doing exactly what we expected because remember we are in the CONCACAF Champions League, so we started our season early,” Central FC coach Dale Saunders told Wired868. “The Pro League this year has been cut down to two rounds, so what we said to the guys is who gets out of the block early will be capable of winning the league. And that’s what we wanted to do…
“We are seeing the team gelling and we are getting goals. And we are defending much better than before so it’s really a great start to the season.”
Earlier in the Couva double header, W Connection came away with their first victory of the season after a hard-fought 2-1 win over coach Angus Eve’s new-look Club Sando, who were compact and workmanlike for most of the 90 minutes yet still remain pointless after three matches. For the second consecutive match, Sando blew an early lead.
Last night, Sando skipper Kemuel Rivers again lead by example, as he thumped in a 36th minute penalty to put his team ahead. It was his second set piece item of the season after his beautiful free kick in a 2-1 loss to Central on October 7.
But Rivers, a former Connection left back, was forced to leave the field of play after an injury early in the second half and the Sando rearguard could not keep the Connection attackers at bay in his absence.
Former Point Fortin Civic striker Shackiel Henry equalised for the “Savonetta Boys” in the 50th minute, while Jamal Charles notched the game winner with a fine solo run in the 70th minute.
Sando’s pair of Akeems—Roach and Humphrey—had some promising moments on the opposite end but their finishing seldom matched the neat build-up play. And, for the third successive game, Sando failed to score from open play.
Yesterday’s marquee encounter was a rematch of last month’s Digicel Charity Shield match, which Central won on penalties after a 2-2 draw in which they struck twice in the opening five minutes through Darren “Chucky” Mitchell and Soca Warriors captain Kenwyne Jones.
Since then, Jones has not played due to international duty while he missed out last night due to an injury suffered in Caribbean Cup qualifying action against Martinique on Tuesday night. But Chucky, who took over the captain’s armband from Leston Paul, has been pouring in the goals for Central.
“Paul has done a fantastic job [as captain],” said Saunders, who said the former and current captain have an excellent working relationship. “We won the Caribbean Club Championship and the Pro League with him. So [we changed captains] just to get Mitchell going…
“[The impact has been] very positive. His game has lifted.”
Jones’ injury notwithstanding, the main talking point for the Warriors is the immediate future of playmaker Kevin Molino, who was axed for the Martinique game by coach Stephen Hart after allegedly leaving the team camp to party.
Will a lengthy suspension follow? And who would fill the void if Molino is deemed unavailable?
New Central playmaker Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings is a popular candidate, after he rose to prominence while deputising for the then-injured Molino at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup with a double in a 3-3 draw against Mexico.
However, Cummings had a lengthy lay-off himself after being shot in the leg last December and he has been sparingly used by the Sharks this season. Last night, he was an unused substitute in Couva.
“We as a coaching staff have full confidence in him to get back to where he was,” said Saunders. “We are encouraging him every day in the training park. We are trying to get him to work as hard as possible, so as we go along people will see Keron Cummings on the field…
“We may use him against Sporting Kansas City next Wednesday. So he’s getting there. I think he will get back to full fitness soon.”
Coach Marvin Gordon’s Defence Force troops had their own pest to worry about last night though, as the enigmatic Marcus “Lobo” Joseph—arguably, another contender for Molino’s place—tormented the Army/Coast Guard outfit all game, en route to a well-deserved double.
Lobo got Central’s show on the road in the 14th minute with a composed close range finish, following a beautiful outside-of-the-boot feed by playmaker Sean De Silva, as the defending champion’s midfield trio of Nathaniel Garcia, Leston Paul and Chucky repeatedly outmanoeuvred their opponents in midfield.
Veteran Defence Force sharpshooter Devorn Jorsling was not a happy camper and bellowed his frustrations to defensive midfielder Curtis Gonzales, midway through his first half. His intervention seemed to spark some life into his team, as they fashioned their two best opportunities of the half just moments after.
In the 29th minute, midfielder Sean Narcis fired over bar from close range after a knock down by Jorsling, while Justin Garcia stung the fingertips of Central custodian Jan-Michael Williams with a low, left-footed drive, just two minutes later.
But Defence Force did not make the most of their best spell and were duly punished in the 43rd minute. That man Lobo was at the heart of the action again.
The former Civic standout nonchalantly sent a raking crossfield ball to his strike partner Jason Marcano, who evaded opposing defender Akile Edwards before burying a right-footed shot past Army goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke to put Central ahead.
Upon the resumption of the second half, the Sharks opted to sit back and allow their opponents to dictate terms. But that proved ill-advised.
Substitute Hashim Arcia, once a standout with Central’s rivals W Connection, combined smoothly with Jorsling to halve the deficit with a scuffed right-footed shot past Williams in the 57th minute, after a flowing right side move.
Now, Gordon’s charges looked to be building up some momentum. However, Lobo had other ideas.
On the hour mark, the languid attacker nicked the ball off of Mitchell’s toes near the centre circle and made a surging run into the Defence Force penalty area where he was taken out by a late sliding challenge from centre-back Rodell Elcock for a penalty. And Lobo coolly sent Clarke the wrong way from the spot.
The lanky Arcia nearly struck again in the 64th minute but blazed a right-footed shot overbar, after a quickly-taken Gonzales set piece.
“Keep it! Keep it!” Saunders shouted at his charges.
And Central’s ability to maintain possession proved to be a good defensive remedy in the latter stages before Chucky put some icing on the cake with a goal in the first minute of stoppage time, after a lofted Keston George pass. It was the versatile Tobagonian’s fourth goal in three league outings.
“These guys have been working really hard on the training grounds, [especially] Darren Mitchell, Marcus Joseph and Leston Paul,” said Saunders. “I think Leston Paul is one of the best players we have in Trinidad and Tobago and I don’t know how the national coaches have been overlooking him.
“But I think he deserves a call up and he has been outstanding for us, same as Marcus and Darren Mitchell.”
If Hart is serious about shuffling his pack, Saunders believes the Warriors coach take a second look at the two-time Trinidad and Tobago World Youth Cup captain.
Central FC (4-3-1-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 5.Keston George, 4.Andre Ettienne, 3.Keion Goodridge, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 6.Leston Paul, 11.Darren Mitchell (captain); 8.Sean De Silva (17.Johan Peltier 76); 7.Jason Marcano, 99.Marcus Joseph.
Unused Substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 2.Glenn Sutton, 10.Keron Cummings, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 13.Marvin Jones, 6.Rodell Elcock, 3.Jamali Garcia, 26.Justin Garcia (10.Hashim Arcia 46); 17.Curtis Gonzales; 23.Kerry Joseph (19.Thurlani George 79), 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain), 18.Sean Narcis, 21.Akile Edwards (8.Christopher Durity 73); 9.Devorn Jorsling.
Unused Substitutes: 1.Andre Marchan (GK), 2.Glen Franklin, 5.Devin Jordan, 15.Brandon Fountain.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Man of the Match: Marcus Joseph (Central FC)
Pro League Results
(Friday 14 October)
W Connection 2 (Shackiel Henry 50, Jamal Charles 70), Club Sando 1 (Kemuel Rivers 36), Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central FC 4 (Marcus Joseph 14, 61, Jason Marcano 43, Darren Mitchell 90+1), Defence Force 1 (Hashim Arcia 57), Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Sunday 16 October)
Morvant Caledonia Utd vs San Juan Jabloteh, 4pm, Park Street, Morvant;
(Tuesday 18 October)
Ma Pau Stars vs St Ann’s Rangers, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic vs Police FC, 8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.