Mickaeel Jem Gordon shone brightly at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night as W Connection grabbed their first win of the 2019/20 Pro League season with a 3-1 triumph over Terminix La Horquetta Rangers.
Connection’s two prior outings ended in stalemate but they were too much for Terminix La Horquetta Rangers yesterday as they snatched all three points to climb four places in the standings to fourth position. The result saw Rangers slip two spots to eighth in the 11-team standings.
Defence Force lead the standings with a maximum nine points from three outings, after a Jerwyn Balthazar item secured a 1-0 win over AC Port of Spain at the Diego Martin Sporting Complex yesterday. The Army/Coast Guard outing have one point more than second placed Morvant Caledonia United despite playing a game less.
Otherwise, there were three goalless draws in the fourth match day of the current Pro League season. Local football fans left the Hasely Crawford Stadium without a single goal to cheer after 180 minutes, as San Juan Jabloteh and Point Fortin Civic then Morvant Caledonia and Tiger Tanks Club Sando played to barren draws.
There was little to get excited about in yesterday’s opening affair at Couva either as Police FC and Central FC could not find a goal in a largely disjointed affair.
The ‘Couva Sharks’ had more of the ball but it was the ‘Lawmen’ who were most threatening. Twice, Police forward Keion Wilson swept into the channel between Central stopper Jamal Jack and left back Jameel Neptune, only for attacking midfielder Kareem Freitas and then Jabari Mitchell to spurn half chances.
The best opportunity of the match fell to Central, though. Ten minutes into the second half, right side midfielder Sean Bonval broke into Police’s penalty area and managed to win a half yard of space from opposing goalkeeper Adrian Foncette.
Forward Akim Armstrong was wide open with the goal at his mercy. But Bonval wanted to finish the play himself and Foncette showed his powers of recovery with a lunging block.
Presumably, Bonval’s ear-bells are still ringing from the frustrated Armstrong’s complaints.
In the second game of the double header, Connection coach Earl Jean did not have long to wait for his team’s opener though. Referee Keilon Bacchus spotted a trip on Connection attacker, Gordon, and, after the ‘Savonetta Boys’ failed to make use of a perceived advantage, Bacchus belatedly pointed to the spot.
Connection left back and St Lucia international Kurt Frederick thumped the penalty into the roof of the net past beleaguered Rangers goalkeeper Jabari St Hillaire. There were less than three minutes on the clock.
Bacchus appeared to ignore a clearer penalty shout in the 13th minute, as Connection front man Jevaughn Humphrey went down over the outstretched leg of beefy Rangers defender Jevon Morris.[sports-match template=”logos” match=”59353″]
But Connection would not be denied for long and eventually doubled their lead in the 20th minute as Humphrey converted a rebound after an Adan Noel free kick struck the frame of the Rangers goal.
Jean credited their success on a proactive approach to the game, as they avenged a 2-0 loss to Rangers in the First Citizens Cup last November.
“Tactically, we played a very good game,” said Jean. “The last game we played against them, we pulled off and monitored because I didn’t have a good look at them before. In this game, we pressed them from the start and I think it worked…
“[…] Also they didn’t start Aikim [Andrews], which helped us because he is one of their better players and has been in good form.”
Rangers coach Dave Quamina opted for Kishun Seecharan ahead of Andrews with Kadeem Corbin on the flank. All three players were members of the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team that lifted the 2014 Caribbean Cup title.
It is just a hint of the quality within Rangers’ ranks.
Quamina also had versatile defender Jesus Perez, another 2014 Under-20 champion, on his bench alongside national youth players Kishon Hackshaw and Emmanuel John. While former national under-20 midfielder Yohannes Richardson and prolific Morvant Caledonia’s Venezuelan attacker Johnny Noriega-Britto could not even get into their match squad.
Tigerish and irrepressible on their day but one-dimensional on others, Rangers forced one desperate low save from Connection and Grenada international goalkeeper Jason Belfon in the first half—but little else.
Then, in the 42nd minute, the spattering of supporters were treated to an unusual tactical move. Rangers made all three substitutions with just three minutes left before the interval.
On went Andrews, Perez and defender Caleb Sturge to replace Seecharan, Ross Russell Jr and Leslie Joel Russell.
“That surprised me a lot,” said Jean, regarding Rangers’ triple change. “For me, I thought they were panicking, because it meant they couldn’t bring on players later when we were tiring—and we have a very small squad.”
Rangers did emerge improved from the dressing room at halftime, though, and pulled a goal back through midfielder Keron ‘Ball Pest’ Cummings in the 53rd minute. Belfon could and should have done better, as he got both hands on the ball without holding on. But there was plenty to admire in Cummings’ crisp volley.
Cummings’ encore was even better, three minutes later, as he thumped a tremendous half volley from 25 yards that crashed off the underside of the bar—with Belfon no more than an animated spectator. But, this time, it did not go in.
Rangers’ 4-4-2 formation doesn’t naturally accommodate Cummings, who is neither a forward nor a winger or orthodox central midfielder. Poor Jamal Creighton must feel quite exposed defensively with only Cummings for company in central midfield. But, on the ball, ‘Ball Pest’ did show a few touches that might have caught the attention of newly installed Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick in the stands.
Jean asked Gordon to keep an eye on Cummings but it looked touch and go for a bit. The Connection coach claimed he was never worried though.
“I know they would have given us a tough time in the second half,” said Jean. “But their defence was leaking and I know we would have gotten more opportunities, as we were getting chances behind them. I told my players once we got another goal—that was it.”
Fittingly, Gordon delivered that crucial goal with a looping header off a Frederick cross after another Noel free kick troubled St Hillaire in the Rangers goal.
“When Jem came to Connection, he said he usually plays on the left or as a ‘number nine’,” said Jean. “But with the energy he has, I felt he could give me that role [as a ‘number 10’] because of the injury to [Isaiah] Hudson and after losing Shahdon [Winchester to a tragic car accident].
“I felt the only players we had left who could play there are Jem, [Dimitrie] Apai and ‘Natty’ (Nathaniel James). But Apai has such a good rapport with Frederick down the left and Natty still needs time to build himself, so I decided to use Jem.”
Nathaniel James is just 15 years and still a schoolboy at Queen’s Royal College. But it is easy to see why Connection have such high hopes for the national youth player, who played for 25 minutes yesterday.
James is far from the finished article. But he is light on his feet, can spot running lanes and already carries a goal threat. Judging from the loud ‘oohs’ from the stands that greeted his every touch, he is not short of support either.
Jean, a former prodigy himself who represented St Lucia and played professionally in Portugal as a teenager, suggested that the local schoolboy could start for the Pro League outfit before the end of the season.
“Natty is a very intelligent player and does well in training against the bigger boys,” said Jean. “I think his finishing rate in training is at about 98 percent—he reminds me of myself at that age. I am just giving him time to get to know his players.
“The players love him and they realise he has talent. I have asked them to protect him and make him feel comfortable. He is not there because of his age; he is there because he has quality and he has proven it so far.”
‘Natty’ was almost involved in a late goal but Gordon’s shot from a flowing move was charged down. By then, Connection were home and dry with their first win on the way.
“I am just happy with the players and how they responded after Shahdon’s death,” said Jean. “I know they want to have a good season for him. It is a long process but I know we will get there.”
Gordon is the last person on the planet who has seen Winchester alive. He went out with the gifted player on that fateful night but was dropped home minutes before the accident on 19 December 2019.
If Winchester is looking on, he would give a wry smile at the sight of his gangly friend peeling off defenders and trying to slip the ball through to runners from a position just behind the centre forward.
On Tuesday night, it was too much for Rangers to handle.
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 1.Jason Belfon (GK); 11.Adan Noel, 3.Isaiah Garcia, 6.Alvinus Myers, 2.Kurt Frederick; 19.Briel Thomas, 8.Rhondel Gibson; 9.Mickaeel Jem Gordon; 7.Neil Benjamin Jr (captain) (24.Ronald Charles 87), 13.Jevaughn Humphrey (35.Nathaniel James 65), 17.Dimitrie Apai (99.Quinn Rodney 86).
Unused substitutes: 18.Denzil Smith (GK), 14.Akinola Gregory, 27.Aaron Rodney, 34.Dawn St Rose.
Coach: Earl Jean
Terminix La Horquetta Rangers (4-4-2): 20.Jabari St Hillaire (GK); 99.Anselm Jackson, 18.Jevon Morris, 5.Leslie Joel Russell (12.Caleb Sturge 42), 17.Ross Russell Jr (26.Jesus Perez 42); 45.Kadeem Corbin, 8.Jamal Creighton (captain), 15.Keron Cummings, 9.Kishun Seecharan (7.Aikim Andrews 42); 10.Tyrone Charles, 27.Isaiah Lee.
Unused substitutes: 29.Emmanuel John (GK), 24.Kishon Hackshaw, 25.Michael Yaw Darko, 77.Samuel Delice.
Coach: Dave Quamina
Wired868 Man of the Match: Mickaeel Jem Gordon (W Connection)
Pro League results
(Tuesday 7 January)
San Juan Jabloteh 0, Pt Fortin Civic 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
M’vt Caledonia 0, Club Sando 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Police FC 0, Central FC 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 3 (Kurt Frederick 3 pen, Jevaughn Humphrey 21, Michael Jem Gordon 63), TLH Rangers 1 (Keron Cummings 53) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
AC Port of Spain 0, Defence Force 1 (Jerwyn Balthazar 70) at Diego Martin Sporting Complex.