Adam’s Construction San Juan Jabloteh coach Earl Carter leaned against his bench on Friday night and waited to be put out of his misery at Port of Spain’s Hasely Crawford Stadium.
The Movie Towne cinema was barely 400 metres south of the Jabloteh goalpost. But there was to be no Hollywood ending for this Coach Carter in the 2012 Lucozade Sport Goal Shield.
For the final 20 minutes of the knock out fixture, the Defence Force team was in full control of the facility and Jabloteh had conceded its constitutional right to contest the combined army/coast guard troops.
The final score read 4-1 in favour of Defence Force and coach Ross Russell’s men will now advance to the semi-final round alongside T&TEC FC, Caledonia AIA and St Ann’s Rangers.
In truth though, the regiment’s advancement wasn’t nearly as straightforward as the result suggested.
“We didn’t allow Jabloteh to play in the second half,” Russell told Wired868.com. “We pressed them higher up the pitch and we denied them space in the midfield and forced them to play the ball long.”
The Jabloteh coach told a slightly different tale.
“We were very effective for two thirds of the game and then (came) the meltdown which has been a pattern throughout the season,” said Carter. “There is no way that Defence Force (was) supposed to win last night but (our opponent) won because we made mistakes…
“Congratulations to Defence Force for winning but the game had nothing to do with the score.”
Both coaches were at least partially correct.
Jabloteh should have been ahead after just five minutes. Defence Force custodian Kevin Graham executed a brilliant double save to deny national under-23 captain Sheldon Bateau from close range.
The San Juan outfit would not be denied, though, and deservedly managed the breakthrough in the 27th minute when midfielder Devon Jamerson planted a firm sidefooted effort past an unsighted Graham and into the far corner.
Defence Force power forward Richard Roy reminded Jabloteh of his presence with a low, powerful right footed free kick, just before the interval, that barely gave goalkeeper Cleon John time to twitch before it slammed into him and flew for a corner.
But the striker was otherwise so well contained that his only other mark was a caution for a frustrated lunge at Jabloteh defender Elton John.
At halftime, the feeling in the Jabloteh dressing room was that, once the players avoided unforced errors, the game was theirs.
“I don’t need to say much because the players were reminding each other of the importance of staying focused and not making mistakes,” said Carter. “For the past seven games, we have been throwing away games. I was happy that the players were proactive.”
At the same time, Russell was lecturing his players on the importance of closing down the tidy Jabloteh midfield—and the evergreen playmaker Marvin Oliver, in particular.
“When Marvin pays well,” said Russell, “Jabloteh plays well.”
So, Defence Force returned to the field with a determination to improve. While Jabloteh, wary of a succession of inadequate second half performances, was more introspective during the break.
Had Jabloteh unwittingly neutered itself by paying too much attention to a negative aspect of its game?
There was no sign of timidness at the resumption as Jamerson and Oliver traded passes and sought to free Marcano.
Russell subsequently dismissed the offerings of the Jabloteh midfield as long balls but it was exactly the type of service that Jabloteh attacker Willis Plaza thrives on. Only Plaza wasn’t available. Two weeks ago, the utility player joined W. Connection star Hughton Hector on loan in Vietnam.
Jason Marcano is a tricky opponent in possession but, upfront in Plaza’s place, was not nearly as dangerous when asked to chase the ball between muscular central defenders.
Jabloteh moved the ball well, despite Defence Force’s high press, but could not find a way to hurt the regiment.
And then, from nothing, the game was level.
Jabloteh defender Jamal Jack delayed his clearance from a Defence Force corner kick in the 50th minute and winger Christian Baptiste stuck his left boot out to guide the ball into the top corner for a cleverly improvised item. Russell insisted it was no fluke.
“We worked on corners for the whole week and we got the result from doing that,” said the Defence Force coach. “It was our first goal from a corner since the season started but it was a case of our hard work paying off.”
There was still no sign of an impending Jabloteh meltdown.
Oliver should have restored Jabloteh’s lead, two minutes later, but steered a promising header wide off an Elijah Manners cross while Marcano was twice brilliantly denied by Graham after assists from Bateau and Jamerson respectively.
But, even as Jabloteh appeared in control, Defence Force struck against the run of play once more.
Twenty-year-old midfielder Levi Serries, in only his second start of the season, beat John with a superb right footer from distance that clipped the inside of the far post to stun Jabloteh in the 57th minute.
Serries owed his place to a flurry of absences—including midfielders Sean Narcis, Ronald St Louis, Kevon Carter and Anton Joseph—due to training for promotion. But Russell suggested that the young reserve player is already pushing for a regular senior spot on merit.
“(Serries) is very composed on the ball,” said Russell, “and he always brings out something spectacular.”
Defence Force doubled its advantage in the 70th minute and, this time, the wound seemed self-inflicted.
A long punt upfield from Graham dropped behind the retreating Jabloteh defence. Inexplicably, John froze in his six yard box and, by the time he shuffled forward, Roy was in possession. Bang!
Roy rifled home and Jabloteh’s spirit sagged to the ground.
“After the third goal, I felt there was no way back,” said Carter. “That knocked the wind out of my players.”
Carter never even sent his substitutes to warm up and, while Russell used his three permitted changes, Jabloteh finished with the same 11 players that started the match.
“When you looked at the way we were playing last night, there was no reason to sub any player,” said the Jabloteh coach. “When the idea came to sub a player, there were about five minutes to go. At that point in time what are you going to do?
“The game was already out of reach.”
Josimar Belgrave rubbed salt in Jabloteh’s wounds with a predatory close ranged finish after John farcically mistimed a routine Defence Force cross into the area.
“I don’t know what else I can work on,” said Carter, a former Trinidad and Tobago international stand-out goalkeeper. “The goals against us aren’t coming from buildups. It is blunders that are costing us…
“It is even more baffling because they talked about it at halftime.”
Carter is in his first season as a Pro League coach and he claimed that internal problems off the field are affecting the focus of his players. Jabloteh must regroup and try to finish strongly in the Pro Bowl, which is the sole remaining competition.
By the end, Defence Force was in total control and Russell made the evening more memorable by introducing his 20-year-old son, Ross Russell Jr.
Junior, a tall graceful attacker, missed a fifth goal by a whisker after dancing past two defenders and shooting from the edge of the penalty box.
“He is a terrific player to watch,” said Russell, of his son. “He likes to go after the defence and he has a great shot and a good footballing brain… What makes it hard (for me) is if he doesn’t do well the public will say (he is playing) because it is my son. But he is playing well.
“He is picking himself.”
Father and son will hope for another happy outing in the Gold Shield semifinals.
22.Cleon John; 7.Elijah Manners, 20.Elton John, 28.Jamal Jack, 13.Dillon Kirton; 5.Devon Jamerson, 29.Sheldon Bateau, 10.Marvin Oliver; 16.Christon Thomas, 17.Kennedy Hinkson; 9.Jason Marcano.
Unused Subs: 30.Junior Granger; 3.Reshad Wint, 4.Karlon Murray, 19.Akil James, 24.Keon Trim, 31.Andrew Smith, 15.Seon Thomas.
1.Kevin Graham; 29.Marvin Jones, 5.Devon Jordan, 20.Rodell Elcock, 21.Aklie Edwards; 22.Curtis Gonzales (23.Dave Long 84), 30.Josimar Belgrave, 39.Levi Serries (15.Jerwin Balthazar 61); 24.Jahvon Neptune, 4.Christian Baptiste (17.Ross Russell Jr 79); 9.Richard Roy.
Unused Subs: 2.Glynn Franklyn, 6.Michael Edwards, 7.Balondemu Julius, 27.Dillon Prince.
Lucozade Sport Goal Shield Results
St. Ann’s Rangers 1 (Devon Modeste 5), W. Connection 0
Caledonia AIA 1 (Jamal Gay 66), Police 0
T&TEC 1 (Brenton De Leon 5), NE Stars 1 (Seon Power 67)
*–T&TEC won 4-3 on penalties
Defence Force 4 (Christon Baptiste 50, Levi Serries 57, Richard Roy 70, Josimar Belgrave 77), S/Juan Jabloteh 1 (Devon Jamerson 27)