Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA recorded its first win of the season on Friday night as the “Eastern Stallions” eased past a dim T&TEC outfit 2-0 in a First Citizens Cup quarterfinal fixture at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
As a further indicator of T&TEC’s eye-watering slide since its Pro League debut in 2011, Caledonia opted to make seven changes to its line-up so as to keep players fresh for a CONCACAF Champions League outing away to Honduran team, CD Marathón, on Wednesday although the local team has no chance of advancing from the group.
“I never thought T&TEC was up to the task with all due respect,” Caledonia AIA coach Jamaal Shabazz told Wired868.com. “Hence the reason we tried to rest some players and give credibility to our training sessions by giving others a chance to play.”
Within ten minutes of Friday’s kick off, Caledonia was already two goals clear and, although T&TEC improved, the result never seemed in doubt.
New T&TEC head coach Jefferson George has to accept such indignities on the chin this season. For the south-based club, every game in the top flight is a small victory in itself as last term’s surprise package was just days away from bowing out of the Pro League.
The 33-year-old George, who was T&TEC’s goalkeeping coach last season, revealed that, two weeks before the Pro League opening, he approached manager Peter Mohan and begged to save the team for the sake of players like Sylvester Teesdale, Bevon Bass, Kevon Neaves and Akini Adams who he felt were on the verge of national selection.
“I said that, based on the players we already had in the (T&TEC) workplace, we didn’t need a substantial budget,” said George. “He asked me for a program and I drafted one and he said I would have to head the program. I said no problem.”
The T&TEC players and staff, who are all employed at the company, meet five times per week outside of their normal working hours to train and play with no financial compensation whatsoever.
“It can be very challenging to get the players together to train and prepare,” said George, “because it is not just office workers but field workers as well. But we still do have some good players.
“Once we can motivate these guys and get them into decent condition, I still feel we can do ourselves justice this season.”
Caribbean champions Caledonia AIA, even with a weakened squad, was clearly several steps too high for a T&TEC team that lost its opener 2-0 to Police on September 15.
T&TEC played a 4-5-1 system against Police and George explained that his team will try to defend en masse for the early part of this season while it works belatedly on lifting fitness levels. But the temptation of a big knock-out scalp bewitched the young coach who opted for two strikers against Caledonia.
He regretted it almost immediately.
Densill Theobald and skipper-for-the-night Conrod Smith took absolute control of the middle of the field and were soon supplying Caledonia emissaries who were driving towards the opposing penalty area from all angles.
Keyon Edwards opened the scoring with a half volley from close quarters after just five minutes following clever work by his striker partner and Guyanese import Sheldon Holder down the left flank. And, four minutes later, Holder doubled Caledonia’s advantage with a predatory finish after good build-up play from Theobald and Smith.
“Because it was a knock out game, I felt we had to play for a result,” George told Wired868. “But I recognised it wasn’t working and we were way too open… They actually scored the second goal while I was making the (tactical) switch to play with two defensive midfielders (instead of two strikers).”
The Hasely Crawford Stadium did not witness a particularly enthralling contest but there were notable individual performances to enjoy.
Smith bossed the midfield with aplomb and looks to be gearing up for an impressive season. St Vincent and the Grenadines international Cornelius Stewart was a terror on the right flank too for Caledonia while T&TEC substitute Kevon Neaves gave warning that there was still quality within its ranks.
Shabazz also singled out Caledonia substitute and veteran, Abdallah Phillips, who mesmerized with his dribbling skills in a 17 minute cameo.
“Abdallah was really unstoppable,” said Shabazz. “It is a pity we couldn’t capitalize on the chances he created…
“I cannot say I was up in the sky about the result because T&TEC was never able to pressure us effectively and we got a lot of room to play. But I am pleased that other payers were able to step up and it makes the squad more competitive going forward.”
For young George, it is back to the training ground. He intends to use T&TEC’s early elimination to get as much fitness work done as possible before the Digicel Pro League restarts next month.
The former W Connection and Trinidad and Tobago national youth team goalkeeper coach has an English FA level two certificate and Dutch International License while, at present, he is working on a Bachelor’s in Sport Science at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). He also holds a UWI certificate in the Art and Science of Coaching.
It is a curious accumulation of diplomas for someone who is employed as a welder at T&TEC.
One senses that the 2012/13 season can be the making of George too. Even though Caledonia did him no favours.
Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA:
33.Glenroy Samuel; 12.Kareem Joseph, 4.Colin Nelson, 24.Kemron Purcell, 15.Walter Moore; 8.Cornelius Stewart (11.Abdallah Phillips 73), 10.Conrod Smith (Capt) (7.Stephan David 78), 21.Densil Theobald, 27.Nathan Lewis; 9.Keyon Edwards; 28.Sheldon Holder (6.Trevin Caesar 46).
Unused Subs: 34.Colin Edwards, 2.Aubrey David, 5.Aquil Selby, 23.Jamal Gay.
Coach: Jamaal Shabazz
1.Akini Adams; 88.Marc Hunte, 7.Cebastian Bailey, 4.Angus John, 8.Eustace Darius (17.Kern Peters 60); 20.Brent Garcia; 27.Desta Francis, 14.Keeron Benito (Capt) (19.Simeon Augustus 82), 5.Javed Mohammed; 16.Bevon Bass, 15.Tigana Sparks (13.Kevon Neaves 46).
Unused Subs: 50.Darryl Francis, 10.Daniel Garcia, 12.Timothy John, 23.Brent Beam.
Coach: Jefferson George
First Citizens Cup Quarterfinals
(Fri Sept 21)
St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Jason Marcano 28, Devon Modeste 70), North East Stars 1 (Cornell Glen 67) at Hasely Crawford
Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA 2 (Keyon Edwards 5, Thorne Holder 9), T&TEC 0 at Hasely Crawford
DirecTV W Connection 0, Police 0 at Mannie Ramjohn[Connection won 3-1 on penalties]
Defence Force 3 (Richard Roy 48, 70, Devorn Jorsling 90), Central FC 0 at Mannie Ramjohn