Tobago is used to being fought over. The tiny island changed hands 33 times since the Courlanders first settled there in 1654 while, at present, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is at the centre of a fierce political battle between the ruling People’s Partnership and the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM).
But, last night, Tobagonians might have wondered if they had lost their allure as the Trinidad and Tobago national senior football team gave a largely timid performance against St Vincent and the Grenadines in its opening group match of the 2012 Caribbean Cup semifinal round.
The final result read 1-1 and, although Trinidad and Tobago created better and more numerous scoring opportunities, the “Soca Warriors” had to accept that they did not do enough to secure the three points.
“I’m very disappointed with the performance tonight,” said national coach Hutson “Barber” Charles, after the match. “I think my guys could have given a little more effort.”
Trinidad and Tobago enters its next fixture against Suriname on Friday already in a must-win situation. Cuba tops the group after a 5-0 rout of Suriname and, if four-goal scorer Marcel Hernandez maintains his form, the Spaniards would be a handful on Sunday.
Two teams advance from Tobago to next month’s Caribbean Cup finals in Antigua and Barbuda and the Cuban team has already signalled its intentions.
The Warriors had started as though they were in a hurry to join them.
The Vincentians were lucky to still have 11 players on the field when, barely a minute into the contest, goalkeeper Kenyan Lynch took out Trinidad and Tobago striker Devorn Jorsling just outside the penalty box. Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell flashed yellow rather red.
The reprieve did not last long. Two minutes later, Jorsling, who started in place of the injured Jamal Gay, opened the scoring with a close range finish through Lynch’s legs after his Defence Force teammate Kevon Carter knocked the ball into his path. It was Jorsling’s 17th international goal from 31 outings.
Winger Hughtun Hector smacked a speculative effort off the bar in the 6th minute while Jorsling prodded another attempt off the top of the crossbar following another Carter delivery in the 16th minute.
But, having backed St Vincent into the corner, the Trinidad and Tobago midfield let its opponent off the ropes.
Perhaps the flurry of missed chances prompted a note of caution from senior ball handlers Densill Theobald and Clyde Leon. Or maybe the increasing rate of turnovers suggested that it was time to vary the pace.
“The first couple of minutes, we did well,” said Charles, “but after that we switched off. I don’t know why.”
It takes more than error to cause a crash. It is not just that the pilot’s eyes drooped. You also need an inattentive or shy co-pilot, difficult terrain and a mountain or light pole that appears at the worse possible time.
Last night, Leon and Theobald lost command of their work station for maybe 25 minutes. But they were not outplayed; they were outfought.
The St Vincent team offered no more than its standard fare. The tourists pushed, scrapped, chased and bullied the Trinidad and Tobago midfield while Campbell generally looked the other way.
And, in the post-game press conference, Carter still could not suggest a tactical remedy.
“It was surprising to me (that we lost the ball that often),” said Charles, a Defence Force Warrant Officer One and former “Strike Squad” stand-out. “We work on ball possession all the time. We needed to protect the ball a little more.”
It was a fair point; apart from being blindingly obvious and probably not reassuring to the midfielders who were being repeatedly harassed and hacked off the ball.
In the 20th minute, St Vincent forced a turnover and relayed the ball quickly to Wendell Cuffy who shimmied past Joevin Jones and surprised Trinidad and Tobago captain and goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams with a blast at his near post that he fended away.
A minute later, Cornelius Stewart, who menaced the Trinidad and Tobago defence all night, just dragged a left foot effort wide after being sent clear. And then, in the 23rd minute, St Vincent equalised as Stewart, who plays professionally for local Digicel Pro League club Caledonia AIA, flicked the ball over Seon Power and Myron Samuel pounced with a firm shot that Williams got a glove on but couldn’t keep out of the corner.
It was a goal that had been obviously coming. Like watching a crash in slow-motion.
The Warriors did regroup and should have been back ahead in the 33rd minute but for a terrific Lynch double save from Guerra and Carter. But Charles had run out of patience. Eight minutes into the second half, he replaced Leon and Guerra with Kendall Jagdeosingh and rookie Keyon Edwards.
“I felt we needed more energy in the middle of the park,” said Charles, as he explained his changes.
Leon and Theobald have never gelled at international level despite both being players who value possession. Yet, it was arguably still a gamble to replace the DirecTV W Connection man so early, considering the inexperience of his replacements.
Hector, who is reportedly weighing up options in Vietnam but is a free agent at present, seemed to have self-preservation on his mind as “Vincey” raise the heat while Jagdeosingh and Carter are better at sprinting than scheming.
It left Theobald short of players to exchange his trademark wall passes with and St Vincent began to look increasingly dangerous.
In the 62nd minute, Vincentian defender Shemol Trimmingham left his feet and went straight through Edwards with a tackle that might have started a brawl in a savannah sweat. But Campbell allowed play to continue and Williams again had to rescue T&T with a fine save from Samuel.
It could have gotten worse for the hosts in the 82nd minute as Stewart broke clear of the Trinidad and Tobago defence only to be cynically tripped by Carlyle Mitchell. Mitchell only received a yellow card for his indiscretion.
Roused by a small but appreciative crowd, Power drove forward in search of a solution and twice went close with crisp strikes while Carter was again denied at close quarters by Lynch. But it was too little too late for Trinidad and Tobago.
St Vincent’s Cornelius Huggins, a former Caledonia central defender, was the happier coach at the final whistle.
“It was an excellent team effort by my players,” he said. “I told them that once we play as a team, anything is possible.”
Charles had to resort to singling out individual players when asked about the positives from the game.
“Seon Power had a tremendous game,” said Charles, who also praised Theobald and Williams. “I feel if the group could feed off him, it would be very good for us in the future.”
The Trinidad and Tobago technical staff would work on tactics today in preparation for Friday’s clash against Suriname.
The Surinamese might have been outclassed by Cuba. But they are a physically powerful bunch and, should they get the indulgent Campbell as the match referee on Friday, the Trinidad and Tobago team might have another fight on its hands.
There were just under 1,000 supporters at the Dwight Yorke Stadium yesterday although a larger crowd is expected for the weekend. And patrons would hope the Warriors show that Bacolet is worth a good battle.
Trinidad and Tobago (4-2-3-1): 1.Jan-Michael Williams (capt); 12.Curtis Gonzales, 19.Carlyle Mitchell, 20.Seon Power, 3.Joevin Jones; 2.Clyde Leon (17.Kendall Jagdeosingh 52), 18.Densill Theobald; 11.Kevon Carter, 10.Ataullah Guerra (16.Keyon Edwards 53), 7.Hughtun Hector; 9.Devorn Jorsling (14.Hashim Arcia 66).
Unused subs: 21.Marvin Phillip, 6.Kareem Moses, 8.Aubrey David, 13.Richard Roy,
Coach: Hutson Charles
St Vincent and the Grenadines (4-4-1-1): 1.Kenyan Lynch; 22.Keith James, 2.Wesley Charles (capt) (18.Reginald Richardson 44), 6.Shemol Trimmingham, 3.Roy Richards; 11.Wendell Cuffy (13.Romano Snagg 67), 8.Darren Hamlet, 21.Theo Gordon, 17.Emerald George; 7.Cornelius Stewart; 9.Myron Samuel (5.Nical Stephens 78).
Unused subs: 20.Dwaine Sandy, 10.Nazir McBernette, 15.Azinho Solomon, 16.Jolanshoy McDowald.
Coach: Cornelius Huggins
2012 Caribbean Cup Semi-final group phase
Wednesday November 14
Cuba 5 (Marcel Hernandez 6, 36, 62, 89 Ariel Martinez 46), Suriname 0 in Bacolet
Trinidad and Tobago 1 (Devorn Jorsling 2), St Vincent and the Grenadines 1 (Myron Samuel 23) in Bacolet[standings league_id=6 template=extend logo=true]
Editor’s Note: Wired868’s 2012 Caribbean Cup semi-final coverage is sponsored by DirecTV