Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA was again flat and sluggish this evening in its second CONCACAF Champions League qualifier at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Unlike Friday, though, the “Eastern Stallions” were not facing a team capable of exploiting their poor run of form.
At the final whistle, Caledonia had revived its chances of a second successive year in the CONCACAF tournament with a 3-1 triumph over Antigua Barracuda.
Barracuda need a win on Tuesday against DIRECTV W Connection at the same Couva venue from 6 pm. But it would be a minor miracle if the Antiguans are not on the wrong side of an even more lopsided scoreline.
The 2013 Barracuda team is a pale imitation of the sidethat visited Trinidad last year and, even then, the visitors were no match for their Pro League counterparts.
Tactically, the Antiguans, whose central defender George Dublin also served as team captain and coach, were especially weak.
Caledonia, despite four changes to its starting line-up, looked jaded and half-hearted in their challenges. Had the fast, strong Antiguans managed to lift the tempo of the game or harassed their opponents for the ball, they might have created problems.
Instead, Barracuda dropped deep and played to the strengths of a Caledonia side that enjoys stroking the ball around and had chosen a striker, Jamal Gay, who is much more effective around the penalty box than near the halfway line.
Barracuda had the first real chance of the game in the 15th minute when St Kitts and Nevis referee Kimbell Ward allowed a two-footed lunge by Tamorley Thomas on the Caledonia custodian Glenroy Samuel and the ball ricocheted off the heel of the post.
Thomas, a strong, fast and versatile player, was a handful throughout and was the Barracuda’s most obvious threat. Haitian central defender Olrish Saurel looked quite useful too.
But, as a unit, the visiting squad lacked the quality to compensate for a faulty team plan.
Gay put Caledonia ahead in the 21st minute as he broke the offside trap to run on to an Akim Armstrong flick and clinically steered into the far corner.
Caledonia playmaker and 2006 World Cup midfielder Densill Theobald doubled the host team’s advantage in the 34th minute when he stabbed home from the edge of the box after a Miguel Romeo pass. It was Theobald’s fourth goal of the season.
Gay clipped the outside of the post in the 61st minute when Nathan Lewis played him clean through the Antiguan defence. While Caledonia full back Aubrey David cannoned an effort off the upright in the 83rd minute and substitute Sherron Joseph was denied by a goalline clearance from Barracuda defender Omarie Daniel.
But the game was far more open than it should have been and busy Barracuda winger Andre Manders found space in the opposing area to halve the deficit with a composed finish in the 88th minute.
Caledonia struck back almost immediately as Lewis won a yard of space from Dublin to cross for unmarked substitute Keyon Edwards who had the simple task of tapping over an unprotected goal.
The Stallions would probably have a tougher time in the CONCACAF Champions League play-off if Connection defeats Barracuda for the lone automatic qualifying berth on Tuesday. Anything less than a Barracuda win means Caledonia will finish in second place and advance to an elimination round against an opponent from Group II.
Hopefully, the Morvant/Laventille-based club would be able to lift its game when it matters.
Caledonia AIA (4-4-2): 33.Glenroy Samuel, 12.Kareem Joseph, 3.Nuru Muhammad (5.Aquil Selby 89), 20.Akeem Thomas, 2.Aubrey David; 22.Miguel Romeo (9.Keyon Edwards 67), 7.Stephan David (captain), 21.Densill Theobald, 27.Nathan Lewis; 17.Akim Armstrong; 23.Jamal Gay (18.Sherron Joseph 75).
Unused substitutes: 1.Shemel Louison, 4.Colin Nelson, 15.Aaron Lester, 16.Odelle Armstrong, 19.Nical Stephens, 26.Vurlon Mills,
Coach: Jamaal Shabazz
Antigua Barracuda (4-5-1): 18.Molvin James; 22.Hazeley Pyle (24.Omarie Daniel 75), 3.Olrish Saurel, 17.George Dublin (captain), 4.Karanja Mack; 29.Andre Manders, 2.Toric Robinson, 15.Lawson Robinson, 10.Rolston Phoenix (7.Eugine Kirwan 65), 14.Randolph Burton (8.Alex Phillip 85); 13.Tamorley Thomas.
Unused substitutes: 1.Corey Wisenhunt, 6.Jamoy Stevens, 19.Lloyd Jeremy.
Coach: George Dublin
Referee: Kimbell Ward (St Kitts)
2013/14 CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers
(Fri Apr 26)
W Connection 4 (Joevin Jones 5, 81, Andrei Pacheco 26, Stefano Rijssel 89), Caledonia AIA 0 at Couva
(Sun Apr 28)
Caledonia AIA 3 (Jamal Gay 21, Densill Theobald 34, Keyon Edwards 90), Antigua Barracuda 1 (Andre Manders 88) at Couva
(Tue Apr 30)
W Connection, Antigua Barracuda at Couva