DIRECTV W Connection continued its fine close to the 2012/13 season tonight as the “Savonetta Boys” edged North East Stars to the Digicel Pro Bowl crown at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Just as in the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final, Connection and Stars could not be separated in regulation time and it took penalties to decide the winner. Once more, Connection took that honour with a 4-3 triumph from the spot.
Colombian custodian Alejandro Figueroa denied Stars striker and Trinidad and Tobago international star Cornell Glen while right back Elton John clipped his penalty off the top of the bar.
And 38-year-old Connection defender and ex-St Lucian international Elijah Joseph, the oldest player in the Pro League, applied the finishing touch with a blast straight down the middle that settled the contest.
There could be little doubt that the more ambitious and proactive team ended with the massive trophy and $100,000 cash prize although Stars deserved credit for remarkable defiance and composure under sustained pressure.
In a meeting of the Pro League’s top two individual players, Stars’ goalkeeper and captain Cleon John and free-scoring Connection midfielder Joevin Jones, John was the clear winner.
John made not one or two but four crucial saves as Connection poured players forward in a vain attempt to get a result in 90 minutes.
At times, Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier seemed to be employing a 3-2-5 system with either St Lucian left back Kurt Frederick, Colombian right back Christian Viveros or gifted Trinidad and Tobago defender Daneil Cyrus pushing right up the field in an orthodox wing position. Stars responded by retreating with its entire team, save for Glen, to within 30 yards of John’s goal.
It presented a more fascinating tactical battle than the score line might suggest.
The Sangre Grande-based team is not shy to defend en masse when necessary but always carries a threat on the break, particularly when Glen is fit. Connection nullified the 2006 World Cup star by boxing him between three narrow defenders when the Savonetta Boys had the ball.
If Stars chose a more patient method of attack, the impressive Cyrus picked up Glen and was more than his match for pace and physical power.
At the other end, Stars coach Angus Eve effectively starved Jones of space while his wingers doubled back to protect either flanks from threats posed by Stefano Rijssel and Frederick from wide areas. But the trade-off was that Leon and Williams were often left unattended to shuttle the ball around while waiting for a gap in the opposing defence.
A Connection goal seemed to be a matter of when not if.
Eighteen year old striker Neil Benjamin had his team’s best chance in the 36th minute as he anticipated a rare spill from John but stabbed wide by the rebound wastefully wide.
Otherwise, the 31-year-old John seemed invincible as he fended away an Andrei Pacheco freekick, pushed a long range Cyrus effort for a corner and made two brilliant stops to deny Frederick as Stars held on.
The dominance was so pronounced that it was not until stoppage time that Stars got its first sight of the Connection goal and Glen dragged his shot well wide of the target. Penalties were next.
Stars played in five shoot-outs before last night and had won the first four before Eve’s men faced Connection in the Goal Shield final.
Connection still had their number.
Figueroa saved Glen’s first kick. Jones was up next and he was a foot wide of the right upright.
Stars’ Elijah Manners and Kareem Moses and Connection’s Silvio Spann and Williams all bulged the net before John hit his effort off the wrong side of the bar.
Connection attacker Hashim Arcia and Stars midfielder Kennedy Hinkson scored next before Joseph blasted the decisive penalty straight down the middle and ran cartwheeling towards his teammates.
And Connection was back in winner’s row.
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 21.Alejandro Figueroa (GK); 25.Christian Viveros, 4.Daneil Cyrus, 5.Elijah Joseph, 32.Kurt Frederick; 12.Gerrard Williams, 8.Clyde Leon (captain) (20.Silvio Spann 80); 36.Joevin Jones (vice-captain); 65.Neil Benjamin (14.Hashim Arcia 46), 17.Andrei Pacheco (29.Jomal Williams 76), 26.Stefano Rijssel.
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 31.Jerrel Britto, 39.Alvin Jones, 42.Tremain Paul.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
North East Stars (4-2-3-1): 22.Cleon John (captain) (GK); 11.Elton John, 2.Kareem Moses, 19.Glenton Wolfe, 5.Kevon Villaroel; 6.Jeromie Williams (7.Elijah Manners 54), 25.Keryn Navarro; 23.Kennedy Hinkson, 18.Kaashif Thomas (32.Keithy Simpson 61), 12.Gary Glasgow (17.Jayson Joseph 53); 13.Cornell Glen.
Unused substitutes: 1.Adrian Foncette (GK), 4.Kerry Baptiste, 9.Akiel Guevara, 26.Shane Hospedales.
Coach: Angus Eve
Referee: Neal Brizan