DIRECTV W Connection welcomed 21-year-old starlet Shahdon Winchester backed into its fold last night but was forced to settle for one point after a 1-1 draw against Defence Force at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Jerrel Britto, another 21-year-old, put Connection ahead in the 48th minute but Defence Force equalised through winger Kevon Carter and created enough chances to win the match outright.
It was Connection’s second successive Pro League draw after a goalless tie at this same venue against Caledonia AIA on 20 December 2013.
If this is what a crisis looks like for the “Savonetta Boys”, who have a seven-point lead over second placed Police FC, then Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier must sleep comfortably at nights.
In the opening game of the Port of Spain double header, Caledonia continued its own revival as the “Eastern Stallions” ground out a 2-1 win over Point Fortin Civic.
It was the fourth successive unbeaten match for coach Jamaal Shabazz and three of those results were victories. That said, all three victories came against the Pro League’s bottom three clubs.
It is hard to tell why Caledonia has been so flat this term apart from the obvious fact that it never seems to have more than a handful of players performing at any given time. The silver lining, though, is that the Stallions seemed to have grasped their own shortcomings and are trying to compensate through commitment and perspiration.
The weekend fixtures began with a minute’s silence for former Defence Force defender Rawle Fletcher and Ferencvaros left back Akeem Adams, who were 34 and 22-years-old respectively. Fletcher, who was also a former Connection player, was gunned down on 22 December 2013 outside a bar in Couva while Adams, who represented United Petrotrin, T&TEC and Central FC in the Pro League, died in Budapest on 30 December 2013 after failing to recover from a heart attack and stroke.
Adams was due to start the season with Civic before his move to Ferencvaros materialised on 7 August 2013. But the Point Fortin posse yesterday bore little resemblance to the unit that began the season; on or off the field.
Civic left back Lyndon Diaz was out through a hamstring injury while right back Garyl Doldron and attackers Bevon Bass and Matthew Bartholomew were also missing and forward Andre Toussaint and captain Kelvin “Supers” Hernandez were only deemed fit enough for the bench. Even goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, the squad’s sole Trinidad and Tobago international regular, was not well enough to take his own spot kicks and defender Andre Ettienne had to fill in.
In such circumstances, Civic coach Reynold Carrington had particular reason to be worried when Jamal Gay fired Caledonia ahead after just seven minutes with a close range blast.
Caledonia had two chances to double the lead as defender Aubrey David and winger Nathan Lewis both missed decent chances with headers off a Noel Williams and Akim Armstrong cross respectively.
The Civic squad was always competitive though and there are a few senior players who might struggle to win their places back from versatile teenagers Glen Sutton and Akeem Redhead, who were both excellent. Neither were involved in the equaliser, though, as Kendell Davis deflected home an Andrei Pacheco drive in the 57th minute following a right side corner kick.
The teams remained on equal footing for just six minutes. The Civic defence failed to cut out an inswinging Williams free kick and Gay bundled the ball over the line for his second of the night and his fourth league goal of the season.
Caledonia custodian Shemel Louison managed a double save from Davis and substitute Sylvester Teesdale in the 72nd minute while another Civic sub, Jamille Boatswain, wasted two good late chances.
The final whistle saw Caledonia rise, temporarily, to third while Civic, whose home support dwindled dramatically from roughly 1,500 supporters to barely 400 as it plummeted down the table, remain seventh from nine Pro League teams.
The second fixture pitted early pace setters, Connection, against defending champions, Defence Force and it was every bit as engaging as the early billing suggested.
The army/coast guard unit looked in the mood and Connection might have been happier with the goalless score line at the interval. Referee Neal Brizan was generous to the “Savonetta Boys” when Kevon Carter went down in the Connection box over Christian Viveros’ outstretched leg in the 16th minute while, late in the first half, Daneil Cyrus made a vital stop from Defence Force striker Devorn Jorsling after Curtis Gonzales stripped Alvin Jones near his own penalty box.
However, Connection got the second half off to a bang as speedy teenaged attacker Neil Benjamin Jr outpaced Defence Force captain Cory Rivers in the 48th minute and Jerrol Britto stole away from Ross Russell Jr to prod his cross past opposing goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke.
It should have been 2-0 in the 59th minute but Hashim Arcia struck the upright from inside the penalty box while Russell atoned for his earlier error with a good block from Britto.
Fevrier replaced Britto and Benjamin with Winchester and Tremain Paul but it was stand-in Defence Force coach Marvin Gordon whose changes made the bigger impact.
Winchester, who spent last season on loan with Finland Premier League team FF Jaro, has not played competitively in at least four months and it showed. Gordon gambled by pushing Rivers higher up the flank and the army captain responded with a wonderful right side cross that Carter knocked home at the far post for a 74th minute equaliser.
Brooklyn-based football enthusiast and Wired868 forum member, Earl “Mango” Pierre presented Joevin Jones with a Messi Adidas F-50 boots before kick-off for his early mastery of the local top flight. But Jones never got into any dangerous areas last night.
Defence Force stopper Rodell Elcock almost uprooted the bar with a powerful but wasteful effort from close range after a corner kick while Jorsling hit an upright and substitute Richard Roy spurned a good scoring opportunity in the 85th minute.
Connection might have pinched all three points in the closing seconds as well as Cyrus hooked a left footed effort wide when well-placed while Silvio Spann was inches too high with a stinging volley.
The draw seemed a fair result at the final whistle. North East Stars will try to capitalise this afternoon as a win over St Ann’s Rangers can see the Sangre Grande-based club climb to second spot.
Stars face Rangers from 3.30 pm today at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar.
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 14.Cory Rivers (captain), 6.Rodell Elcock, 3.Keston Williams, 17.Ross Russell Jr; 4.Dave Long; 12.Jemel Sebro (23.Kerry Joseph 70), 8.Curtis Gonzales (10.Josimar Belgrave 63), 15.Jerwyn Balthazar (26.Richard Roy 70), 11.Kevon Carter; 9.Devorn Jorsling,
Unused substitutes: 1.Kevin Graham (GK), 7.Balondemu Julius, 18.Sean Narcis, 21.Aklie Edwards.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 39.Alvin Jones, 25.Christian Ocoro Viveros, 4.Daneil Cyrus, 2.Kurt Frederick (13.Devaughn Elliot 82); 3.Gerard Williams (captain), 7.Silvio Spann; 10.Joevin Jones; 65.Neil Benjamin (11.Tremain Paul 72), 31.Jerrel Britto (16.Shahdon Winchester 66), 14.Hashim Arcia.
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 19.Leslie Russell, 17.Juma Clarence, 29.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Referee: Neal Brizan
Digicel Pro League results
(Fri December 3)
Caledonia AIA 2 (Jamal Gay 7, 63), Point Fortin Civic 1 (Kendall Davis 57) at Hasely Crawford;
W Connection 1 (Jerrel Britto 48), Defence Force 1 (Kevon Carter 74) at Hasely Crawford;
(Sat December 4)
North East Stars v St Ann’s Rangers, 3.30 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
(Sun December 5)
San Juan Jabloteh v Central FC, 5 pm, Hasely Crawford.[standings league_id=1 template=extend logo=true]