In the 88th minute of last night’s Digicel Pro League clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Central FC led bitter Couva rivals DIRECTV W Connection 2-0. Six minutes later, in the fourth minute of three allotted minutes for extra time, the clubs were locked at two goals each.
Football, bloody hell.
Connection’s diminutive Surinamese goal scorer Dimitrie Apai grinned from ear to ear as teammates sprinted over to congratulate him. Distraught Central players gazed vacantly at each other or slumped to ground.
The Connection coaching staff jumped for joy and punched the air in celebration. Central’s coaches screamed in impotent rage at the fourth official.
And, in the middle of the field, referee Michael London probably closed his eyes for a fraction of a second and wished he was somewhere warm, safe and friendly.
Two things seemed to have been made clear last night. The quality of the local game is, ever so slowly, on the rise. But the standard of the refereeing has arguably gone beyond the threshold of tolerance.
Last Friday, there was almost a riot after the final whistle following a controversial late penalty awarded by referee Neil Brizan, which allowed Central to snatch a last gasp 1-1 draw against another North East Stars.
And, in the opening match of yesterday’s double header, referee Dennis Changiah—whose swollen midsection suggested that it might still be Christmas at his household—was often lagging well behind the action.
Police FC won that fixture 1-0, courtesy a late Jameel Perry effort, despite a valiant effort by table proppers St Ann’s Rangers. Michael Yaw Darko, Rangers’ lively young Ghanaian forward, should have equalised in the 85th minute but hit his penalty against the upright.
In yesterday’s other contest, North East Stars kept its fourth clean sheets from six outings in 2014 but failed to do the business at the other end in a goalless draw with San Juan Jabloteh at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya.
Stars slipped to fifth in the nine-team standings as a result while Police climbed to third place. Jabloteh and Rangers remained in eighth and ninth spot respectively.
Central lies in sixth place with a whopping 16 point gap from the league leader, Connection.
Despite a stream of exotic January signings, the “Couva Sharks” have drawn all six league fixtures this year with six points from a possible 18. Yesterday’s draw was probably the most hurtful of the lot.
The game highlights would show that Central had a commanding two goal advantage with two minutes left in regulation time before Connection roared back with more than a little help from London. But that was only half the story.
In fact, it was Connection who suffered from the most obvious refereeing error of the night. Central captain Marvin Oliver tried to win the ball in the 12 minute but, inadvertently, provided a perfect through pass to speedy opposing attacker, Neil Benjamin Jr.
Benjamin was clear of the Central defence and already visualising his finish when referee’s assistant, Ezra Bartholomew, raised his flag. London was well placed to see that the pass had not come from a Connection player but he did not overrule Bartholomew.
The “Savonetta Boys” have managed a league high eight clean sheets this season and they are not easy to catch once ahead.
Still, Central was the better team for the opening 45 minutes. The problem was opposing goalkeeper Julani Archibald was even better.
The St Kitts and Nevis international somehow contrived to turn a Plaza effort around his upright after just two minutes while he pushed a Darren Mitchell attempt on the outside of his post in the 22nd minute and blocked an angled shot from Samuel Delice just before the interval.
In between, there was London’s blunder, which denied Benjamin a scoring opportunity. While the period’s lone goal came from January signing, Willis Plaza, who fortuitously diverted a Rundell Winchester cross through Archibald’s legs.
Connection had just one goal attempt of note and it came in the 44th minute as Joevin Jones smashed a vicious free kick from distance that was kept out by Central’s own flying goalkeeper and ex-Connection captain, Jan-Michael Williams.
Connection continued to struggle defensively as Plaza stripped defender Daneil Cyrus near his own penalty area in the 47th minute and Archibald was forced into another save to keep out a stinging Winchester left footer.
But Connection was exerting more influence by then and should have equalised in the 57th minute when Hashim Arcia wastefully hit against the bar after a brilliant cross from right back Alvin Jones.
Back down the other end it went as Plaza hooked the ball behind his feet and smashed a dipping 22 yard effort that Archibald managed to tip overbar.
Arcia had another sniff at goal but this time failed to control a Jones (A) cross when Central grabbed an insurance item.
Again, Archibald was left exposed and might have been penalised for his trip on Central substitute and recent recruit, Leston Paul. But London allowed the advantage and Marcano hit into an empty net to put Central two goals clear with just 13 minutes left in regulation time.
By then, Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier had replaced two defenders with Apai and free scoring midfielder Jomal Williams as his troops pinned the Sharks into their own half of the field.
Shahdon Winchester was denied by Jan-Michael in the 80th minute while, seconds later, the Central custodian kept out a blast from Mekeil Williams then watched as the defender headed the rebound off the bar.
As always when Connection plays, there was no shortage of Williams on the field with Mekeil, Jomal and the impressive Gerard at one end and Jan-Michael in goal for Central. While there were also two Joneses, brothers Joevin and Alvin, and a Winchester, Shahdon and Rundell, on Connection and Central respectively.
By the 84th minute, as Jan-Michael stumbled over a Keion Goodridge backpass but recovered to clear, one sense that the worst had passed.
But, four minutes later, a debatable London decision revived Connection’s hopes. Paul and Joevin fell in a heap after contesting an aerial ball and the referee did not hesitate in pointing to the spot.
It is not necessarily that the Pro League referees get all the big decisions wrong. Rather, it is the careless calls throughout the match that erodes confidence by the time the official does have to make a decisive pronouncement.
Jan-Michael got a hand on the ball but could not deny Joevin’s his seventh league goal, which is the third highest individual mark of the competition behind Civic’s Marcus Joseph (9) and Jabloteh’s Kerry Baptiste (8).
Central tried to close off the game by the familiar yet unsporting modern ploy of time wasting. Jan-Michael led the way by repeatedly placed the ball in the wrong spot for kicks before asking the officials for direction.
Invariably, Jan-Michael would ground the ball two or three times before each kick until, two minutes into extra time, London finally booked the goalkeeper.
Jan-Michael smiled cheekily at the reprimand. But he was ashen-faced when, a minute into time added on to extra time, Shahdon whipped in a right side cross and Apai got on the end of it with a firm, composed header that arrowed across Jan-Michael and into the far corner.
It was the knife of Apai and it probably meant death to Central’s lingering title hopes.
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 39.Alvin Jones, 4.Daneil Cyrus, 15.Mekeil Williams, 13.Devaughn Elliot (40.Jomal Williams 67); 3.Gerard Williams (captain), 7.Silvio Spann; 10.Joevin Jones; 65.Neil Benjamin (32.Dimitrie Apai 76), 14.Hashim Arcia (12.Jerrel Britto 87), 16.Shahdon Winchester.
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 11.Tremain Paul, 19.Joel Russell, 25.Christian Viveros.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Central FC (4-1-4-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 12.Jamal Jack, 2.Elton John, 50.Yohance Marshall, 3.Keion Goodridge; 10.Marvin Oliver (captain); 7.Jason Marcano, 11.Darren Mitchell, 45.Ataullah Guerra (17.Rundell Winchester 31), 27.Samuel Delice; 1.Willis Plaza (9.Dwight Quintero 81).
Unused substitutes: 25.Javon Sample (GK), 4.Sean De Silva, 6.Leston Paul, 13.Johan Peltier, 22.Keon Trim.
Coach: Terry Fenwick
Referee: Michael London
Pro League results
(Tue Feb 11)
North East Stars 0, San Juan Jabloteh 0 at Macoya
Police FC 1 (Jameel Perry 75), St Ann’s Rangers 0 at Couva
Central FC 2 (Willis Plaza 31, Jason Marcano 74), W Connection 2 (Joevin Jones 89 pen, Demitrie Apai 90+4) at Couva
(Fri Feb 14)
North East Stars v St Ann’s Rangers, 6 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central FC v San Juan Jabloteh, 8 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Sat Feb 15)
Point Fortin Civic v Caledonia AIA, 3.30 pm, Mahaica Oval
[standings league_id=2 template=extend logo=true]