At approximately 9.47 pm last night, Sean Cooper whipped off his shirt in the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva and sprinted towards hundreds of prancing supporters in the covered stands. His teammates and coach caught up with him just before he reached the stairs and lifted him off his feet with the sort of ecstasy that, presumably, is usually reserved for Lotto winners.
And, all around Trinidad, coaches, players and football fans probably received text, BBMs and What’s App messages that read: Point Fortin Civic 1, W Connection 1.
It is a hell of a lot of fuss for one point.
Pro League leader DIRECTV W Connection is still in the driver’s seat and actually stretched its lead to seven points; while Point Fortin remained fourth and two points shy of second place Central FC. The top Pro League spots carry automatic qualification for the 2015 Caribbean Club Championship.
So, on paper, the status quo remained untouched last night. But, emotionally, everything changed.
Connection is truly wobbling now and the chasing pack is getting hungrier by the day with a million dollar first prize at stake. Defence Force, the defending champion, boosted its chance of an unlikely recovery with a 2-0 win over North East Stars today in Couva after careless defending gifted goals to Jerwyn Balthazar and Devorn Jorsling.
Stars ended with 10 players after Trevin Caesar was ejected for an off the ball incident in stoppage time.
If the army/coast guard combination wins its four games in hand, it could pull within a point of Connection.
The “Savonetta Boys” could only dream of such a run at the moment. From their last four games, they have taken five points from a possible 12—and three of those points came against a San Juan Jabloteh team that lost nine of its 12 outings in 2014.
Apart from Jabloteh and St Ann’s Rangers, no team conceded more than the 12 goals Connection allowed in 2014. And, if the standings only reflected matches played in this calendar year, coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier’s team would be third behind Central and Point Fortin and only ahead of North East Stars by goal difference.
Civic can cut Connection’s lead to just six points on Tuesday night if it manages a win over Defence Force. Central, who has a game in hand, could make it a four-point gap with a triumph in its next League outing.
And a once seemingly insurmountable gap is crumbling in a manner seen just once before, two years ago, when T&TEC failed to hold its nerve as Connection snatched the title on the last game of the season.
Can Connection regain its regal authority before it is too late? Will a young club, Central, run by an old foe, ex-Jabloteh coach Terry Fenwick, prove irresistible?
Could Fenwick’s former student and Stars coach Angus Eve, Trinidad and Tobago’s national record appearance holder, upstage the old establishment?
Or will Fevrier’s one-time captain and assistant coach Reynold Carrington, another former national stand-out, who leads Point Fortin to a fairytale return to the top flight by seizing the most coveted crown in local football?
Put the three-way grudge match between Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa aside for one second and consider this emerging narrative in the local game.
Fevrier’s masters of the swagger led by the gifted duo of Joevin Jones and Daneil Cyrus trying to regain poise, Fenwick’s relentless brigade in pursuit commandeered by the evergreen Marvin Oliver, Eve’s counter-attacking assassins spearheaded by the electric Caesar waiting to pounce; and Carrington’s never-say-die upstarts trying to blast their way to the top courtesy of hometown boy Marcus Joseph’s booming left foot.
In the rear view, there is still time for an unlikely recovery from a Defence Force team which is recovering from the sudden and dramatic deaths of former comrade Rawle Fletcher and team vice-captain Kevon Carter. While its own head coach and one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most talented former goalkeepers, Ross Russell, might have a sense of his own mortality in sporting terms as he is uncertain to be in the army by next season.
In short, it seems impossible to profess a love for the local game and not care one way or the other about the 2013/14 Pro League title race.
Last night’s cracking ending epitomised the buzz around the Pro League at present.
From a technical standpoint, Connection versus Civic did not live up to its billing.
Civic, without suspended attacker Andre Toussaint, injured central defender Andre Ettienne and striker Andre Alexis oddly relegated to the bench, lacked width and thrust with Joseph seemingly unsuited to the role of a lone striker.
Connection started with Hashim Arcia and Neil Benjamin Jr on the bench. The former’s intelligent movement seemed to bring the best out of Jones earlier in the season while the latter is barely recognisable as the winged demon from late 2013.
Civic looked handicapped by circumstance; Connection by its own self-doubt.
Still, Connection struck first and the manner of its opening goal was arguably the perfect response for those who pointed to the club’s good fortune with officials. Right back Alvin Jones struck a direct free kick in the eighth minute, which took a huge deflection off a boot in the defensive wall and looped over Civic and Trinidad and Tobago custodian Marvin Phillip and into the back of the net.
Perhaps Lady Luck wears a Connection jersey too.
But, not for the first time, the Savonetta Boys could not build on their good fortune.
Juma Clarence, who gave an almost flawless performance as a traditional centre forward, and Jerrel Britto both failed to beat Phillip with decent opportunities while Jomal Williams was blocked by the Civic custodian’s legs after a careless defensive error presented him with a one-on-one.
At the other end, Civic saw a fair amount of the ball but offered no threat apart from the odd free kick won and then wasted by Joseph.
Carrington, who has a knack of wringing drastic improvements from his limited squad in the second half, swapped players but did not alter the formation and might as well have crossed his fingers on the sidelines as full time neared.
“Come Brizan!” Connection owner David John Williams shouted. “You play four minutes already!”
In fact, just over two minutes had expired. And Connection was not holding on to the ball.
“Come Brizan!” Williams thundered. “That is five minutes now!”
At that point, the game was three minutes and 20 seconds into stoppage time.
Twenty seconds later, Connection’s worst fear was realised as Joseph flicked a long ball over the top with his head and teenaged midfielder Akeem Redhead and veteran 32-year-old winger Sean Cooper gave chase. Redhead got there first but opted to give Cooper the last shot of the game.
And the journeyman, whose career included stints in Portugal and Suriname as well as employment with four prior Pro League teams, took one touch and steadied himself inside the opposing penalty area.
Point Fortin fans got to their feet, Connection employees held their breath; and Cooper lashed an unstoppable volley into the near top corner. And everyone went berserk.
It was only Cooper’s second goal since he joined Civic in January 2014. His last item was at the Mahaica Oval on February 1, which gave Point Fortin a 2-1 win and provoked Connection’s first league defeat of the season and subsequent mini-collapse.
Since that afternoon in Point Fortin, Connection has managed three draws, a 3-0 loss to Central and wins against only bottom clubs Jabloteh and Rangers.
Cooper taunted Connection against last night. The immediate effect on the league standings was minimal; but who knows what the psychological impact will be.
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 39.Alvin Jones, 25.Christian Viveros, 4.Daneil Cyrus, 2.Kurt Frederick (20.Stefano Rijssel 76); 3.Gerard Williams (captain), 7.Silvio Spann; 40.Jomal Williams (14.Hashim Arcia 70); 12.Jerrel Britto (65.Neil Benjamin Jr 63), 17.Juma Clarence, 10.Joevin Jones,
Unused substitutes: 22.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 11.Tremain Paul, 19.Joel Russell, 32.Dimitrie Apai.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Point Fortin Civic (4-1-4-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 2.Garyl Doldron, 29.Kevin Rouse, 4.Weslie John, 17.Glen Sutton; 7.Nickcolson Thomas (captain); 31.Kendell Davis (20.Sylvester Teesdale 57), 6.Kelvin Modeste, 19.Andrei Pacheco (15.Sean Cooper 70), 18.Akeem Redhead; 10.Marcus Joseph.
Unused substitutes: 26.Akini Adams (GK), 21.Andre Alexis, 30.Akiniyel Rouse, 33.Jamille Boatswain, 35.Kariym Balthazar.
Coach: Reynold Carrington
Referee: Neal Brizan
Pro League result
(Fri Mar 28)
W Connection 1 (Alvin Jones 8), Point Fortin Civic 1 (Sean Cooper 90+3) at Couva
(Sat Mar 29)
Defence Force 2 (Jerwyn Balthazar 16, Devorn Jorsling 68), North East Stars 0 at Couva[standings league_id=2 template=extend logo=true]