Defence Force substitute Balondemu Julius scored his most important goal of the season on Tuesday night as the reigning Pro League champion club, Defence Force, roared back from two goals down to edge Point Fortin Civic 3-2 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The result pushed the “Teteron Boys” to fifth place and within three points of second place Central FC but with two games in hand. The top two Pro League teams qualify automatically for the CFU 2015 Caribbean Club Championship. Defence Force is also ten points shy of current leader DIRECTV W Connection albeit having played three games less.
And, just like that, a fifth team had joined the race for the Pro League title and million dollar first prize in the most fiercely contested local top flight season of Trinidad and Tobago’s professional era.
In the opening match of the double header, Caledonia AIA showed a glimpse of its old sparkle as the “Eastern Stallions” overturned an early deficit to edge Police FC 2-1.
Teenaged winger Joel Lewis put Police ahead in the 22nd minute with a close range finish after Caledonia failed to clear a Trent Noel free kick. But the Morvant/Laventille-based team regained level footing in the 35th minute as Nathan Lewis ran on to a Jameel Neptune pass and played the ball around custodian Adrian Foncette to assist his own item.
It was not until the 83rd minute that seventh-place Caledonia managed to pull clear of the squad that is one place and three points ahead on the standings. It might have been worth the wait for long suffering Stallion fans though.
Veteran right Kareem “Tiny” Joseph replaced Nical Stephens in the 75th minute and, eight minutes later, rolled back the years with a vintage move down the right flank as he worked a clever one-two with fellow substitute Dylon King before playing an accurate squared pass for teammate Keyon Edwards to bury past Foncette.
It was Edwards’ fifth league goal of the season but, more importantly, might offer some much needed enthusiasm into the squad as Caledonia prepares for Lucozade Sport Goal Shield action.
Caledonia, already eliminated from the 2014 Caribbean Club Championship, has no chance of qualifying for the 2015 edition.
But Defence Force kept its own dream alive last night with a spirited recovery against Civic.
The result was a big blow to Civic’s title hopes as the Point Fortin club stayed third but now trails Connection by nine points and has played a game more.
It is hard to shake the feeling that at least part of Civic’s woes is self-inflicted. Club talisman Marcus Joseph, the league’s joint top scorer with 12 strikes, has now gone five matches with a goal and, in the last three outings, was used as a lone striker.
Joseph’s hold-up play has improved and he repeatedly conjured openings for his teammates to run into. Yet, Defence Force was surely happy to see the “Soca Warrior” spend so much time with his back to goal while there was rarely enough movement around him to create space for his booming left foot shot, which is the most potent weapon in local football.
Still, Civic coach Reynold Carrington might have gotten the perfect response from his tactical adjustment in the fifth minute as Joseph received a peek at goal from a ridiculous angle down the left flank and somehow managed to cannon a shot off the near upright.
Defence Force got two better looks in the next ten minutes but failed to take either. Attacker Richard Roy was foiled by Civic custodian Marvin Phillip’s legs in the eighth minute while defender Weslie John managed an eye-opening goalline clearance to deny Jerwyn Balthazar from three yards after a precise Kerry Joseph cross in the 14th minute.
As the game swung back and forth, Civic was first to get on the score sheet in the 31st minute as Kelvin “Supers” Modeste, who started the season as captain before losing his place, re-asserted his authority with a headed opener off a Kevin Rouse cross.
And Civic might have thought that it was smooth sailing with a second half goal just seconds after the introduction of super-sub Sean Cooper.
Cooper did not have the crucial touch this time though as he was a whisker away from a Joseph (M) free kick that was subsequently headed in by John.
Defence Force coach Ross Russell responded by introducing Josimar Belgrave and, within two frenzied minutes, Belgrave was instrumental in two goals as the empire struck back.
First, Belgrave ran on to a Balthazar pass and, although his shot was saved by Phillip, Defence Force poacher Devorn Jorsling was on spot to convert the rebound. Two minutes later, the army/coast guard combination was level as Belgrave finished a left side cross with a simple close ranged finish as the Civic defence cracked.
Carrington sent on Andre Toussaint and Bevon Bass but Civic retained the same 4-5-1 system and, by then, Defence Force had already sensed a weakened prey.
In the 75th minute, Julius landed the killer blow after Rouse lost his nerve and miskicked a right side cross, which left the veteran attacker with a straightforward finish from five yards.
There was a late scare as Toussaint danced into the opposing penalty area but was denied by a brilliant, last gasp Balthazar tackle.
And, just like that, Defence Force was back in business.
Point Fortin Civic (4-1-4-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 2.Garyl Doldron, 29.Kevin Rouse, 4.Weslie John, 30.Akiniyel Rouse (14.Bevon Bass 71); 7.Nickcolson Thomas (captain); 35.Kariym Balthazar, 6.Kelvin Modeste (11.Andre Toussaint 71), 19.Andrei Pacheco (15.Sean Cooper 54), 18.Akeem Redhead; 10.Marcus Joseph.
Unused substitutes: 22.Akini Adams (GK), 33.Jamille Boatswain, 21.Andre Alexis, 27.Jared Bennett.
Coach: Reynold Carrington
Defence Force (4-2-3-1): 1.Kevin Graham (GK); 13.Marvin Jones, 6.Rodell Elcock, 3.Keston Williams (captain), 17.Ross Russell Jr; 8.Curtis Gonzales, 15.Jerwyn Balthazar; 23.Kerry Joseph (7.Balondemu Julius 65), 26.Richard Roy (10.Josimar Belgrave 56), 12.Jemel Sebro (18.Sean Narcis 84); 9.Devorn Jorsling,
Unused substitutes: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK), 2.Glynn Franklyn, 5.Devin Jordan, 14.Cory Rivers.
Coach: Ross Russell
Referee: Neal Brizan
Pro League results
(Tue Apr 1)
Caledonia 2 (Nathan Lewis 35, Keyon Edwards 83), Police FC 1 (Joel Lewis 22) at Couva
Defence Force 3 (Devorn Jorsling 62, Josimar Belgrave 64, Balondemu Julius 75), Point Fortin Civic 2 (Kelvin Modeste 31, Weslie John 54) at Couva[standings league_id=2 template=extend logo=true]