Pro League leader DIRECTV W Connection and second placed Central FC eased away from the chasing pack last night with emphatic wins over Police FC and Caledonia AIA respectively at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
Surinamese teenager Dimitrie Apai scored his first hattrick in a Connection shirt as the “Savonetta Boys” routed a 10-man Police team 6-1 while Trinidad and Tobago international Willis Plaza responded with a treble for Central as the “Couva Sharks” crushed Caledonia 5-1.
Only Defence Force, who played three games fewer than Connection and four less than Central, has a mathematical chance of leapfrogging the Couva rivals to the million dollar first prize now.
Last week, on April Fools’ Day, Point Fortin Civic conceded its pursuit after a 3-2 loss to Defence Force. And, last night, the Civic players took North East Stars down with them after a 1-0 win at the Marvin Lee Stadium courtesy of a solitary Marcus Joseph goal.
The other fixture yesterday involved the top flight’s two bottom clubs as Anthony Streete made his Pro League return with the St Ann’s Rangers against San Juan Jabloteh.
Rangers, who managed one win and 18 losses from its first 19 competitive fixtures, led 2-0 with just two minutes left in regulation time before a last gasp Neil Mitchell double denied the club a rare triumph.
There is no denying Connection and Central these days.
Just over a month ago, there were six clubs in the hunt. But, since then, no team has been able to live with the pace set by Connection; except its bitter cross-town rival, Central.
Like a scene from an epic car chase, Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier accelerates, dances through traffic and swings into an alley. Then, he peers into his back mirror. And Central coach Terry Fenwick is still there.
Last night, Connection pulled clear of Police within the first 25 minutes after three key interventions by referee Cecile Hinds. Hinds whistled two penalties and ejected a Police defender within a 10 minute stretch that effectively ended the “Lawmen’s” chance of a result.
In Connection’s last five matches, the club has had three penalties and twice played against 10 players. The conspiracy theories would shake their heads knowingly and, at a glance, it is notable fortune to enjoy at the business end of the season.
The counter-argument is that Connection attacks with more numbers than any other team. Fevrier plays with three orthodox forwards and two full backs who are often sighted in the opposing penalty area while advanced midfielder Joevin Jones is the club’s highest scorer.
In the 14th minute, left back Kurt Frederick felt a tug on his shorts and went down in the area and Jones blasted his penalty high to the left of Police goalkeeper Adrian Foncette. Two minutes later, Jamal Clarence went down after a shoulder challenge by Police defender Jasimar Ashers and again Hinds pointed to the spot and Jones hit repeat.
It was hardly a cast iron call; but there was contact.
Seconds after Jones’ second penalty, McDavid poked out his right boot to execute an interception and caught Apai instead. Hinds flashed a second yellow card and he was off.
Harsh? Yes. Justified? Also yes.
Remarkably, Police did find a response in the 29th minute as Jameel Perry grabbed a club high sixth league of the season after a Mekeil Williams back pass exposed Connection custodian Julani Archibald.
Ironically, Connection might have had a third penalty, seconds before, as Apai appeared to have been tugged by Ashers in the Police box.
Perry almost brought Police level with a crisp strike off the foot of the near upright in the 40th minute. But the Lawmen could not muster the same challenge in the second half.
Neil Benjamin Jr, whose form dipped worryingly in 2014, crossed for Apai to sidefoot home in the 53rd minute and a rout was on the cards.
Jones spurned two golden chances for his first hattrick of the season; but Apai was not so wasteful as he scored a near post cracker in the 88th minute and a clinical finish in stoppage time for his own treble. And substitute Hashim Arcia stroked home the other item from a Frederick cross.
Caledonia, the 2012 Caribbean Club champions, should normally be expected to put up more resistance than that. Not on the club’s 2013/14 form though.
There is no sugar coating it. The current Caledonia defence and, in particular, the central defensive partnership of Akeem Thomas and Raymond Alleyne will never earn comparisons with past stand-outs like Charles Pollard and Sheldon Emmanuel.
Not that Plaza will complain. In the space of four days, Central slammed nine goals past Caledonia and conceded just one. And the “Soca Warrior” scored five of them.
Ironically, Caledonia should have been two goals clear within the first 13 minutes.
Promising 20-year-old rookie Dylon King hit over an unguarded net from the edge of the area in the seventh minute after being teed up by another talented January signing, Jameel Neptune. And Central and Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Wiliams made a fine reflex save to stop veteran midfielder Densill Theobald from eight yards in the 13th minute.
Four minutes later, Plaza put Central ahead with a classy strike as he allowed a left side Jamal Jack cross to run across his body before delicately lifting the ball past Caledonia’s Jamaican custodian Kevin Graham.
Caledonia did draw level in the 23rd minute as Montserratian striker Julian Wade scored the first goal of his injury-stricken debut Pro League season; and it was a fine, raking shot from the edge of the area that flew to Williams’ left. But there were no more high points for the “Eastern Stallions” yesterday.
Jack, who was played in his seventh different position this season as a midfield ball winner, slipped through for Plaza to score in the 29th minute. And Jack was involved again in the 44th minute as the Caledonia defence failed to deal with his low cross after an elaborate free kick routine and Ataullah Guerra swept home from close range for Central’s third.
Guerra, a former Caledonia player, did not celebrate his item. But that might have been little consolation for his former coach Jamaal Shabazz.
Plaza found oceans of space for his hattrick in the 58th minute and Guerra squared for substitute Samuel Delice to tap home in the 75th minute after more farcical Caledonia defending.
It was nearly six too as Plaza clipped a late effort off the underside of the crossbar.
No extra points for style though. Central’s passing was as careless as Caledonia’s and, as a spectacle, it was very ordinary viewing. But there is a million dollars at stake and only results matter now.
Fevrier is still ahead with 45 points and three games remaining. Fenwick, who has a game in hand, is seven points behind and relentless in his pursuit. A third party, Defence Force coach Ross Russell, is looking for a shortcut on an adjoining street.
The Pro League is shaping up for a memorable finale.
Central FC (4-1-4-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 24.Akeem Benjamin, 2.Elton John, 50.Yohance Marshall, 3.Keoin Goodridge; 10.Marvin Oliver (captain) (6.Leston Paul 76); 11.Darren Mitchell (4.Sean De Silva 73), 12.Jamal Jack, 45.Ataullah Guerra, 17.Rundell Winchester (27.Samuel Delice 67); 1.Willis Plaza.
Unused substitutes: 25.Javon Sample (GK), 9.Dwight Quintero, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 22.Keon Trim.
Coach: Terry Fenwick
Caledonia AIA (4-4-2): 34.Kevin Graham (GK); 12.Kareem Joseph, 4.Raymond Alleyne, 5.Akeem Thomas, 20.Noel Williams, 28.Pernell Schultz (27.Nathan Lewis 60), 7.Stephan David (captain), 21.Densill Theobald, 22.Jameel Neptune (18.Denron Frederick 79), 31.Dylon King (3.Nuru Muhammad 60), 13.Julian Wade,
Unused substitutes: 1.Shemel Louison, 6.Marcus Ambrose, 19.Nical Stephens, 24.Conrod Smith.
Coach: Jamaal Shabazz
Referee: Michael London
Pro League results
(Tue Apr 8)
W Connection 6 (Joevin Jones 15 pen, 23 pen, Dimitrie Apai 53, 88, 90+4, Hashim Arcia 72), Police FC 1 (Jameel Perry 29) at Couva
Red card: Ariei McDonald; Ref: Cecile Hinds
San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Neil Mitchell 88, 90+2), St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Keron Cornwall 63, Kadeem Corbin 66) at Macoya
Central FC 5 (Willis Plaza 17, 29, 58, Ataullah Guerra 44, Samuel Delice 75), Caledonia AIA 1 (Julian Wade 23) at Couva
Point Fortin Civic 1 (Marcus Joseph 54), North East Stars 0 at Macoya[standings league_id=2 template=extend logo=true]