“Guaya will have to play the game of their lives next week to beat us and walk away with the $100,000,” warned Petrotrin Palo Seco head coach Dexter Cyrus at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva Sunday.
Cyrus was putting Guaya United F.C. on notice that his side, which had just beaten The Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service Football Club 2-1 in the second CNG National Super League Knockout semi-final, will be bringing their A game to the competition final next week.
The “Green Army” from Guayaguayare had already sealed their place in the final with a 2-1 extra-time victory against 1976 FC Phoenix Sport Club. In the first semi-final, Guaya United’s prolific goal-scorer Carlon Hughes had earned them their place with a well taken effort in the second period of extra-time
Prison FC battled relentlessly but in vain as Wilian Garcia’s brace and a tireless collective Palo Seco team effort saw the southerners home in what was really a match of two halves. Neither team produced a particularly impressive first half so that there were few scoring chances or talking points. The Palo Seco faithful frequently called for “more damn energy” from their players and Samuel John, often guilty of indecision and lethargy, came in for some stinging comments from his own supporters.
“Cyrus, take off that man, please, nah boy!” shouted a disgruntled fan in the 29th minute when the unmarked John hesitated to attack the far-post ball Garcia had laid on for him. That allowed Prisons FC goalkeeper and captain Jevon Bourne to make a comfortable save unchallenged, an unsatisfactory end to a lovely Palo Seco build-up involving right-back Marvin Mark, Romauld Aguilera and Garcia.
Minutes earlier, Sylvester Teesdale had come close to opening the scoring for Palo Seco but his low shot to the near post from about 20 yards out just missed the upright.
It took Prisons FC precisely ten minutes to put together a response. In the 39th minute, attacking midfielder Roland Walcott, Jnr. laid on a pass on the edge of the penalty area for Curtis Carrington who flicked the ball on to Larry Albert. Albert buried his right-footed shot in the roof of the Palo Seco net and celebrated joyously until he saw Referee’s Assistant Kevin Lewis’ upraised offside flag.
It was a rare productive Prison FC attack, most of which came down the right flank from lively winger Ricardo Alleyne whose repeated trickery entertained but created very few real goal-scoring opportunities.
Having gone in deadlocked 0-0 at the half, the teams started the second half at a fairly rapid clip and largely sustained that tempo for the remainder of the match. Led by Aguillera, a former Pro League player with W Connection and Petrotrin United, and Brent Garcia, Palo Seco favoured the slow methodical build-up from the back, culminating often in a long-range shot. Prisons, meanwhile, played off the counter-attack, particularly through the threatening Alleyne on the right.
With the second half a mere two minutes old, robust Prisons FC midfielder Stephen Julien ended a long slalom run through the midfield with a gem of a pass to Carrington. Carrington’s excellent diagonal run from the right across the Palo Seco defence might have taken too much out of him and he fluffed his left-footed effort wide of skipper Kervin Mark in the Palo Seco goal.
Then, leading a counter-attack, Carrington served Albert who teed up Walcott, Jnr. The onrushing midfielder couldn’t keep his shot down and, high, wide and unhandsome, it sailed well over the bar.
Some five minutes after the resumption, Prisons FC played their trump card, replacing Albert on the left with Lance Haynes. Minutes later, Cebastian Bailey replaced the ineffective John, after which the game settled tactically.
Haynes has very good close control and is willing and able to run at defenders with the ball, qualities which had an immediate impact. In the 60th minute, Haynes picked up the ball just outside the penalty area from a corner short, muscled his way wide into the box and crossed. The ball flashed across the open goal, barely out of reach of Carrington’s desperate lunge.
The opening goal came in the 63rd minute against the run of play. Bailey, who had been operating out left for Palo Seco, providing quality crosses, served up another one which Bourne made a vain attempt to collect. Lester Edwards headed across goal to Garcia (W) on the far post and he had time for one untidy touch before he buried a right-footer on the near post from an acute angle.
Prisons FC’s response was not long in coming. A moment of indecision and miscommunication between Palo Seco centre-backs Antuan and Angus John saw the latter set up Alleyne with an errant pass inside Palo Seco’s defensive third. Motoring down the right flank with the Palo SEco defence out of position, Alleyne delivered a precise square pass to the feet of the alert and onrushing substitute Haynes. His 70th minute right-footer tied the affair at 1-1.
The injured Edwards gave way to Tyrell Seales in the 73rd minute and Haynes, Prisons FC’s most penetrative player, succumbed to a hamstring injury two minutes later, making way for Sean Diaz.
“I think the turning point for us was Lance (Haynes),” said Prisons FC’s head coach Gary Prescott. “When we lost him to injury, that was the turning point.”
When Cyrus switched Bailey and Teesdale to the right and left flanks respectively, the move bore immediate fruit. In the 88th minute, Prisons FC defender Kidell Lewis headed a Palo Seco clearance downwards on to the feet of Garcia (B). His pass out wide to Bailey produced an accurate cross to the penalty spot which found the head of a leaping Garcia (W) to send it in off the far upright and give him his third goal in two matches.
Palo Seco came close to ending the contest in style but goalkeeper Bourne flew spectacularly through the air to parry an 18-yard free kick and keep the scoreline unchanged.
Cyrus conceded that his team had not their best game on the day.
“But,” he warned, “I am confident that Palo Seco will rise to the occasion on the big day.”
If Guaya can muster a matching aerial response, the outcome might just depend on in whose ranks the error is rarer.
Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service FC (4-2-1-3): 1.Jevon Bourne (GK & Captain); 6. Irwin Cayenne, 3. Keston Pierre, 21.Kidell Lewis, 20. John Stewart; 12. Gabriel Gour, 9. Stephen Julien; 7. Roland Walcott Jnr. (Cleve Moore 88th); 14. Larry Albert (Lance Haynes) – Haynes (Diaz 75th), 8. Ricardo Alleyne, 10. Curtis Carrington
Unused Substitutes: 13. Leon Lewis, 22. Tevin Archer, 23. Ancil Reyes, 24. Shaun Checkley
Coach: Gary Prescott
Petrotrin Palo Seco (4-2-3-1): 20. Kervin Mark(GK & Captain); 21. Marvin Mark, 18. Antuan John, 5. Angus John, 24. Eustace Darius; 6. Brent Garcia, 8. Romauld Aguillera; 17. Lester Edwards (Tyrell Seales 73rd), 4. Wilian Garcia, 25. Samuel John (Cebastian Bailey 54th); 9. Sylvester Teesdale
Unused Substitutes: 7. Kader Vargas, 10. Akiel Pope, 16. Virgil Williams, 23. Xavier Seales
Coach: Dexter Cyrus
Referee: Merville Wallace