The usual suspects, Bankers Insurance Central FC and DIRECTV W Connection, have booked their places in next Sunday’s 2015 Toyota Classic semifinal round at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Only one of the two Couva-based teams will appear in the Classic final, though, as the rivals will meet in one semifinal fixture. Defending champions San Juan Jabloteh and Defence Force will square off in the other round of four encounter.
This evening, at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Central and Connection saw off potentially awkward assignments against Morvant/Caledonia United (2-1) and North East Stars (3-0) respectively to remain in the hunt for the second title of the season.
Connection lifted the first trophy, the First Citizens Bank Cup, after a 2-1 win over Central last month. And, thanks to the whims of the fixture list, the Couva rivals will meet on Tuesday too in Pro League action.
Just two months into the season, Central and Connection, who also met in the Digicel Charity Shield, might be sick of the sight of each other already.
They had different chores this evening, though.
Stars were not as straightforward as the final scoreline suggests. But the Sangre Grande team’s inability to turn possession into scoring opportunities and failure to maintain their high tempo cost them dearly.
And, of course, there was an utterly avoidable red card picked up by Stars’ longest serving player, Glenton Wolffe, that really sealed his team’s fate.
There was little sense of what was to come in the first half hour of the contest, as the two teams went toe to toe near centre field with all 20 outfield players fitting within a 40 yard strip of real estate.
But, as the game became increasingly stretched, Connection’s superior firepower came to the fore. And, two minutes before the interval, Jomal Williams struck with his fifth goal of the season, as he controlled a lofted, diagonal pass behind opposing right back Adrian Noel before opening his body to expertly steer his effort into the far corner.
Stars almost bettered Williams’ item, as left back Jesus Perez clipped the outside of the post from almost 40 yards out in the 48th minute. But coach Roland Clarke’s men were in trouble when, in the 54th minute, Wolffe received his second yellow card for needlessly flinging his elbow at Connection striker Dwight Quintero.
Remarkably, Wolffe was in possession of the ball at the time. And, if anything, referee Rodphin Harris was generous not to show him a straight red card.
Clarke swapped from 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-1 formation but, with Keron Cummings isolated upfront, Stars never looked capable of a comeback. And, in any case, Connection never gave them the chance, as Andre Toussaint steered home from just inside the opposing penalty area to double their advantage in the 63rd minute after an imaginative back-heel from Neil Benjamin Jr.
And, 10 minutes later, Quintero added a third after following up on a Shahdon Winchester effort that rebounded into his path for a simple tap-in.
The opening encounter was much closer and probably hinged on a tactical adjustment from Central coach Ross Russell.
The “Couva Sharks” scored first, as striker Willis Plaza released playmaker Ataulla Guerra, a former Caledonia AIA employee, who steamed into the box and rounded Morvant/Caledonia goalkeeper Marvin Phillip to finish.
But the “Eastern Stallions” were always in the match and deservedly pulled level on the stroke of halftime, as Sheldon Holder broke the offside trap to hit past opposing custodian Jan-Michael Williams from close range.
If anything, Caledonia were the more fluent team, as veterans Densill Theobald and captain Kareem “Tiny” Joseph blended seamlessly with the young brigade of Akeem Roach, Kyle Braithwaite and Kennedy Isles to create a style that was both attractive and penetrative.
But then Russell introduced Marcus Joseph from off the substitutes’ bench to line up alongside Leston Paul and Guerra in central midfield.
There was the risk that Caledonia might overpower Paul at the base of what appeared to be an unbalanced and overly offensive midfield.
Instead, Theobald and company could not take the ball off Joseph (M) and his fresh legs caused no end of worry.
Joseph (M) had two presentable chances to put Central ahead while Phillip made in save from Guerra before the breakthrough came in the 77th minute.
Again, Joseph (M) was involved as he swung a free kick deep towards the far post where an unmarked Guerra converted it on the half volley.
It would be kind to describe Caledonia’s positioning on Joseph (M)’s decisive set piece as “poor.”
“Tiny” nearly conjured up a second equaliser in stoppage time but his free kick clipped the top of the Central bar and went over. While his namesake, Joseph (M), hit the heel of the Caledonia post in the closing seconds after a clever spin and disguised pass from Plaza.
Central had done enough anyway.
Another knock out clash with Connection awaits.
Central FC (4-2-3-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 17.Marcelle Francois, 5.Andre Ettienne, 12.Jamal Jack, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 22.Leston Paul, 10.Marvin Oliver (99.Marcus Joseph 64); 7.Jason Marcano (19.Nathaniel Garcia 84), 45.Ataulla Guerra, 8.Sean De Silva (11.Darren Mitchell 77); 33.Willis Plaza.
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 6.Kerry Baptiste, 14.Nicholas Dillon, 15.Kaydion Gabriel.
Coach: Ross Russell
Morvant/Caledonia Utd (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 12.Kareem Joseph (captain), 3.Ranaldo Bailey, 4.Ordell Flemming, 23.Shaquille Edwards, 13.Kyle Bartholomew, 21.Densill Theobald, 18.Akeem Roach, 14.Kennedy Isles (29.Kareem Knights 85), 22.Jameel Neptune (11.Abdallah Phillips 78), 10.Sheldon Holder (24.Gregory President 81).
Unused substitutes: 30.Anthony Whyte (GK), 2.Shomari Antoine, 5.Daniel Whyte, 20.Jamaal Harvey.
Coach: Jerry Moe
Referee: Cecile Hinds
Man of the match: Ataulla Guerra (Central FC)
Toyota Classic quarterfinals
(Sunday November 22)
Central FC 2 (Ataulla Guerra 22, 77), Morvant/Caledonia Utd 1 (Sheldon Holder 43) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 2 (Jomal Williams 43, Andre Toussaint 63, Dwight Quintero 73), North East Stars 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Saturday November 21)
Defence Force 2 (Jelani Felix 15, Devorn Jorsling 77), FC Santa Rosa 1 (Devon King 45 pen) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Jamal Gay 51, Fabian Reid 60, Jevon Morris 75, Tyrone Charles 79, 88), Guaya United 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium.