Barrackpore United moved six points clear of the relegation zone last night with a 3-1 triumph over Saddle Hill Hotspur in CNG National Super League (NSL) Championship Division action at Barrackpore.
But don’t let the scoreline fool you. The hosts rode their luck last night as Saddle Hill, buoyed by captain Keeron Benito and the strike pair of former Trinidad and Tobago international strikers Hector Sam and Stern John, threatened throughout without delivering the killer blow.
Barrackpore forward Conrad Smith, who is on loan from Morvant Caledonia United, suggested that their good fortune was earned by doing more than a few things right over the past month. Last nights result was their third successive victory.
“We got some lucky breaks today because of the good momentum,” said Smith, who opened the scoring last night. “We didn’t play particularly well tonight. But we still got the victory, so it is all good.”
Just six months ago, Smith, who has five goals from 17 full international appearances for Trinidad and Tobago, produced a superb individual performance to lead Caledonia past W Connection and into the 2015 Digicel Pro Bowl final, which they lost 4-1 to Central FC.
Last month, he chose to follow Caledonia’s assistant coach Rajesh Latchoo to the bottom club in the NSL’s second tier competition, two rungs below the Pro League. Today, they are in sixth place in the 10-team table. The bottom two clubs will be relegated back to the zonal level.
Smith was helped on this mission by another Caledonia employee, Antonius Myers, ex-Club Sando Moruga defender Kevon Forrester, former Point Fortin Civic midfielder and 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup player Trent Lougheed and, most surprisingly of all, Trinidad and Tobago’s 2015 Gold Cup utility player Dwane James.
“It is a challenge that we came for and we are willing to take that opportunity to help them become better players,” Smith told Wired868. “They don’t have the opportunity to have professional players or former national players train with them. So it is a good opportunity to help them grow.
“It is surprisingly a good level. In terms of concentration levels and stuff, it isn’t the best. But it is definitely a work in progress and they are improving game by game as you can see in the results.”
Latchoo summarised it neatly.
“Some of these players (like James) are waiting for the opportunity to rejoin the Pro League in the January transfer window,” said Latchoo. “So we are giving them a chance to work on their match fitness. They win and we win.”
Of course, the most illustrious player to step on the field last night wore the black shirt of Saddle Hill.
Last Friday, John was inducted in the Trinidad and Tobago First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame for a stellar career that saw him represent the “Soca Warriors” at the 2006 World Cup, eclipse his country’s international goal scoring record and line up for two England Premier League clubs, Birmingham City and Sunderland.
Last night, he was having fun on a Barrackpore ground that would not be used to such royal company.
“I bring a bit of experience to the dressing room and my goal scoring ability,” John told Wired868. “I am not as quick as I used to be before. (Pauses and laughs to himself) But then I was never really that quick…
“I think I have four goals in five games now. I enjoy playing. I just want to keep playing for as long as I can.”
The Barrackpore venue was a typical merger of the best and worst of the community game.
The ground was heavy and so poorly lit that it made sharp photographic work nigh impossible. And the only stands was situated about 40 yards behind the southern goal.
It meant that the best place to view the match was not inside the venue but from the railings of the bridge on the adjacent road, which happened to be within arm’s length of a busy burger stand.
Barrackpore supporters did not have long to wait for something to cheer.
In the 17th minute, Smith released the speedy Myers down the left flank and the St Lucian international poked his shot past opposing goalkeeper Shane King, only for Saddle Hill left back Andrew Wilson to execute a goal line clearance with a superb defensive reaction.
God knows what Wilson might have thought, three minutes after his hard work, when Saddle Hill defender Duran Felician was caught dozing on the ball and Barrackpore attacker Mikheil Peters stripped him and teed up Smith for the opener.
“We started too slowly and we gave up an early one,” said Saddle Hill player/coach Stephen Cruickshank, who once won three Trinidad and Tobago caps at right back. “So we had to alter the way we play to chase the game.”
It was an interesting tactical battle. Saddle Hill played with five midfielders but only Jabari “Jah Jah” Carasquero—a mid-season acquisition from Petit Valley United—stayed wide while Cyrano Glen tucked in from the left and Sam sometimes dropped deep to help link up play.
So, Saddle Hill sometimes had four or five central midfielders against Barrackpore’s three. And their captain, Benito, was making mas.
“Their forward was dropping in the pocket and (giving them) four players in the centre,” said Latchoo. “So I was asking (our) holding midfielders to sit down and let them play in front of them. If the ball plays in front of us, then fine. No problem.
“But there were times they lost their discipline and we got outnumbered and gave up that space in the pockets.”
At the half hour mark, Saddle Hill fired their first warning as Sam forced a sharp save from opposing goalkeeper Mikail Walker and, in the ensuing scramble, Barrackpore midfielder Anthony Charles blocked a Benito effort on the goal line and then appeared to use his arm to stop Carasquero’s subsequent cross with his raised arm.
Referee Martin Richards was not convinced.
“Our plan was to let them continue to outnumber us in their half of the field or the midfield third,” said Latchoo, “and we would be solid and park the bus and look to play on the counter.”
Latchoo was the happier of the two coaches in the 41st minute, as Barrackpore struck from off the back foot.
Not for the first time, Forrester stole the ball from the indecisive “Jah Jah” and, on the break, Smith played into the path of Peters, who dashed in off the right flank to bury between King’s legs.
It was Peters’ 19th goal of the season and his eighth since the 27-year-old attacker swapped Malabar FC for Barrackpore last month. How’s that for an inspired signing?
The hosts retained their two goal advantage at the break, although Cruickshank was unhappy that a goalmouth clearance by a combination of Barrackpore defenders Simeon Granger and Leonson Arindell was declared valid after a Saddle Hill free kick.
“We thought that one late in the first half definitely crossed the line,” said Cruickshank. “Everyone had their hands up.”
There was no disputing Sam’s brilliant, swerving 40-yard free kick in the 51st minute though, which seemed to be hurtling north to Port of Spain before suddenly veering right and ending up in Tunapuna. Walker was beaten all ends up.
It was almost 2-2 within seconds but, somehow, the Barrackpore goalkeeper managed to deflect a Benito volley into the ground and up over his bar.
Saddle Hill were flying now and, sensing the mood, Cruickshank introduced John to the game.
Barrackpore promptly went to a 5-3-2 formation to prepare for the “Stern and Sam” onslaught.
“The plan was, when Stern John came on, to have two man markers,” said Latchoo. “One for him and one for Sam and play with a sweeper…”
Whether Latchoo’s tactical alterations were decisive are debatable.
In the 65th minute, Sam drew opposing captain, Arrindell, towards the ball like a moth to a lightbulb with a series of step overs before darting past him. The alarmed Barrackpore defender stuck out his left leg and Richards had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.
But Sam’s subsequent kick clipped the top of the bar and flew over the fence and into the river behind the northern goal.
Fourteen minutes later, John headed off the bar too from a Sean Ramdoo corner kick while, in the 85th minute, he popped another header wide from a Sam cross.
It was a half chance at best for most players at this level. But John was still cursing at his miss after the match.
“Normally, I would have hit the back of the net,” said John, who only started training last month. “The second one, I think I should have scored. But as long as I keep getting the chances…”
Barrackpore had their backs against the wall. Yet, on three occasions, the hosts thought they had engineered the perfect breaks, only to be stopped by contentious calls from the referee’s assistant.
Ironically, it was their own assistant coach and Wired868 contributor, Kirwin Weston, who held the flag.
“He writes for allyuh?!” asked Latchoo, with a combination of exasperation and good humour. “I hope I don’t see any story from him about referees!”
One minute into extra time, Barrackpore finally engineered a goal that Weston could not dispute. It was another self-inflicted blow from Saddle Hill.
Peters spotted a tame back pass from opposing defender, Darius Rawlins, and rushed in to intercept and round the Saddle Hill goalkeeper in one fluent move, before converting from a tight angle. He made it look easier than it was for Barrackpore in more ways than one.
“I thought we were lucky for the penalty not to score,” said Latchoo. “Football has luck in it and we thank God for that part. The guys held out until the end.”
Barrackpore United (4-3-3): 26.Mikail Walker (GK); 8.Kevon Forrester, 3.Simeon Granger,25.Leonson Arindell (captain), 23.Trinfon Browne (4.Merkese De Gannes 82); 6.Dwane James, 28.Anthony Charles, 9.Trent Lougheed (29.Antonio Joseph 55); 13.Mikheil Peters, 9.Conrad Smith, 30.Antonius Myers (7.Atiba Harrison 53).
Unused substitutes: 1.Kerry Steeling (GK); 2.Kyle Mack, 16.Anton Charles, 20.Ian Saunders.
Coach: Rajesh Latchoo
Saddle Hill Hotspur (4-2-3-1): 99.Shane King (GK); 5.Darius Rawlins, 3.Kwasi Charles, 2.Duran Felician, 17.Andrew Wilson; 77.Sean Ramdoo (16.Cole Clovis 82), 24.Emmanuel Joseph (14.Stern John 57); 9.Cyrano Glen (4.Stephen Cruickshank 69), 10.Keeron Benito (captain), 20.Jabari Carasquero; 8.Hector Sam.
Unused substitutes: 1.Akintunde Felician (GK), 23.Raychard Allen.
Coach: Stephen Cruickshank
Referee: Martin Richards
Man of the Match: Mikheil Peters (Barrackpore United)
CNG NSL Championship Division
(Tuesday November 24)
Barrackpore Utd 3 (Conrad Smith 20, Mikheil Peters 41, 90), Saddle Hill Hotspur 1 (Hector Sam 51) at Barrackpore Recreation Ground;
QPCC 4 (Jerome Charles 38, 90, Benedict Barrett 42, Akil Glasgow 89), Edinburgh 500 FC 3 (Calvi Grazette 7, Aswad Alves 47, Josiah Grazette 82) at Dibe Recreation Ground, Long Circular;
Chaguanas FC 0, Prisons FC 3 at New Settlement Ground, Chaguanas;
Malabar FC 3 (Mariba Imhotep 66, Richard Ayers 77, 90), Petit Valley Utd 6 (Karamo Samuel 19, Eric Charles 28, 45, 49, Chuvalos George 69, Omari Samuel 79) at D’Abadie Recreation Ground;
(Wednesday November 25)
Cunupia FC 2 (Stevon Stoute 56, Lester Joseph 71), UTT 1 (Jamal Creighton 9)
Standings (Tabulated as Played-Won-Drew-Lost-Goals For-Goals Against-Points)
QPCC FC 14-10-4-0-31-16-34
Prisons FC 13-10-1-2-33-10-31
Cunupia FC 13-8-4-1-28-13-28
Saddle Hill 14-6-2-6-39-31-20
Petit Valley Utd 14-5-3-6-29-33-18
Barrackpore Utd 14-5-1-8-26-24-16
Chaguanas FC 13-3-2-8-15-34-11
Malabar FC 14-3-1-10-22-50-10
Edinburgh 500 13-3-0-10-12-29-9