Defending Pro League champions Bankers Insurance Central FC stretched their lead atop the 2015/16 league standings to five points yesterday after playing to a hard fought 3-1 victory over cellar placed St Ann’s Rangers at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar.
Second-place DIRECTV W Connection, Central’s fierce Couva rivals, fell to Club Sando for the second time this year and subsequently failed to keep close tabs on the defending champions.
The “Savonetta Boys” suffered their only loss of round two in the process and therefore relinquished any hope of pinching the Akeem Adams Trophy from Central. The Pro League’s three rounds are named after deceased heroes, Rawle Fletcher, Akeem Adams and Kevon Carter, and carry a TT$50,000 prize for each winner.
Defence Force secured the Rawle Fletcher Trophy with a 20-point haul in round one but the “Army” have found the going much more difficult in round two as they have only amassed 13 points through eight matches.
Meanwhile, the Couva rivals, which will commence Caribbean Club Championship duties next week, have accumulated 23 and 22 points respectively.
Yesterday saw a real “David vs Goliath” battle unfold in Malabar, as the reigning Caribbean and Pro League champions of Central squared off with the young upstarts of Rangers.
Rangers managed one league win all of last season and are currently at the bottom of the league table. But it was difficult to tell why based on the efforts of coach Angus Eve’s charges yesterday.
“If you watch the scores of our games they are often two-nil, two-one or thereabouts, small margins of defeat,” Eve told Wired868. “Teams aren’t blowing us away. We have been in the hunt for every game.
“Even today, playing against a team with the level of quality that Central has, you would not have thought that the first place team was playing the last place team.”
Indeed, Central and their coach Dale Saunders realised that they were in for a battle, and both coaches positioned themselves at the edge of their technical areas from referee Marlon Perouse’s opening whistle.
“We were expecting a tough, hard fought game from Rangers and we have to give them credit for that,” Saunders said. “We watched their last game and we knew that they were going to come and fight for possession of the ball.”
The game’s first real chance came in the 14t minute as Central’s Elijah Manners struck a firm left-footed drive following a Sean De Silva dummy just outside the area. However, Rangers’ 20 year-old shot-stopper Christopher Biggette responded with a spectacular, flying save.
Biggette was hapless to stop Leston Paul mere seconds later though, as the diminutive Central skipper rounded the lanky goalie to score, after receiving an instinctive through ball by attacker Jason Marcano.
Rangers maintained their rigid shape following Paul’s item, but rarely gave Central and “Soca Warriors” custodian Jan-Michael Williams any work to do. Williams was perhaps caught off guard in the 28th minute then as Rangers skipper and ex-Central employee Johan Peltier finished sweetly into the far corner, after bringing a Kadeem Hutchinson cut back under his spell.
Peltier, the younger brother of Trinidad and Tobago international winger Lester “Corn Curls” Peltier, has had a delayed start to his Rangers career and Eve has seen it fit to give the 23 year-old an extra push.
“Since Peltier came in during the window I’ve made him captain of the team,” said Eve. “Also, it is a bit of motivation for him because I think he’s a player who should be with the National Senior Team or knocking on the door at least.”
Peltier did do some knocking last season, and was rewarded with an international call-up for a home friendly against Panama. However, the attacking midfielder has had his issues since and is only three games into the current league season.
“He was with Jabloteh last season and he wanted to transfer to us,” said Eve, “but they had some issues to sort out.”
Soca Warriors head coach Stephen Hart may have some concerns too ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and the Grenadines, as Williams was substituted in the 33rd minute after failing to shake off an injury sustained while trying to stop Peltier’s shot.
Eve was not displeased to see the back of Williams though, as he teased the shot-stopper to save himself for national duty.
Rangers continued their stout resistance at the start of the second half as they ensured that 10 players were behind the ball more often than not. Ambitious efforts by Paul and left-back Kevon Villaroel, inside the first ten minutes of the restart, may have fluttered some Rangers hearts. But both efforts went sailing overbar.
The Rangers centre back pairing of Shakiyl Phillip and Trevin Latapy were caught off guard by a long punt from the Central half in the 66th minute, though, and striker Marcus Joseph outmuscled and outrun the duo before tapping past Biggette to reclaim Central’s lead.
Biggette was able to put his long frame to good use, just nine minutes later, as he pulled off a dramatic double save to stop meaty hits by De Silva and substitute Kadeem Corbin.
And, similar to their meeting in round one, the “Couva Sharks” nearly gifted a goal to Rangers in the dying moments—Latapy scored from a mix up between custodian Akel Clarke and defender Andre Ettienne to score in Rangers’ 3-1 defeat to Central on January 9th—as Villaroel’s 87th minute backward header eluded Clarke.
But substitute Keon Peters was unable to get enough power on his goal ward stab, enabling Clarke to make an easy recovery save.
Corbin was finally able to seal the game for the Sharks in the 90th minute, as he buried from close range after Biggette parried a low Marcano cross into his path.
Saunders, who has overseen an unbeaten league run since he replaced ex-Central coach Ross Russell, brimmed with confidence after the match.
“We went in 1-1 at the half and we went back to the blackboard and tried to change things up a bit,” said Saunders. “It all came down to attitude and once we got that corrected in the second half we knew we were going to get the result.
“We have gotten the full support from management and staff and the players are just buying into it. We are working as a team and we are seeing the results at the end of the day.”
The Sharks are now five points clear and they smell more blood.
Can they be stopped?
St Ann’s Rangers (4-2-3-1): 22.Christopher Biggette (GK); 6.Shaquille Moses, 18.Trevin Latapy, 2.Shakiyl Phillip, 7.Sedale McLean; 13.Jeromie Williams, 29.Jameel Antoine (20.Shomarie Antoine 80); 15.Anselm Jackson (21.Keon Peters 80), 9.Keron Cornwall (27.Kareem Baptiste 80), 17.Kadeem Hutchinson; 10.Johan Peltier (captain).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Stefan Berkeley (GK), 16.Richard Williams.
Coach: Angus Eve
Central FC (4-1-4-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK) (30.Akel Clarke 33); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 4.Andre Ettienne, 12.Jamal Jack, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 2.Elton John; 22.Leston Paul (captain), 7.Jason Marcano, 8.Sean De Silva, 25.Elijah Manners (9.Kadeem Corbin 46); 99.Marcus Joseph.
Unused Substitutes: 14.Nicholas Dillon, 18.Michael Darko, 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 26.Jem Gordon, 33.Samuel Delice.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Referee: Marlon Peruse
Man of the Match: Marcus Joseph (Bankers Insurance Central FC)
Pro League results
(Saturday February 20)
W Connection 0, Club Sando 2 (Devon Modeste 54 pen, Kevon Woodley 57), Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
St Ann’s Rangers 1 (Johan Peltier 28), Central FC 3 (Leston Paul 15, Marcus Joseph 66, Kadeem Corbin 90), Larry Gomes Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic 2 (Sylvester Teesdale 31, Glenn Sutton 85), Police FC 1 (Jameel Perry 79), Mahaica Oval;
(Sunday February 21)
North East Stars v San Juan Jabloteh, 3.30 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
Morvant Caledonia United v Defence Force, 3.30 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.[standings league_id=2 template=compact logo=true]