Defending champions, Bankers Insurance Central FC, took a significant stride towards retaining their TT Pro League crown last night, as they edged Defence Force 1-0 in a cagey affair at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
It has been eight years since a Pro League team successfully defended their title. San Juan Jabloteh was the last team to manage the feat, as they executed successive top place finishes in 2007 and 2008.
And, in the 17 year history of the competition, only Jabloteh and W Connection ever pulled off a repeat.
Central might be next, as the “Couva Sharks” stretched their lead to seven points with just seven league outings remaining.
Forward Marcus Joseph, in his now trademark black gloves, struck the killer blow with a left footed blast in the 13th minute that somehow squirmed through Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke’s hands and into the far corner.
There was little goalmouth otherwise as, apart from set pieces, the Army/Coast Guard combination barely troubled Central custodian Jan-Michael Williams.
Credit to the organised Sharks rear guard though, who closed down quickly and harassed opponents throughout.
Nathaniel Garcia, who was positioned just in front of the back four, rarely gave a moment’s peace to opposing playmaker Hashim Arcia. And Defence Force striker Devorn Jorsling might have still felt Central defender Andre Ettienne’s breath on his neck as he went to bed.
In the opening affair of the Couva double header, DirecTV W Connection found themselves two goals down at the half, clawed themselves level and nearly stole all three points too in an entertaining 2-2 affair with Morvant Caledonia United.
Kareem Knights opened the scoring for the “Eastern Stallions” after 13 minutes while a late Pernell Schultz penalty provided a two goal cushion at the interval.
But Connection fought back with strikes by Shahdon Winchester and Dimitrie Apai. And Winchester could have capped a memorable comeback in stoppage time but failed to beat Caledonia custodian Marvin Phillip, despite having time and space inside the penalty area.
The result meant that all 10 teams remain as they were in the standings although third place Connection trail second place Defence Force by just three points now. The top two Pro League teams qualify for the 2017/18 CONCACAF Champions League qualifying series.
Jabloteh, who are fifth, trail Defence Force by ten points, albeit with two games in hand. But coach Keith Jeffrey is dreaming of taking the “San Juan Kings” back to CONCACAF competition.
“Our ambition is at least second place, so we are looking at our nine third round games as nine finals,” Jeffrey told Wired868. “At the beginning of the season, we identified at least (getting to the CONCACAF) Club Championship.
“We have a history in that competition… and with a good third round we can still get there.”
Jabloteh will continue that push in new yet familiar territory and possibly with a long departed friend for company.
Jeffrey’s posse play their first competitive game at the Barataria Recreation Ground today from 4.30 pm. And, Pro League clearance permitting, their former stand-out Marvin Oliver will be in the squad.
It is not quite home, which would be Bourg Mulatresse, but Jeffrey is excited to play closer to their own community and pointed to the possible financial implications for his club.
“The government has to help us to upgrade the community grounds,” said Jeffrey. “If we can build a fan base and get 1,500 to 2,000 people from the Barataria/San Juan area, then down the road we won’t have to worry about a (government) subvention.
“We would welcome the TT$83,000 (per month from the government). But if it is TT$50,000 alone, we have to realise that this is the government giving a subvention to a private enterprise.
“So we have to say thank you. All we want is a community ground, so we can help ourselves.”
Oliver, who was released by Central last month, is just in time for Jabloteh’s new phase and Jeffrey thinks the 41 year old midfield organiser can be an asset to the club on the playing field.
“We are taking him until the end of the season as a player,” said Jeffrey. “He is bringing experience and he is bringing good leadership. He knows the history of Jabloteh because he is from the area and he was with the club for a long time.
“(Oliver) is a leader of men and you need that kind of on-field leadership.”
For now, it his former employers, Central, who are calling the shots in the Pro League, though.
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 12.Jamal Jack, 4.Andre Ettienne, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 19.Nathaniel Garcia; 22.Leston Paul (captain), 8.Sean De Silva, 25.Elijah Manners (14.Nicholas Dillon 79); 7.Jason Marcano, 99.Marcus Joseph (2.Elton John 46).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 3.Keion Goodridge, 9.Kadeem Corbin, 26.Jem Gordon, 33.Samuel Delice.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Defence Force (4-2-3-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 8.Curtis Gonzales, 3.Jamali Garcia, 6.Rodell Elcock, 21.Akile Edwards; 4.Dave Long, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain); 23.Kerry Joseph (16.Kellon Serrette 77), 10.Hashim Arcia, 17.Ross Russell Jr (30.Kishun Seecharan 62), 9.Devorn Jorsling (26.Richard Roy 66)
Unused substitutes: 1.Andre Marchan (GK), 2.Glynn Franklyn, 12.Jemel Sebro, 18.Sean Narcis,
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Callum Marshall
Man of the match: Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC)
Pro League results
(Friday March 4)
Morvant Caledonia Utd 2 (Kareem Knights 13, Pernell Schultz 44 pen), W Connection 2 (Shahdon Winchester 55, Dimitrie Apai 62) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central FC 1 (Marcus Joseph 13), Defence Force 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Saturday March 5)
St Ann’s Rangers v Club Sando, 4 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
San Juan Jabloteh v Point Fortin Civic, 4.30 pm, Barataria Recreation Ground;
(Sunday March 6)
North East Stars v Police FC, 4 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium.[standings league_id=2 template=compact logo=true]