A flawless performance by Police FC custodian Adrian Foncette and clinical finishing by Japs North East Stars striker Gorean “Ratty” Highley left Pro League defending champions Bankers Insurance Central FC and second placed DIRECTV W Connection with red faces on April 1 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
On this occasion, the April Fools gags were very real.
The effects of the stumbles by the Pro League giants may be felt in a few hours, as Defence Force FC and Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh can both leapfrog Connection.
A win by the Army/Coast Guard combination, who face Point Fortin Civic from 6 pm at the Mahaica Oval, can cut the lead at the top to four points. And, arguably, introduce a touch of doubt to the Central technical staff, headed by rookie coach Dale Saunders, which has not put a foot wrong so far in 2016.
For Connection, the ramifications are likely to be more immediate, as the “Savonetta Boys” try to cement their place in the 2017/18 CONCACAF Champions League qualifying rounds.
Five of Connection’s 18-man squad yesterday—the Trinidad and Tobago quartet of Daneil Cyrus, Jomal Williams, Shahdon Winchester and captain Hughtun Hector and Grenada’s Jamal Charles—spent much of the past fortnight on international duty.
And, although Williams, Winchester and Hector did not feature in Trinidad and Tobago’s two World Cup qualifiers against St Vincent and the Grenadines and Cyrus played for roughly an hour in total, it is possible that the distraction of their absences took a toll.
Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier certainly did not get the necessary lift from his star players yesterday.
The game started off well enough, though.
Winchester put the Savonetta Boys ahead in the 13th minute after a typically slick build-up.
Speedy winger Neil Benjamin Jr won a yard for himself down the left flank and produced a precise cross to the edge of the Stars six-yard box, which Winchester steered to the right of stranded goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel.
Stars coach Ross Russell might have imagined the worst. The Sangre Grande-based team were without the suspended pair of central defenders Glenton Wolffe and Keryn Navarro. In their places, Russell improvised with attacking midfielders Anthony Wolfe and Neil Mitchell in defence, alongside another converted midfielder, Kion Joseph, at right back.
It did not mean that Stars were a soft touch yesterday though, as debutant Connection right back Isaiah Garcia would testify.
Garcia, a Shiva Boys Hindu College student, is the cousin of Trinidad and Tobago international wonder boy Levi Garcia, which didn’t seem to impress Stars much.
In the 22nd minute, Garcia was the victim of a fierce lunging tackle by Stars left Hakim Baird while, in the 38th minute, he was recklessly chopped down by opposing midfielder Kerry Daniel.
Either tackle could feasibly have been a red card offence or, at the least, a caution with a stern warning.
Referee Crystal Sobers did not book Baird for the first tackle and, inexplicably, she did not even award a free kick for the second challenge.
There was some irony, then, that Garcia committed the foul which led to Stars’ equaliser.
Garcia tripped lively Stars winger Anthony Guppy in the 26th minute and Ryan Stewart, looking leaner than ever since his mid-season move from Guaya United, beat Connection custodian Terrence Clarke from the resulting free kick.
From there, the game ebbed and flowed, as the small crowd received a treat in attacking football.
Veteran Stars poacher Kerry Baptiste almost conjured up a spectacular item, only to see his volleyed effort spectacularly pushed on to an upright by Clarke in the 29th minute.
Then, Williams hit the base of the far post in the 33rd minute after running on to a clever through pass by Connection’s evergreen playmaker Andre Toussaint.
Jean-Luc Rochford had an unsuccessful penalty appeal in the 53rd minute, after his effort slammed off Cyrus’ hand while Samuel matched Clarke with a brilliant save from Winchester in the 67th minute.
Nothing if not adventurous, Russell made his own impact on the game by replacing Rochford with Highley, which saw Stewart drop from the number 10 role into the holding midfield spot.
Highley was on the field for just seven minutes when he rewarded Russell’s ambition, as he collected a Joseph cross and slammed an effort that Clarke got a glove on but could not keep out of his net in the 71st minute.
Russell responded by sacrificing Baptiste for defender Jesus Perez, as Stars tried to hold on to the advantage. But, when you’re hot, you’re hot.
And Highley made sure of the result with a clever glancing finish off a Guppy cross in the 81st minute.
Stars stayed in fifth spot with the win but are now just five points shy of second place and a CONCACAF Champions League place. It would make a remarkable story if they achieve it, at the same time that club owner and Japs baron Darryl Mahabir is considering the future of the club, due to the contracting economy.
There was less intrigue in the first outing of the night, although the result could be even more significant.
Central right back Kaydion Gabriel, under pressure from an opponent, spliced a clearance towards his own goal in the 39th minute that stand-in goalkeeper Akel Clarke could not keep out.
And the “Couva Sharks”, who used Rundell Winchester, Marcus Joseph, Jason Marcano, Nicholas Dillon and Kadeem Corbin in attack at various stages yesterday, could not muster a reply.
Foncette’s most testing effort came from one of his own players too, as he dived low to his right to superbly keep out an inadvertent attempt from Police right back Jibiri McDavid.
Makesi Lewis could have doubled Police’s advantage in the 51st minute but was denied by Clarke. And lanky striker Jameel Perry was a handful for the Central defence for most of the evening without getting on the score summary.
Yet, the “Lawmen” might have had their good work undone in the last 15 minutes, as they noticeably tired.
Central, who lacked fluency in the final third, could not take advantage.
Remarkably, it was Saunders’ first league defeat at the helm since he took over from Russell, 14 games ago.
At present, the Sharks are still six points clear and have earned a certain room for error. But another slip would create a novel test for a promising young coach, who is still seeking his first top flight trophy at a club which sacked three head coaches in the past 14 months.
Police FC (4-2-3-1): 18.Adrian Foncette (GK); 6.Jibiri McDavid, 5.Anton Hutchinson, 20.Elijah Belgrave, 17.Dexter Alleyne; 14.Kaaron Foster (8.Kurdell Brathwaite 81), 21.Todd Ryan (captain); 26.Kadeem Riley (29.Clevon McPhee 60), 9.Makesi Lewis, 10.Kareem Freitas; 15.Jameel Perry (16.Keon Wilson 68).
Unused substitutes: 31.Theon Browne (GK), 2.Jasimar Ashers, 24.Devon Jamerson, 30.Dylon King,
Coach: Richard Hood
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 30.Akel Clarke (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 4.Andre Ettienne, 12.Jamal Jack, 25.Elijah Manners; 19.Nathaniel Garcia; 8.Sean De Silva (9.Kadeem Corbin 66), 22.Leston Paul (captain) (14.Nicholas Dillon 79), 11.Darren Mitchell; 7.Jason Marcano, 77.Rundell Winchester (99.Marcus Joseph 56).
Unused substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 45.Shem Clauzel, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Referee: Keilon Bacchus
Man of the Match: Adrian Foncette (Police FC)
Pro League results
(Friday April 1)
Police FC 1 (Kaydion Gabriel OG 39), Central FC 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 1 (Shahdon Winchester 13), North East Stars 3 (Ryan Stewart 26, Gorean Highley 70, 81) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Saturday April 2)
Club Sando vs Morvant Caledonia United, 4pm, Guayaguayare Recreation Ground, Guayaguayare;
Point Fortin Civic vs Defence Force, 6 pm, Mahaica Oval, Point Fortin;
San Juan Jabloteh vs St Ann’s Rangers, 4 pm, Barataria Recreation Ground, Barataria.