Defending Pro League champions Bankers Insurance Central FC stretched their lead atop the 2015/16 league table to four points yesterday with a 3-nil victory over a 10-man Morvant Caledonia outfit at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
The scoreline flattered the 2015 Caribbean champions a bit. But it was a much needed victory to stop a three-game losing skid for the “Couva Sharks”—two of which came in the league.
Those two league defeats opened the door for Central’s bitter Couva rivals, W Connection. But Connection succumbed 1-0 to a resurgent San Juan Jabloteh at the Ato Boldon Stadium last night and, at least momentarily, surrendered second place to the “San Juan Kings.”
With just three match days to go, the race for the two CONCACAF Champions League qualifying spots could not be tighter.
Only four points separate second place Jabloteh (45 points) from fifth place North East Stars (41 points), while the “Sharks” have a four point lead at the top with the extra security of a game in hand against seventh place Club Sando.
Yesterday, victory was almost a necessity for coach Dale Saunders and his Central team against a resurgent Morvant Caledonia in the first game of a Hasely Crawford Stadium double header.
Morvant Caledonia’s wretched league campaign meant they were eight in the 10-team table at kick off. But their current form was good enough to propel the “Eastern Stallions” into Sunday’s Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final while wingers Jameel “Shooter” Neptune and skipper Kareem “Tiny” Joseph and utility player Robert Primus have been on song.
The game started off on even keel, although the first real opportunity fell to lanky Central forward Ricardo John, who somehow headed wide from all of four yards in the 20th minute after some smart play down the left by Kevon Villaroel.
Neptune and Pernell Schultz combined neatly for Morvant Caledonia, mere seconds later at the other end, but the diminutive Guyanese attacker was unable to get his shot on target after rounding Central custodian and countryman, Akel Clarke.
John continually worried the “Cale” backline with his pace and movement but he could not find a finish to match. In the 37th minute, the Central frontman had another scoring chance smothered by Morvant Caledonia custodian Marvin Phillip, after he was released by a pass from teammate Jason Marcano.
Whatever Morvant Caledonia coach Jerry Moe cooked up at half time was probably undone in seconds as, in the 47th minute, his Barbados international central defender, Ranaldo Bailey, caught Central forward Marcus “Lobo” Joseph with a flailing arm during a tussle for the ball and picked up his second yellow card from referee Cecile Hinds.
Thereafter, it was a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for Central, as they sought to make best use of their numerical advantage.
Phillip pulled off a stunning, acrobatic save from close range to deny John in the 52nd minute, after the striker sent a sweet right-footed volley towards goal. And the equally impressive Morvant Caledonia defender, Primus, even had a chance at the other end but sent his swivelled shot over bar after nippy wing play by Neptune.
But 10-man “Cale” could not keep the Sharks at bay.
Joseph finally broke the deadlock in the 67th minute, as he tip-toed his way through the mass of Caledonia players like a ballet dancer to notch his 14th league goal of the season, after an intricate move that involved Marcano and central defender Jamal Jack.
Lobo then turned creator in the 80th minute, as he picked out Darren Mitchell with a nicely weighted pass before the midfielder applied a neat close range finish past Phillip.
The Cale defence had a tough time in the closing stages, as Saunders sent on the youthful attacking trio of Rundell Winchester, Nicholas Dillon and Kadeem Corbin. And Dillon got Central’s third and final goal in the 87th minute, as he sent a diving header past Phillip following a Villaroel cross.
The second game of the Hasely Crawford double header pitted Defence Force against Stars and, when the two teams last met in December, Devorn Jorsling netted a hat-trick as the Army/Coast Guard combination ran out 6-1 victors.
Stars appointed Ross Russell as coach since then though. And the two-time Pro League champion coach with Defence Force helped engineer a gritty result for the Sangre Grande-headquartered club.
Former Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel played his part, as he pulled off a flurry of spectacular saves to preserve a clean sheet for Stars who registered their sixth straight win in the league’s final round.
The evergreen Kerry Baptiste was the man on target for Stars, as he took his league tally to nine goals with a typically clinical finish in first half stoppage time.
Baptiste has put his lean, short-lived spell with Central behind him and can’t seem to miss at the moment. Could the veteran lead Stars to an unexpected top two finish?
W Connection and San Juan Jabloteh might argue otherwise.
Morvant Caledonia United (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 16.Antonio Joseph, 3.Ranaldo Bailey [red card 47], 19.Robert Primus, 22.Jameel Neptune; 24.Gregory President (15.Otev Lawrence 53), 5.Maestro Mensah; 12.Kareem Joseph (captain), 10.Sheldon Holder (6.Alexis Marcus Ambrose 83), 32.Taje Commissiong (27.Triffon Browne 72); 28.Pernell Schultz.
Unused Substitutes: 8.Anthony Charles, 13.Kyle Bartholomew, 20.Jamaal Harvey, 29.Kareem Knights.
Coach: Jerry Moe
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 30.Akel Clarke (GK); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 4.Andre Ettienne, 17.Jamal Jack, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 22.Leston Paul (captain) (14.Nicholas Dillon 60); 7.Jason Marcano, 8.Sean De Silva, 11.Darren Mitchell; 45.Ricardo John (77.Rundell Winchester 74), 99.Marcus Joseph (9.Kadeem Corbin 83).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 25.Elijah Manners, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Referee: Cecile Hinds
Man of the Match: Marcus Joseph (Central FC)
Pro League results
(Tuesday April 19)
Club Sando 3 (Devon Modeste 33, 48, Shaquille Holder 43), Police FC 5 (Kareem Freitas 18, Makesi Lewis 36, 58, Keon Wilson 45, Dylon King 90) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 0, San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Tyrone Charles 86 FK) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Morvant Caledonia 0, Central FC 3 (Marcus Joseph 66, Darren Mitchell 80, Nicholas Dillon 87) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Defence Force 0, North East Stars 1 (Kerry Baptiste 45) at Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(Friday April 22)
Central FC v Club Sando, 7 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final
(Sunday April 24)
W Connection v Morvant Caledonia United, 6 pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium.