Defence Force and Play Whe San Juan Jabloteh kept their hopes of qualifying to the 2017/18 CONCACAF Champions League tournament alive with victories in TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last night.
The top two clubs at the end of the 2015/16 Pro League season will participate in the 2017 Caribbean Club Championship while the top three there join the big ‘kahuna’ in the Champions League.
Defending Pro League champions Bankers Insurance Central FC retained the Caribbean title last weekend in Haiti, as they defeated DIRECTV W Connection 3-0 in the final. The Couva rivals will represent Trinidad and Tobago at the 2016/17 CONCACAF tournament.
But Connection’s chances of getting to the 2017/18 edition thinned considerably yesterday, as the “Savonetta Boys” suffered a crucial 1-nil loss to the “Army.”
In contrast, Central are currently one win away from copping their second Pro League title in as many years. The “Couva Sharks” have 52 points, which are four points clear than Defence Force and Jabloteh who are separated by just goal difference.
Jabloteh, who have two leagues games remaining, are the only Pro League outfit that can still reel in the Sharks. Central have three games left—including one clash with table proppers, St Ann’s Rangers—while the Army/Coast Guard combination only have just one outstanding fixture.
The fate of the Pro League trophy and million dollar first prize can be decided as soon as tomorrow when Central tackle Kerry Baptiste and the red-hot North East Stars from 4 pm at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella.
Yesterday in Couva, Jabloteh took care of their business, as the “San Juan Kings” showed poise, discipline and a bit of guile in a 4-1 mauling of Club Sando.
Only the sun and the Stars seem to be in hotter form than Jabloteh these days, and coach Keith Jeffrey’s team overcame a first half penalty miss to storm two goals clear by the 36th minute.
Sando made things a bit dicey for Jabloteh just before the interval though, as Devon Modeste struck home a stylish volley to pull his team back within a goal. It was Modeste’s 14th league goal of the season, which made him joint second on the scoring charts alongside Central’s Marcus Joseph.
Only Police FC’s Makesi Lewis has scored more with 20 league items.
Sando’s former national Under-20 midfielder Akeem Humphrey, who has alternated between central midfield and right wing-back this season, was a shining light. But Jabloteh still looked the more dangerous side.
Jabloteh playmakers Tyrone Charles and Fabian Reid moved the ball around with great purpose at the start of the second half and giant striker Jamal Gay, who scored in the first half, should have extended their lead in the 56th minute but failed to keep his effort on target after a smart Reid pass.
Keyon Edwards restored Jabloteh’s two goal cushion with his second item of the game in the 61st minute, as he executed a sublime curling effort from just outside the area after the Sando rearguard was caught lapsing from a set piece.
The Bourg Mulatresse boys continued to create chances at will, as their southern opponents struggled to curtail their wing penetration. Charles missed a glaring header in the 68th minute, after a cross by substitute Brent Sam, while winger Nathan Lewis crashed a left-footed shot off the base of the post four minutes later.
The slender Lewis, who has been a revelation for Jabloteh this season, got his name on the score sheet with a trademark mazy run in stoppage time, as he he spun utility player Kevon Neaves and defender Moron Phillip like tops before curling a low, right-footed shot past Sando and Grenada international goalkeeper Jason Belfon.
The second match of last night’s double header in Couva was an appetising one on paper, as former Pro League champs and 2015 Toyota Classic finalists W Connection and Defence Force squared off.
But, with second place on the line, the affair closer resembled a chess match as Defence Force stifled and closed down Connection, who started with an unfamiliar front three of Dimitrie Apai, Jamal Charles and Malik St Prix.
Connection’s leading league scorer this season, Jomal Williams, started on the bench while captain Hughtun Hector, star striker Shahdon Winchester and coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier were absent from the bench. Fevrier, a St Lucian, was out of the country due to a family emergency while Hector and Winchester had minor injuries.
The best two chances of the first half came within the first 10 minutes, but Connection’s Apai and Army’s Akeem Roach were gun shy.
Connection introduced Williams and Aikim Andrews, just after the hour mark, and they did add a spark. St Prix almost gave Connection the opening goal in the 76th but opposing goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke pulled off a big reaction save from point-blank range.
Clarke’s contribution was magnified, just three minutes later, as ex-Connection employee Hashim Arcia bit the hands that once fed him on a counter attack.
All-time Pro League leading goal scorer, Devorn Jorsling, held up the ball well before playing it wide to Roach. And Arcia managed to stay onside before kissing a left-footed shot in off the post from Roach’s cross.
Connection were not giving up though, and Clarke was forced to make a remarkable save after veteran Andre Toussaint set up St Prix on a platter.
At the blow of referee Crystal Sobers’ final whistle, Connection were left licking their wounds as they found themselves five points off of second place and nine points away from rivals Central.
Army and Jabloteh will be much happier campers right now though.
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 16.Alvin Jones, 25.Daneil Cyrus, 27.Jelani Peters, 2.Kurt Frederick; 3.Gerard Williams, 8.Briel Thomas; 12.Dimitrie Apai (10.Jomal Williams 63), 14.Andre Toussaint, 43.Malik St Prix; 20.Jamal Charles (17.Aikim Andrews 70).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Terrence Williams (GK), 4.Maurice Ford, 26.Paolo De La Guardia, 46.Anfernee Frederick, 48.Zaine Pierre.
Coach: Earl Jean
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 13.Marvin Jones, 8.Curtis Gonzales, 2.Glynn Franklyn, 21.Akile Edwards; 52.Stephan Campbell (20.Levi Serries 50); 12.Jemel Sebro (7.Jelani Felix 66), 11.Akeem Roach, 10.Hashim Arcia, 17.Ross Russell Jr; 9.Devorn Jorsling (26.Richard Roy 81).
Unused Substitutes: 3.Jamali Garcia, 4.Dave Long, 30.Kishun Seecharan.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Man of the Match: Sheldon Clarke (Defence Force)
Pro League Results
(Friday May 6)
Club Sando 1 (Devon Modeste 45+), San Juan Jabloteh 4 (Keyon Edwards 15, 60, Jamal Gay 36, Nathan Lewis 90+3) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 0, Defence Force 1 (Hashim Arcia 79) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic 0, Morvant Caledonia United 3 (Jamal Harvey 24, Akim Armstrong 45 pen, Kyle Bartholomew 88) at Mahaica Oval;
(Sunday May 8)
Central FC vs North East Stars, 4 pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
St Ann’s Rangers vs Police FC, 4 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium.
Standings (Tabulated as Won-Drawn-Lost-Goals For-Goals Against-Points)
Central FC 24-16-4-4-55-17-52
Defence Force 26-14-6-6-53-22-48
North East 25-13-5-7-42-44-44
W Connection 25-12-7-6-46-23-43
Police FC 25-11-4-10-56-51-37
Club Sando 26-9-3-14-34-52-30
Caledonia Utd 26-6-3-17-27-56-21
Point Fortin 25-5-4-17-23-56-19