Two-time defending Pro League champions Central FC got their truncated 2016/17 league campaign off to the perfect start last night with a 2-1 victory over bitter Couva rivals DIRECTV W Connection at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
The “Couva Sharks”, who are also the current Caribbean Club champions, left it very late, as former skipper Leston Paul clinched the winner with a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Terrence Lewis in the third and final minute of stoppage time.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Connection, who mustered an 84th minute equaliser from Grenada striker Jamal Charles but still ended with nothing to show for their efforts against their fiercest foes.
There were no late twists in the earlier encounter between the new-look Ma Pau Stars—formerly North East Stars—and Police FC, as the law enforcers thoroughly thumped their opposition by a 5-1 margin.
Prior to kick off, former Trinidad and Tobago internationals and Jason Scotland and Carlos Edwards were the ones making the headlines. But, once referee Gyasi McDonald blew the first whistle, Police tricksters Christon Thomas and Kareem Freitas were the ones causing havoc.
Stars took the lead through a clinical 12th minute item by Jerrel Britto, against the run of play, but that pushed the Lawmen into action.
With Britto operating on the left wing and offering little support for his fullback Hakim Baird, Police attacked constantly and vociferously down the right flank. And lanky Police striker Jameel Perry ought to have had a hat-trick within the first 15 minutes, as he failed to capitalise on some slick wide play by Freitas.
The Richard Hood-coached Police outfit were not kept at bay for long though, as giant skipper Todd Ryan scored two goals in the space of three minutes to penalise a sloppy Stars defence.
First, the bulldozing central midfielder pounded a close range shot into the back of the net after a miscued defensive clearance from a corner in the 22nd minute. Then Ryan expertly slotted a penalty past custodian Glenroy Samuel after Perry was brought down by a rash Glenton Wolffe tackle, just moments later.
There was joy for Perry too, as he swept home a low, right side cross by the lively Freitas in the 38th minute.
Ma Pau may have had the star names in their lineup but everything was aligned for Police last night.
Edwards and Scotland, both of whom were members of Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup squad in 2006, were largely ineffective for the duration of the 90 minutes. Scotland replaced the injured Kerry Baptiste in the 19th minute, while the versatile Edwards played at right back from the onset.
The 37-year-old Scotland, known is his heyday for his power and shooting ability, was inexplicably shy in front of goal on the night, as he passed off a few presentable scoring opportunities in the second period.
Police were not that passive, though, and a clinical 49th minute strike by Thomas, coupled with a late poacher’s item by substitute Keion Wilson completed the polished ‘Police operation’.
In last night’s marquee fixture, which has now been dubbed the “Couva Clásico”, the Sharks came out circling their prey very early.
Central coach Dale Saunders adopts a pressing style as often as possible and Paul and Nathaniel “Spanish” Garcia did exactly that in the middle of the park. Connection, who started with St Lucia international left back Kurt Frederick in central midfield and playmaker Hughtun Hector on the left flank, were pegged back by Central’s hurrying and swift ball movement in the opening stages.
Connection coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier reverted Frederick and Hector to their regular positions around the 20 minute mark, as the two Couva-based clubs—both already eliminated from the 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League—scrapped for space in an increasingly tight game.
Central’s attacking pair of Johan Peltier and Marcus “Lobo” Joseph formed an intriguing combination on one end while Connection’s Malik St Prix was more than a handful in his lone striking role at the other.
The game’s first goal would come from the defending champions in the 41st minute, as Lobo skilfully left defender Alvin Jones on his backside before squaring for Darren “Chucky” Mitchell to finish with a sweet right-footed shot. Not too shabby for the versatile new Central captain, who who was playing at left-back.
Charles-Fevrier made more adjustments to his initial setup upon the resumption, as Kevon Goddard and the tricky Aikim Andrews replaced St Prix and Anslem Jackson.
Andrews, who earned his solitary National Senior Team cap against Nicaragua in friendly action last year, injected some life into the “Savonetta Boys” with his direct play down the left. However, he and his teammates were restricted to long range efforts as Central worked overtime to nullify their threat in behind the defence.
Andrews was gifted a glorious chance in the 65th minute though, as goalkeeper Javon Sample sent an errant pass into his path. But Andrews, harried by a retreating Garcia, could not find space to shoot and conceded possession with a heavy pass.
Central seemed to be in full control but were finally undone in the 84th minute, as veterans Hector and Andre Toussaint played some head tennis on the edge of the area before Charles struck with a looping header past Sample to equalise.
Suddenly, Connection looked good for a point or more.
But one Mr Paul had other ideas. In the final minute of stoppage time, the feisty midfielder picked up the ball from deep and ran at the retreating Savonetta Boys.
It was almost as though the Connection defenders were daring Paul to shoot, and shoot he did! His clinical left-footed shot flew past the outstretched Lewis from the edge of the area, and Connection were bitten at the death.
Central FC (4-3-3): 1.Javon Sample (GK); 5.Keston George, 4.Andre Ettienne, 3.Keion Goodridge, 11.Darren Mitchell (captain); 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 6.Leston Paul, 8.Sean De Silva; 7.Jason Marcano, 99.Marcus Joseph, 17.Johan Peltier (10.Keron Cummings 66).
Unused Substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 2.Glenn Sutton, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 24.Kevon Villaroel, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
W Connection (4-2-3-1): 1.Terrence Lewis (GK); 12.Anslem Jackson (23.Kevon Goddard 46), 4.Maurice Ford, 16.Alvin Jones, 27.Jelani Peters; 8.Briel Thomas, 2.Kurt Frederick; 11.Neil Benjamin Jr (20.Jamal Charles 69), 14.Andre Toussaint, 13.Hughtun Hector; 43.Malik St Prix (17.Aikim Andrews 46).
Unused Substitutes: 33.Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 21.Ronell Paul, 28.Mickell Charles, 37.Daniel Diaz.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
Referee: Cecile Hinds
Man of the Match: Leston Paul (Central FC)
Pro League results
(Friday 30 September)
Point Fortin Civic 1 (Sylvester Teesdale 31 pen), Morvant Caledonia Utd 3 (Jameel Neptune 5, Jair Edwards 55, Kareem Joseph 65 FK) at Mahaica Oval;
(Sunday 2 October)
Defence Force FC 0, St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Sedale McLean 36, Dylon King 55) at Larry Gomes Stadium;
(Tuesday 4 October)
Club Sando 0, San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Keston Julien 14) at Mahaica Oval;
*—First 48 minutes of match was played on Friday before power outage stopped play.
Ma Pau Stars 1 (Jerrel Britto 12), Police FC 5 (Todd Ryan 22, 25 pen, Jameel Perry 38, Christon Thomas 49, Keion Wilson 89) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC 2 (Darren Mitchell 41, Leston Paul 90+3), W Connection 1 (Jamal Charles 84) at Hasely Crawford Stadium.