All Central FC do is win. It is a fact that is open to multiple interpretations. Last night, the “Couva Sharks” maintained their 100 percent record in the truncated 2016/17 Pro League season with a 2-1 win over Morvant Caledonia United at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
Style? Swagger? That’s for other teams. Central, who are three points clear atop the standings, played as little football as possible last night. And, apart from a handful of dangerous Kareem “Tiny” Joseph free kicks, the Sharks were rarely troubled by the plucky “Eastern Stallions”, who slipped two places to seventh.
Central’s pragmatic approach made for an interesting comparison with their Couva rivals, W Connection, who routed Point Fortin Civic 7-0 in the opening game of the Ato Boldon Stadium double header.
The result saw Connection storm three places up the 10-team table to third place with seven points from four matches. Point Fortin, in contrast, slumped to the foot of the table and, if their effort last night was any guide, they are likely to stay there.
Connection tore Civic apart through different approaches down either flank. Full back Kurt Frederick pushed high up the left side and got far too much time and space to send delicious sliding balls for Dimitrie Apai and Neil Benjamin to chase.
At the other end, former Siparia Stars attacker Daniel Diaz made darting runs from inside to out and back again that totally undid the mental health of Civic left back Ansil Wells, who was sent off for striking an opponent in the 40th minute. Wells was so mesmerised by Diaz that he hit Connection right back Ronell Paul instead.
Connection had just two goals at that point—one apiece from Apai and Benjamin. But did they ever exploit that numerical superiority thereafter.
Civic, who didn’t press, read long passes or work out that Connection were overloading their right flank, were ripe for the taking. And Benjamin had a hattrick by the hour mark while Toussaint and Diaz got one each and Gerard Williams chipped in with a precise penalty kick.
The final scoreline surely stung Civic coach Dick Furlonge. But probably not as much as the wastefulness in possession of his most experienced player, Sylvester Teesdale, and the resignation in the body language of his best player, Akeem Redhead.
Would Morvant Caledonia be any better? The Eastern Stallions put in an abject performance last week in a 4-2 home defeat to San Juan Jabloteh and, with attacker Jair “Sam” Edwards already missed for disciplinary reasons, coach Rajesh Latchoo’s star striker, Kordell Samuel, also missed the bus. Literally.
“He can’t be on the team and want to come for 7pm when he knows he has to be there for 6pm,” Latchoo told Wired868.
Regardless, the Stallions started well and could have gone ahead in the eighth minute but for a brilliant save by Central custodian Jan-Michael Williams, who stuck out a right arm to deny Seon Thomas’ header off a Jameel “Shooter” Neptune corner kick.
Neptune made much of the early running for Caledonia, as he exposed the frailty of Central stopper Andre Ettienne and right back Keston George when asked to defend one on one.
Just as crucial to Morvant Caledonia’s early foothold on the game was their braveness in possession and ability to pass the ball through opposing midfield territory, led by 2006 World Cup veteran Densill Theobald’s finest display so far this season.
Central’s approach was more reminiscent of Bob Marley’s lyrics in The Heathen: “He who fight and run away; live to fight another day…”
“I know Caledonia will always be a tough opposition,” said Central coach Dale Saunders. “They organise differently and they pass the ball a lot, so we were prepared for that…
“If you look at their defensive line, they had a lot of numbers in their midfield zone. So what we tried to do was eradicate that [by going long] and get their defenders to turn and chase the ball.”
And so, despite having midfield technicians like Soca Warriors playmaker Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings and the two-time World Youth Cup duo of Leston Paul and Sean De Silva, Central preferred to let Ettienne hoof balls into the channels for Marcus Joseph and Jason Marcano to chase, rather than risk being stripped in a midfield battle.
Perhaps, as Latchoo conceded, Central might have been encouraged by Jabloteh’s success against Caledonia with the long ball last weekend. But it was not easy on the eye.
“We wanted the three points and we got that,” said Saunders.
It is hard to argue with that, particularly at a club with a history of ruthlessness where coaches and players are concerned.
For the first 15 minutes, Central’s route one approach looked embarrassingly outmoded and was easily mopped up by the opposing defence. But, bit by bit, the cracks began to emerge, as the Morvant Caledonia defence was sometimes slow to spot the movement of the opposition while goalkeeper Marvin Phillip did not help out by playing a high line.
Joseph got the game’s first clear chance off a hopeful punt in the 17th minute but his chipped attempt was well saved by Phillip. In the end, it was slack defending off a corner kick that provided the breakthrough as Marcano volleyed home unmarked from a Joseph set piece in the 27th minute.
And, 12 minutes later, Central final scored from a long kick, as Joseph pounced to finish with a fierce angled drive into the far corner.
Latchoo explained that it was a calculated gamble to allow Central the long ball option.
“The plan was we start [defending] at line two [just inside our opponent’s half of the field] and then engage in the press,” said Latchoo. “Our focus was to stop them from playing through the centre of the field and we did. Was I worried about a man making a 60-yard pass? Yes and no.
“The worrying part was our defenders didn’t pick it up a few times. And there was this little pause between the reaction, which would give ‘Nellie’ [Marcano] and Marcano that one yard [of space]…”
Morvant Caledonia did find a response in the 43rd minute with that rare collector’s item that is a Theobald goal. Theobald produced a tidy finish after the Central backline failed to clear from an inviting Neptune cross.
To put that into context, Theobald’s strike yesterday matched his entire output in 2014/15 and was one better than he managed in 2015/16—granted that he left halfway through the season in both cases for professional stints in India.
The Stallions’ early fizz had waned by then though, as they also began to play more direct; but without the players who would thrive from such an approach.
In their case, it was, according to Latchoo, a combination of low confidence and heavy legs.
“After [the first Central] goal, [our players] started to play too safe and opted for long diagonal ball because they were not seeing immediate support. So it was more nature than tactics.”
Central’s dour pragmatism and Morvant Caledonia’s lack of fitness and focus to effectively counter, meant for a match that often lacked the technical expertise and creativity of an earlier Pro League generation, when ball handlers like Arnold Dwarika, Kerwin “Hardest” Jemmott, Aurtis Whitley, Gefferson Goulart and Lyndon Andrews roamed local playing fields.
But then Saunders suggested that he would harness the creativity of Cummings and unused substitute Kadeem Corbin when the time is right. For now, Ball Pest is an insurance policy that the Sharks don’t need to activate.
“I am impressed with Keron with how he is closing down the football and getting close to his man [defensively],” said Saunders. “He is doing that a lot. We know he can create magic in a second but we are impressed with his attitude.”
Once more, the Central coach had a point, although, for the neutral, it still looked like using a treasure map for a table cloth.
There was a late scare as Williams delayed in clearing the ball and almost lost a leg to an enthusiastic challenge to Morvant Caledonia skipper Akim Armstrong.
Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart must have gasped for air in the stands. But, after three minutes of medical treatment, Williams was back on his feet.
It might have been the only time in the contest that anybody held their breath.
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 5.Keston George (15.Kaydion Gabriel 55), 4.Andre Ettienne, 3.Keion Goodridge, 24.Kevon Villaroel, 6.Leston Paul, 8.Sean De Silva, 11.Darren Mitchell (captain) (19.Nathaniel Garcia 71), 10.Keron Cummings (17.Johan Peltier 86), 7.Jason Marcano, 99.Marcus Joseph,
Unused substitutes: 1.Javon Sample (GK), 16.Kadeem Corbin, 26.Jem Gordon.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Morvant Caledonia United (4-2-3-1): 1.Marvin Phillip (GK); 12.Kareem Joseph, 5.Seon Thomas, 6.Taje Commissiong, 16.Amos Ramsay; 18.Maestro Mensah, 21.Densill Theobald; 23.Lester Joseph (8.Anthony Charles 89), 17.Akim Armstrong (captain), 22.Jameel Neptune; 10.Sheldon Holder (11.Dominic Douglas 81).
Unused substitutes: 30.Stephon Seepersad (GK), 2.Kevin Layne, 13.Jordan Devonish, 14.Keron Bethelmy,
Coach: Rajesh Latchoo
Referee: Keilon Bacchus
Man of the Match: Marcus Joseph (Central FC)
Pro League results
(Friday 21 October)
Club Sando 3 (Keithy Simpson 53, 78, Akeem Humphrey 85), Defence Force 2 (Hashim Arcia 35, Sean Narcis 45) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Dylon King 32, Marvin Lee 90+2), Police FC 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Sunday 23 October)
San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Jamal Gay 75), Ma Pau Stars 0 at Barataria Recreation Ground;
(Tuesday 24 October)
W Connection 7 (Dimitrie Apai 23, Neil Benjamin 37, 43, 54, Andre Toussaint 61, Gerard Williams 81 pen, Daniel Diaz 88), Point Fortin Civic 0 at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central FC 2 (Jason Marcano 27, Marcus Joseph 39), Morvant Caledonia United 1 (Densill Theobald 43) at Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Friday 28 October)
W Connection vs Defence Force, 6pm, Mahaica Oval;
Central FC vs Ma Pau Stars, 8pm, Mahaica Oval;
(Sunday 30 October)
Club Sando vs Morvant Caledonia United, 4pm, Mahaica Oval;
Point Fortin Civic vs St Ann’s Rangers, 6.30pm, Mahaica Oval;
(Tuesday 1 November)
Police FC vs San Juan Jabloteh, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.
Standings (Tabulated as Won-Drawn-Lost-Goals For-Goals Against-Points)
Central FC 4-4-0-0-10-4-12 (-)(-)
S/Juan Jabloteh 4-3-0-1-7-4-9 (-)(+3)
W Connection 4-2-1-1-12-5-7 (+3)(+2)
S/A Rangers 4-2-1-1-5-4-7 (+3)(-3)
Ma Pau Stars 4-2-0-2-6-6-6 (-2)(+4)
Police FC 4-1-2-1-9-7-5 (-2)(-2)
M’vt Caledonia 4-1-1-2-7-8-4 (-2)(-2)
Club Sando 4-1-0-3-5-7-3 (+2)(-1)
Defence Force 4-1-0-3-5-10-3 (-1)(-2)
Point Fortin 4-0-1-3-3–14-1 (-1)(+1)