Somehow, Central FC always seem to find a way. Trailing by an early goal and then by a player, the “Couva Sharks” did not score until the 87th minute.
Yet, at the final whistle in the Ato Boldon Stadium last night, Central were 2-1 winners over Defence Force and their dream of a historic third successive Pro League title was very much on again.
Central lead DIRECTV W Connection by a solitary point at the top of the standings—with 41 and 40 points respectively—while San Juan Jabloteh are a distant third with 29.
Jabloteh might have the last word though. There are only two games remaining in the truncated 2016/17 season and Central and Connection must both play Jabloteh once each. Central’s next outing is against third from bottom St Ann’s Rangers while Connection end their season against fourth placed Ma Pau Stars.
No Pro League team has ever won three straight league titles and it seems unlikely that Central will have another chance.
For the past two years, the Sharks appeared to be in perpetual conflict with managing director Brent Sancho forever stuck in the middle, as the club fell out with sponsors, sacked coaches and fought with their own players—sometimes, almost literally.
Yet, every week, Central find a way to channel all that anger and tension against the unlucky team that happen to be facing them.
Last night, it was the turn of the Defence Force. Of course, the script looked quite different early on.
The Army/Coast Guard combination were on a three match winless streak at kick off. But, just 10 minutes in, they were ahead as a defensive blunder by Central defender Keon Goodridge left Hashim Arcia all alone inside the penalty area.
Arcia, a former Pro League champion with Connection, rounded opposing goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams to put the “Teteron Boys” ahead.
It could easily have been 2-0 to the soldiers in the 29th minute, as left back Akile Edwards hit goalward from six yards—from a Defence Force corner kick—only for Central midfielder Sean De Silva to clear off the line.
And, a minute later, there were heads in hands again as overlapping defender Rodell Elcock ran on to Jerwyn Balthazar through pass but then failed to hit the target from inside the Central penalty area.
Still, Defence Force appeared to have been awarded breathing space when referee Cecile Hinds showed a straight red card to Central forward Rundell Winchester in the 50th minute.
Winchester had just rolled the ball through the legs of Defence Force midfielder Kerry Joseph but, frustrated by his inability to complete the trick by regaining possession, he pulled his opponent to the ground.
Hinds awarded a free kick to Defence Force and, presumably, Winchester responded with a comment that the referee deemed unfit for the football field. Almost certainly, the former Trinidad and Tobago international will take no further part in Central’s title chase.
In truth, the scoreline was merely an inconvenience by then. If it were a Halloween slasher movie, Defence Force would be the dainty teenaged girl who looked to be running in quicksand and the Sharks would be the menacing figure with the hoodie and the blood-stained kitchen knife.
Twice, Central came close to par before the expulsion, as new signing and former international defender Julius James sent a bullet header inches wide off a set piece in the 32nd minute while Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke produced a brilliant save to deny opposing forward Jason Marcano in the 40th minute.
And, three minutes after Winchester’s expulsion, the pattern continued as Defence Force utility player Curtis “Boyo” Gonzales cleared off his own goal line following a snap shot in the area by Central left back Kevon Villaroel.
An equalising goal seemed inevitable and the only mystery seemed to be who would apply the finishing touch for Central. Surely nobody would have picked Elcock for that honour, though.
As substitute Kishun Seecharan’s corner kick arced into the opposing box, Elcock rose and connected with a thunderous header. He probably did not mean to send the ball smashing into his own net off the underside of the bar. But it sure did not look that way.
The Sharks smelt blood and should have gone ahead in the 77th minute, as Marcano tore down the left flank and treated Clarke to a piping drive that was too hot for the opposing goalkeeper to handle.
And, as he dropped the ball, there was Central captain and live-wire Darren “Chucky” Mitchell to mop up. It should have been his eighth league goal this season—a commendable figure for the player who started this term at right back and has never been a prolific scorer at this level.
For once, Mitchell’s poise deserted him and his spliced effort was a contender for miss of the season.
Maybe the dainty teenaged girl would escape the slasher after all.
There were just three minutes left on the clock when, for the umpteenth time in the history of second rate horror flicks, the girl inexplicably plopped over just as safety beckoned.
Or, to be more precise, the towering Elcock was somehow so petrified at the diminutive Mitchell getting on the end of a Kaydion Gabriel cross that he pushed him in the back.
It was, in a word, stupid. And Marcano made no mistake from the resulting penalty kick.
The Sharks were back on top. And, with the Pro League prize within sight, they have a steely, unsettling look in their eyes.
Central FC (4-3-1-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 26.Jem Gordon (15.Kaydion Gabriel 86), 33.Julius James, 3.Keion Goodridge, 24.Kevon Villaroel; 5.Keston George, 6.Leston Paul, 11.Darren Mitchell (captain); 8.Sean De Silva (12.Kishun Seecharan 63); 77.Rundell Winchester, 7.Jason Marcano.
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 10.Keron Cummings, 18.Rhondel Gibson, 28.Jules Lee, 45.Tyrik John.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Defence Force (4-2-3-1): 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK); 6.Rodell Elcock, 3.Jamali Garcia (19.Thurlani George 51), 26.Justin Garcia, 21.Akile Edwards; 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain), 8.Chris Durity; 17.Curtis Gonzales, 10.Hashim Arcia (7.Jamille Boatswain 83), 23.Kerry Joseph (14.Darryl Trim 75); 9.Devorn Jorsling.
Unused substitutes: 22.Anthony Charles, 32.Jameel Cooper, 37.Casim Kellar, 39.Akil Morris.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Cecile Hinds
Man of the match: Jason Marcano (Central FC)
Pro League result
(Tuesday 24 January)
Defence Force 1 (Hashim Arcia 10), Central FC 2 (Rodell Elcock OG 66, Jason Marcano 87 pen) at Ato Boldon Stadium.
Pro League Standings (Tabulated as Won-Drawn-Lost-Goals For-Goals Against-Points)
Central FC 16-13-2-1-34-14-41
W Connection 16-13-1-2-47–13-40
S/Juan Jabloteh 16-9-2-5-32-21-29
Ma Pau Stars 16-7-4-5-31-27-25
Club Sando 16-6-3-7-27-29-21
Defence Force 16-6-2-8-23-27-20
Police FC 16-4-4-8-32-33-16
S/A Rangers 16-4-4-8-20-30-16
M’vt Caledonia 16-2-5-9-18-29-11
Point Fortin 16-1-3-12-15–56-6