A fortuitous late strike by Signal Hill Secondary attacker Jalanie James settled a tight and generally scrappy Coca Cola National Intercol quarterfinal affair this evening in Plymouth, where the Tobago giants held off St Mary’s College 1-0.
On the “Sister Isle,” it was a single error, exploited by canny predatory awareness, that made all the difference.
In the 82nd minute, St Mary’s custodian Regaleo Holder got both hands to a straightforward effort from Signal Hill midfielder Jabarry Francis but, inexplicably, he failed to hold on. And James was right on spot to take advantage with a downward header across the goal-line.
For the diminutive James, it was the second consecutive game where he decided matters, his solitary strike having taken Signal Hill past Speyside High last Tuesday in the Tobago Intercol final.
For the high-flying visitors, it was an abrupt fall back to earth. In last week’s North Zone final, a rasping left-footed strike by Tyrese Spicer had given them their last-gasp win over St Anthony’s College in the “Battle of the Saints” and booked a ticket to the National quarterfinal for them.
However, although Spicer did have a few powerful swings of his left boot today, he and his St Mary’s teammates never looked up to the task of matching the pace of a faster, hungrier Signal Hill team.
“Coming into the game, we just tried to stay disciplined and stay organised and when we got our chances, score,” Signal Hill coach Nigel De Souza told Wired868. “We knew it would have been a tough game. They played St Anthony’s very well and they got a 1-0 victory so we know they are very strong defensively.”
To say that the “Saints” were bullied by the hosts would be harsh. But all the same, nobody from the visiting contingent would have relished the battles with rugged Signal Hill defender Jokiah Leacock.
The Signal Hill centre-back was consistently bullish mood in the middle of the defence and when players like the skilful midfield St Mary’s trio of Gabriel Nanton, Trey La Motte and Michel Poon-Angeron—and Spicer!—were around, he showed no interest in taking prisoners.
On the offensive end too, Leacock did his bit, using his bulky arms to cause St Mary’s no end of problems with his searching long throws. Less than ten minutes before the eventual game winner, Holder had been warned about Leacock’s rocket throws—both James and skipper Akil Frank coming agonisingly close to giving the hosts the lead.
Signal Hill weren’t playing St Mary’s off the park with champagne football but Frank, James and the central midfield duo of Akiel Holdford and Jabarry Francis all showed their willingness to run at the visitors.
Signal Hill attacker Ronaldo Samuel often found himself on the end of mazy runs or long punts from the back and, near the half-hour mark, he misfired badly with a close-range swipe after Frank had capped off a determined run down the left with a better-than-decent cross.
In a game where clear-cut chances were at a premium, it looked as though a moment of brilliance—or madness—would decide the outcome.
Spicer came close to supplying the brilliance in the 36th minute but he curled his left-footed effort from the edge of the area just wide. A few moments later, Poon-Angeron followed suit with a right-footed free kick from a tight angle.
In their two preceding matches, the Saints had found saviours in Nanton and Spicer who conjured up late winners. Today, however, once their dangerous pair was not near the action, St Mary’s always looked like they would need a miracle’.
Coach Ryan Shim disagreed with the suggestion that his team was over-reliant on a couple players.
“Again, it’s 11 players out here,” Shim told Wired868. “I know that goals win matches but everyone has to do their part. And that’s the ethos we try to have here. It just happened this year that Tyrese had a fantastic season up to the North Zone final…
“I think defensively we did very well. And even today, I thought we did well. It’s just unfortunate that we gave up that one goal.”
In the second half, the anguish of the St Mary’s supporters in the stands increased with every misplaced pass or botched clearance; the home fans, in contrast, began to find their voices.
“Jabarry [Francis], this is war,” a female Signal Hill supporter shouted. “Don’t give up the fight; this is a fight to the end.”
But the combative Francis hardly needs any encouragement to display his fighting spirit. And De Souza gave credit to his senior players for galvanising the team following their demotion after the Premier Division campaign.
“It wasn’t easy [trying to re-focus the team] but at the same time I think the senior players did a great job of keeping the players’ heads in it,” De Souza said, “because about seven of them are playing in their final year. They wanted to go out with a bang and give the team a fighting chance to win the Intercol title.”
Frank tried to lead by example when, in the 53rd minute, he forced Holder into a low save from a tight angle after another determined solo run down the left flank.
On the other end two minutes later, over-playing arguably cost the visitors a goal, Poon-Angeron, in the six-yard box, opting for cheeky execution of a shot after working a neat wall pass with Nanton and leaving a Signal Hill defender on his backside.
“I think we struggled to settle on this surface,” Shim said. “But in saying that, both teams had to play on it so that’s not an excuse for us. My midfield struggled to put passes together today.”
With a bit more composure in the second half, Signal Hill were able to string meaningful passes together in the final third. And again, there were warning signs for the visitors.
In the 77th minute, Holder just about corralled a neat James through-ball intended to coincide with the end of a clever run by Samuel.
And five minutes later, when Frank found Francis on the edge of the area, Holder could not keep hold of a curling left-footed effort and James obliged by heading the ball over the line.
For De Souza, his team’s plan of hitting St Mary’s on the break had paid dividends.
“They have a midfielder who sits deep and likes to spray to the sides,” De Souza explained. “So we know we could have gotten at them defensively when they leave space through the middle and we just tried to use that tactic. It paid off in the end so we are glad for the win today.”
Shim, in contrast, was disappointed that his team could not replicate their 3-2 win over Signal Hill in the Premier Division campaign.
“We knew that Signal Hill would be a very tough match for us today,” he said, “and we had the added stress of travelling so you always have to weigh that against our performance.
“At the end of the day, the boys tried their best and they gave 100% and that’s all I can ask of them.”
The result means Signal Hill, who were relegated from the Premier Division at the end of this season, will progress to the semi-final round on Thursday when they meet defending National Intercol champions, San Juan North Secondary from 3.30pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The clash between San Juan North and Signal Hill will be followed immediately from 5:30pm at the same venue by the second semi-final between Shiva Boys’ Hindu College and Carapichaima East Secondary.
Two of the three National Intercol titles in the Premier Division era have been won by teams who had just been relegated with Mucurapo East Secondary triumphing in 2014 while San Juan North followed suit in 2016.
In San Juan North’s case, though, the East Zone outfit were able to beat the drop in the boardroom as they garnered enough support to nullify the standings. De Souza is not counting on lightning to strike in that same place again. But they are determined to do all in their power to change their Intercol fate this year.
In last season’s competition, Signal Hill lost to Presentation College San Fernando on penalties and went out at the semi-final stage.
“In this tournament, there are no guarantees. […] Anything could happen but what we could guarantee is that we are going to leave everything on the pitch to give a good account of ourselves.”
Signal Hill Secondary (4-2-3-1): 25.Duvaugn Daniel (GK); 13.Giovani Sebro, 15.Darion Stewart, 6.Jokiah Leacock, 20.Jabari George; 22.Jabarry Francis (11.Kedar Combie 90+2), 7.Akiel Holdford; 10.Akil Frank (captain), 5.Tareek Richards (14.Nicholas Alfred 62), 8.Jalanie James; 9.Ronaldo Samuel (4.Jabari McMillan 79).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Isaiah Campbell (GK), 12.Dexter Cossou, 18.Keishon Small, 19.Omari Edwards.
Coach: Nigel De Souza
St Mary’s College (4-2 3-1): 30.Regaleo Holder (GK); 21.Justin Gibbon (22.Augustine Nkemakolam 85), 4.Schileon Phillip, 8.Matthaeus Granger, 12.Kevon Alonzo; 6.Justin Keith, 11.Gabriel Nanton (captain); 7.Terran Winner, 10.Michel Poon-Angeron,16.Tyrese Spicer; 19.Trey La Motte (27.Devon Charles 68).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Jordan Bidaisee (GK), 14.Elijah Bain Hares, 18.Kyle Carrington, 23.Brendon Lewis, 26.Jed Rigsby.
Coach: Ryan Shim
Referee: Keon Yorke
Wired868 Man-of-the-Match: Jokiah Leacock
Coca Cola National Intercol quarterfinals
(Monday 27 November)
Signal Hill Secondary 1 (Jalanie James 82), St Mary’s College 0 at Plymouth;
Upcoming National Intercol fixtures
(Thursday 30 November)
San Juan North Secondary v Signal Hill Secondary, 3.30pm, National semifinals, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Shiva Boys’ Hindu College v Carapichaima East Secondary, 5.30pm, National semifinals, Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Monday 4 December)
National Girls Intercol finals, 3pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
National Boys Intercol Finals, 5pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.