It looked like a fine afternoon for “Showtime.” Somehow, Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) head coach Shawn Cooper got his hands on the remote and, without asking if it was alright with anyone else, switched channels.
By the final whistle, QPCC had stretched their lead atop the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) standings to five points, after a come from behind 2-1 triumph over a Kevon “Showtime” Woodley-inspired Cunupia FC at the St Mary’s College ground on Serpentine Road, St Clair.
That was the who, what, when and where of the TTSL’s top of the table clash. The ‘how’, though, was a far trickier proposition—particularly as the “Parkites” were without former Trinidad and Tobago internationals Sean De Silva, Kevon Villaroel and Elton John; and looked in danger of being overrun at times in the first half.
“The referee [Kwinsi Williams was the key to that defeat],” said crestfallen Cunupia coach Michael De Four, after the final whistle. “For [QPCC’s] first goal, the ball had gone out of play and the linesman for some reason didn’t see it; and they kept playing and scored.
“[…] And during the course of the game, we could have gotten five or six penalty calls; and we didn’t get one. We don’t have VAR here but I felt a little peeved.”
It was a clichéd response and, almost certainly, a harsh assessment of Williams’ performance. Cooper offered another perspective.
“We know that ‘Showtime’ is their main target player and they play off of him, with their runners coming from midfield,” Cooper told Wired868. “So we asked one of our midfielders to shield the ball coming into him, and make sure he couldn’t turn and find his midfielders.”
If it sounded like a simple enough proposition, it was anything but. A former Pro League striker with Caledonia AIA and Club Sando and a Trinidad and Tobago international Beach Soccer and Futsal player, the 31 year old Woodley is local football’s answer to a Swiss Army knife.
‘Showtime’ can hold the ball up, sprint behind the opposing defence, dribble, and shoot with either foot; and Cunupia played through him as if he was the Road March.
In the 31st minute, Woodley—the TTSL’s current top scorer with seven goals from six matches at kick off—demonstrated why he is so highly regarded, as he effortlessly rolled an opposing central defender and kept him at bay with pace, strength and balance, before prodding past QPCC goalkeeper Kevin Graham.
Unfortunately for Cunupia, Woodley’s effort hit the post and rebounded to safety.
The solo effort was all the more impressive considering that the QPCC defender left in his wake was Leslie Joel Russell, a former Trinidad and Tobago national youth team player and Pro League champion with San Juan Jabloteh and W Connection.
“Yuh getting it again just now, ‘Show’!” a Cunupia teammate yelled encouragingly. “Don’t worry!”
And there was no reason to doubt the visitors’ confidence either, as Cunupia playmaker Isaiah Mejias bossed the midfield, central defender and captain Maestro Mensah looked a vision of composure at the back, and Woodley stretched the opposing defence.
“Fellahs, sometimes you have to suffer to win,” QPCC defender and ex-T&T international, Yohance Marshall, cajoled his players. “If it means that we have to defend for long periods of time; if that is what it required for victory, so be it…”
Undoubtedly, the Parkites would have been happier with the goalless score at halftime than their opponents. Cooper reinforced his plan to curb Cunupia’s clever couple of Woodley and Mejias.
“We asked the players not to let [Cunupia] go down the sides of the fields because they would pull it back for their midfield runners,” said Cooper. “They are very good at that. So they were basically forced to play through the middle, where we had the protection.
“[…] We said too that from the time the ball goes into ‘Showtime’, we are going with a block of four to deal with the runners coming. We played with three tight lines, just 10 yards apart, so room would be limited [for Mejias].”
And yet, in the 56th minute, Mejias and Woodley made a mockery of Cooper’s best tactical designs.
With QPCC defending on top of their own penalty box, Mejias lobbed a ball into the crowded area for Woodley. Somehow, ‘Showtime’ kept possession long enough to rattle the opposing defence before teeing up a runner; and midfielder Keron Clarke hit first time into the corner with his first touch as substitute.
It was as much as Cunupia deserved. But, unknown to almost everyone in attendance at the time, that was when the visitors’ trouble really started.
“We will wake up now or wot?!” Marshall asked his teammates, loudly and provocatively. “We will wake up now?!”
To the smiling Cunupia players, Marshall’s verbal response might have sounded grouchy and harmless. But their moods changed within two minutes as, suddenly more assertive, the Parkites drew level off a set piece.
Marshall was again involved as he headed a deep cross into the Cunupia goalmouth, where midfielder Kevaughn John was on spot to bundle the ball into the back of an unprotected net.
De Four was convinced that the ball had gone out before Marshall got to it; but it was difficult to judge from the sidelines and referee Kwinsi Williams and his assistant Jordan Cox clearly did not agree.
And, in the 61st minute, things got worse for Cunupia, as QPCC midfielder Keston George—a former Pro League champion with Central FC—scored with a crisp drive at the near post, after a fluent exchange.
“We approached [QPCC’s first goal as if] we only had five minutes to try and win the game,” said De Four. “[The Cunupia players] changed their tone and played as if they were under pressure; but I don’t think they were under pressure.
“[…] We could have controlled that [enthusiasm] a little more and stuck to our game plan.”
Those three glorious minutes were enough for Cooper, as he replaced his wide attacking midfielders, Kern Gardiner and John, with Presentation College (San Fernando) schoolboy Juaval Roberts and Mylz Barrington—in a bid to offer extra security down either flank. Roberts and Barrington both played as full backs for ‘Pres’ last season.
There was one heart in throat moment for the hosts, as Barrington took a swipe at Woodley in his own penalty area. But, by and large, Marshall and Russell combined well to cancel Showtime.
Cooper, a former national youth team coach, can be miserly when it comes to praising individuals. But he was effusive when asked about Marshall’s impact at the TTSL club.
“Yohance is a charismatic player and a leader of men; and I think [Soca Warriors head coach] Dennis Lawrence should still be looking at him,” said Cooper. “He trains very hard, he is a dedicated professional and he lend his experience to the youngsters, so he is very important and integral part of Queen’s Park.
“I think he still has a lot to offer for our national senior team.”
Four years ago, Marshall was matching wits with Lionel Messi in Buenos Aires for the Soca Warriors. Then there was his stoppage time header against Mexico at the 2015 Concacaf Gold Cup, in an unforgettable 4-4 draw.
Even last year, Marshall, who also played professionally in Mexico, was steering North East Stars to an unlikely Pro League crown in the local top flight.
But, if shoring up the QPCC backline was a step down, Marshall did not give a hint of self-pity—as he played traffic warden to the Cunupia attack yesterday.
“When you come from that [professional] background, sometimes [such] players tend to not pull their weight and play ‘big boy’ on the team,” said Cooper. “But Yohance is 100 percent committed; and he is always on the guys to put in a professional shift all the time.
“I think he has been in the Super League ‘Team of the Week’ for every week since the season started.”
Marshall’s inspiring show helped QPCC to an unlikely three points, as they remain on top of the TTSL pack. It was just as well too, as Guaya United and FC Santa Rosa—the 2017 and 2016 champions respectively—also showed signs of recovery on the weekend.
Rosa routed third place Matura ReUnited 5-0 on Saturday evening while Guaya snatched a last gasp 3-1 win over Police FC on Sunday afternoon.
Cooper suggested that QPCC’s ability to thrive without their top scorer, De Silva, and key assets like Villaroel and John, indicated that their title chase as built on sterner stuff than rivals might have realised.
“It was definitely more special to win [in such a big match] without those guys,” said Cooper. “We had to dig deep […] but everybody is training hard and keeping themselves ready for if they are called on. And I think the guys put in their shift.”
Not that Cunupia are ready to hand them the trophy yet, anyway.
“The season has 19 more games, so we will continue to work and fix the little errors,” said De Four. “It is a long season; don’t worry…”
QPCC FC (4-2-3-1): 34.Kevin Graham (GK); 3.J’ovan Marshall, 5.Yohance Marshall, 19.Leslie Joel Russell, 15.Terevon Mitchell; 12.Kashif Clarke, 22.Nasyir Rodriguez (captain); 18.Kern Gardiner (23.Juaval Roberts 67), 7.Keston George, 27.Kevaugn John (16.Mylz Barrington 81); 10.Devon Modeste (26.Glen Walker 86).
Unused substitutes: 37.Denzil Carabon (GK), 17.Jabari Raphael.
Coach: Shawn Cooper
Cunupia FC: 24.Keston Aberdeen (GK); 6.Kerron St Cyr (4.Kemron George 70), 12.Stefon Pierre, 18.Maestro Mensah (captain), 3.Phillip Nelson; 5.Stephen Julien, 14.Ricardo Castellano (17.Kerri McDonald 89); 7.Theon James, 9.Isaiah Mejias; 10.Michael Yaw Darko (11.Keron Clarke 54), 19.Kevon Woodley.
Unused substitutes: 13.Christopher Byng (GK), 2.Anthony Frank.
Coach: Michael De Four
Referee: Kwinsi Williams
Wired868 Man of the Match: Yohance Marshall (QPCC)
2018 TTSL results
(Saturday 21 July)
Club Sando FC 1 (Jamal Burke 45), San F’do Giants 1 (Keston Grant 45) at Dibe Rec Grd, Long Circular;
Matura Re-United 0, FC Santa Rosa 5 (Kevon Cornwall 9, Ryan Stewart 24, 56, Kheelon Mitchell 47, Giovanni Abraham 90), Guaya Recreation Ground;
UTT 2 (Cyrano Glen 47, Shaquille Nesbitt 85 pen), Prisons FC 3 (Nathan Julien 40, Andre Mohammed 61, 63) at UTT, O’Meara;
Petit Valley/Diego Martin Utd 0, Metal X Erin FC 0 at St Anthony’s College;
(Sunday 22 July)
Guaya United 3 (Justin Fournillier 7, OG 87, Leroy Jones 90+3), Police FC 1 (Jason Boodram 24) at Guaya Rec Grd;
RSSR FC 3 (Jovon Vincent 10, Hakim Gulston 31, Nathan Cadore 52), Bethel United 3 (Densyl James 25, 57, 90+3);
QPCC 2 (Kevaughn John 58, Keston George 61), Cunupia FC 1 (Keron Clarke 56) at St Mary’s College Grounds.
(Saturday 28 July)
Metal X Erin FC v Guaya Utd, 6pm, Erin Recreation Ground;
UTT v Santa Rosa, 7pm, UTT, O’Meara Campus;
San F’do Giants v Matura Re-United, 4pm, St Margaret’s Recreation Ground;
Cunupia FC v Club Sando FC, 4pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
(Sunday 29 July)
Prisons FC v Petit Valley/D’go Martin Utd, 4pm, YTC, Arouca;
Police FC v RSSR FC, 4pm, Police Barracks, St James;
Bethel United v QPCC, 6pm, Mt Gomery Recreation Ground.