Cunupia FC closed off the 2018 Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) season with a 2-1 victory over Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) in the League Cup final at the Arima Velodrome last night.
The victory was all the more impressive for Cunupia, as they managed it without the services of their suspended marksman Kevon “Showtime” Woodley, who is the TTSL’s top scorer for 2018.
For QPCC, it was a bitter pill to swallow. A 2018 season which promised so much—after the acquisitions of seasoned Pro League campaigners like Sean De Silva, Keston George, Elton John, Yohance Marshall and Kevon Villaroel—ended with the “Parkites” finishing runners-up to FC Santa Rosa in the League and now second best to Cunupia in the Cup final.
Talk about being so close, but yet so far!
A couple Sundays ago, QPCC were depending on Cunupia to defeat Rosa in order to help their own League aspirations. But despite Showtime’s best efforts, Rosa squeezed their way to a second League title in three years.
The lanky Woodley helped put Cunupia in the Cup final, as he scored in their semi-final win over Rosa but was then ejected in a tense second half. But, judging by the boisterous picong from a few Cunupia supporters, the boys in yellow did not need their star in the Velodrome.
“Aye a cricket club can’t beat us boy,” one Cunupia fan told a small posse of QPCC supporters. “If Showtime did play that would ah be advantage!”
While the off-field action was engaging, the action on the field wasn’t too shabby either. And just as in their two previous meetings this season, Cunupia struck first through a Michael Yaw Darko penalty in the 20th minute, only for Devon Modeste to level from the spot in the 33rd minute.
Cunupia are one of the easiest teams on the eyes in the TTSL. And QPCC tried their utmost to cut out their opponent’s short passing game, as tricky forwards Darko and Hakeem Legall were swarmed by sky blue shirts whenever they got possession.
“Without Showtime today, we knew that Darko and Legall were going to be the players that they would go to,” said QPCC assistant coach Wayne Sheppard. “They’re not post up players like Showtime. They’re skilful guys who could turn quickly, so the game plan was to put pressure to stop their momentum and then let the midfielders drop back and take it off of them from the front.”
Darko’s opener started with his own inventive play as he dropped a shoulder to get by Marshall before back-heeling to midfielder Gerald Meloney, whose lobbed pass was clumsily handled by QPCC left back Kern Gardiner. The usually reliable Gardiner had an absolute shocker last night and never seemed to recover from his first half error.
While QPCC tried to keep tabs on the skilful Darko, who oozed confidence with every touch, Cunupia had their own problems containing deep midfield runs from their opponents—mainly George. In the 33rd minute, George’s midfield partner Nasyir Rodriguez won a penalty when the burly Stephen Julien unceremoniously hauled him down in the area.
Once Modeste calmly slotted away from the penalty spot, the cat and mouse game looked set to resume.
Cunupia’s bench boasted only outfield substitute owing to inconsistent attendance at training sessions, according to coach Michael De Four. And his main concern was that Mikheil Peters—a handy striker on most occasions—would be exposed in his makeshift position at right back.
Peters looked like a fish out of water in truth, particularly in the first half when QPCC flanker Jared Bennett blew by him time and time again but failed to capitalise with poor deliveries into the opposing box.
“We were not worried about Showtime’s absence at all,” De Four told Wired868. “All we were concerned about was our right back [Peters]. They were only coming at him down on that side; but at the end of the day we have to make do with what we have. And we did well.
“We stopped it in the second half and we changed the game.”
Meloney stung the palms of QPCC goalkeeper Nicholas Dick, early in the second half, with a stiff drive from outside the area. His moment to savour came near the hour mark; and like almost everything Cunupia do, it was done in sheer style.
The combative Julien won possession in midfield before spreading the ball towards Legall down the right. The diminutive Legall dummied to Meloney before the duo worked a slick one-two. And Meloney took the return pass in stride and ghosted past a QPCC defender before slotting a low effort past Dick.
It was as though the former “Red Devils” duo of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were in action at the Velodrome—and certainly made for better viewing than anything from Jose Mourinho’s current Manchester United outfit.
Beaten twice by QPCC during League play, it was third time lucky for De Four’s squad.
“We were without our star forward but that just shows the calibre of the team, the system and the club as well,” said Du Four. “We wanted to play as disciplined as we could and rest it on them. We could have played much better but I thought we did enough to get it done.”
Du Four nearly got his wish of ‘resting it’ on QPCC when Legall stylishly dinked past Dick—two minutes after Meloney’s item—only for the item to be waved off for offside.
QPCC introduced De Silva in the 70th minute, but even he could not get the Parkites out of this hole. De Silva, who appeared in Trinidad and Tobago’s failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, hit a free kick just over the bar in the 81st minute, while fellow substitute Ackime Prudhomme saw a stoppage time effort tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Keston Malchan in stoppage time.
Du Four made it a point to highlight that he got the better of two coaches with international experience—Derek King and Shawn Cooper—in their last two matches, which he took as proof of Cunupia’s progress.
“We’re in the TTSL two years now [and] last year we came third and this year we won the League Cup and placed fourth in the League,” Du Four said. “That’s not bad at all, as we are showing consistency… The sky’s the limit right now.
“We just need chance to build and so on […] and of course there’s always room for improvement.”
Where do QPCC go from here though? And will their all-star cast be back next year?
Ideally, Sheppard would like players such as De Silva, George and Marshall to remain at the club. However, he acknowledges that they may still have ambitions of playing at a more lucrative level.
“I have been a member of Queen’s Park since 1993,” said Sheppard. “On the coaching side of things, when I think of all the teams that Queen’s Park has had, we have had more skilful and more talented teams but this year’s is the most disciplined team. And that’s because of what Marshall, De Silva, George—and [Elton] John and Villaroel when they were here—brought to the club.
“They brought a proper attitude on the pitch and training field […] I won’t begrudge them if they get a better offer to go somewhere else; but I’m hoping that we could keep them.”
Cunupia will do well to hold on to two of their most prized assets in Darko and Woodley. But for now, they will occupy themselves with gripping on to TTSL League Cup silverware for the Christmas Season.
QPCC (4-1-4-1): 1.Nicholas Dick (GK); 15.Trevon Mitchell, 5.Yohance Marshall (captain), 19.Leslie Joel Russell, 18.Kern Gardiner; 12.Kashif Clarke (8.Sean De Silva 70); 17.Rashad Griffith (27.Kevaughn John 87), 7.Keston George, 22.Nasyir Rodriguez, 21.Jared Bennett (6.Ackime Prudhomme 84); 10.Devon Modeste.
Unused Substitutes: 99.Jason Sheppard (GK), 3.J’ovan Marshall, 20.Shomari Antoine, 30.Curtis Andrew.
Coach: Shawn Cooper
Cunupia FC (4-3-3): 1.Keston Malchan (GK); 21.Mikheil Peters, 18.Maestro Mensah (captain), 12.Stefon Pierre, 7.Theon James; 5.Stephen Julien, 9.Isaiah Mejias, 8.Kristian Meloney; 3.Hakeem Legall, 10.Michael Yaw Darko, 15.Gerald Meloney (23.Darieon Bernard 76).
Unused Substitutes: 13.Christopher Byng.
Coach: Michael De Four
Referee: Kwinsi Williams
TTSL Cup Final
(Sunday 16 November)
QPCC 1 (Devon Modeste pen 33), Cunupia FC 2 (Michael Darko pen 20, Gerald Meloney 61) at Arima Velodrome.