Defence Force reclaimed pole position in the Ascension Invitational Tournament yesterday, however it was anything but comprehensive, as they eked out a come from behind 2-1 win over San Juan Jabloteh at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar.
The fact that Defence Force’s decisive late item came from veteran defender Curtis ‘Boyo’ Gonzales said plenty. A Gonzales goal? Presumably, Lucifer is shopping for a winter jacket as you read this.
“We made it difficult for them,” said Jabloteh assistant coach Marvin Gordon. “At halftime when I was going into the tunnel, the Defence Force team was in uproar because they couldn’t play their football. They couldn’t play the ball around, they couldn’t get through the channels [and] they couldn’t do the things they do to the rest of teams.
“And for that I think the coaching staff at Jabloteh has to take a lot of credit for the way they set up their team.”
It was a significant mood shift from Gordon. The former Defence Force coach criticised his players’ attitude in their 2-1 win over Prison Service FC on Sunday.
The young pair of winger Kathon St Hillaire and utility player Jodel Brown came in for particular criticism regarding their contributions at the time.
But yesterday they led the charge of the young brigade—defenders Myles Yorke and Taryk Sampson and midfielders Sean Bonval and Elair Brewster also have ‘learner plates’ on—against a more seasoned Army/Coast Guard combination, led by National Futsal Team captain Jerwyn Balthazar and all-time record Pro League goal scorer Devorn Jorsling.
Jorsling, who endured his first barren evening of the season on the weekend in a goalless draw against the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, might have put the ‘Teteron Boys’ ahead as early as the sixth minute. But Jabloteh goalkeeper and captain Christopher Bigette—restored to the starting team after a debut by new signing Erskine Johnson on the weekend—was equal to the task with a fine left handed save.
If Jorsling thought that would be the first of many opportunities, he was wrong.
Jabloteh stayed narrow and compact, effectively crowding out their free scoring opponents in the dangerous parts of the field. And Defence Force, with makeshift full backs Jerome McIntyre and Jules Lee—a converted central defender and defensive midfielder respectively—never seemed able to get sufficient bodies into attacking areas to create additional passing lanes, which was compounded by the decision of wingers Reon Moore and Jelani Felix to isolate themselves by staying wide.
Defence Force coach Hutson ‘Barber’ Charles suspected that Jabloteh’s resilience owed something to inside knowledge.
“Jabloteh really came out and made us work, especially in the first half,” said Charles. “[…] Marvin [Gordon] was a part of us and he knows the players inside out. That made the game a little tougher for us.”
Gordon explained fuller.
“For the last nine years, I was sitting on the Defence Force bench [and] I recruited about 85 per cent of their players,” he said. “I know their team inside and out [and] I knew we couldn’t play open football against them because we could be in for a drubbing. So we set up [Jabloteh] tactically to play off the counter.
“[…] We allowed their stopper to have the ball today knowing it was no danger for us and knowing that we would outnumber them in the middle of the park. We denied them having the football in the attacking third to hurt us.
“[…] It was like a boxing match and we were just waiting for the right time to make the knockout punch.”
Defence Force were, temporarily, floored in the 28th minute as, after a turnover just inside the opposing half, Jabloteh countered to devastating effect. Brown released St Hillaire into space and ran on to a delightful return from his former St Anthony’s College teammate. Hillaire’s backheel assist, incidentally, rolled through the legs of a third former ‘Westmoorings Tigers’ player, opposing left back, Lee, who captained them both at schoolboy level.
Brown finished off the move with a thumping finish into the roof of the net for the opening goal.
“Kathon [St Hillaire] was much better [yesterday] and he and Jodel [Brown] caused problems on the break,” said Gordon. “I thought Jodel was brilliant for 60 minutes in the game defensively and going forward [but he] needs to get a little fitter. If he was fitter, he would have stayed on a little longer because he is one of the better players at Jabloteh in terms of touch and ability.”
Jorsling forced another save from Bigette off a free kick but there was no doubt about which team was happier at the interval.
“I think for the first 45 minutes we were on top of them tactically,” said Gordon, “and we should have left the first half [leading] 2-0 to at least give ourselves a better chance in the second half.”
By then, though, Charles had caught on.
“Jabloteh did their homework and they denied us a lot of space in the first half,” said Charles. “At half-time we told our guys we need to play more through our wing backs and our two outside midfielders. We needed our wingers to come inside so they could play more…”
Rather than driving aerial balls towards the touch lines, Gonzales sent one into the channel in the 53rd minute to pick out a diagonal run off the flank by Moore. Bigette denied Moore’s effort at his near post but, from the resulting corner, Defence Force got their equaliser as midfielder Aaron Lester met Moore’s set piece with a header that crashed in off the underside of the bar.
By the hour mark, a share of the spoils seemed fair in the ugly yet intriguing contest. Army never stopped looking for a solution, though, and it came via an unlikely source.
Gordon was furious at the unnecessary turnover by his backline but it was hard to begrudge the spiky Gonzales of his big moment, as he pounced with a cool finish to put Defence Force ahead.
Gonzales celebrated his 82nd minute item by leading his teammates over to the opposing technical area where they involved Jabloteh head coach Keith Jeffrey in a group hug.
Gonzales is opting to confound opponents with kindness now? That might be even rarer than him getting into the referee’s notebook for a goal rather than a yellow or red card.
Rangers winger Hayden Tinto, who limped off the field last weekend after a clash with Gonzales, might be rolling his eyes.
“When [Gonzales] is out there, he gives his all,” said Charles. “And it was good for him to score the winning goal.”
Jabloteh still got a late chance, only for substitute Elair Brewster to make a mess of his header off a very presentable opportunity.
Shaquille John did better off the bench but could not get sniff at goal while 14-year-old Jaheim Faustin was unavailable, after jetting off on vacation with his family.
“You have to play to the end and you can’t make mistakes,” said Gordon. “At this level, any little mistake is going to hurt you—and that is the most important thing [we] have to take away from the game.
“[…] I thought we should have still [gotten] something out of the game but that is how it is sometimes. Sometimes you have to lose to come better.”
Jabloteh are trying to finalise the registration of veteran Rangers central defender Carlyle Mitchell, who will be moving along the Eastern Main Road to San Juan without making a single appearance for the La Horquetta-based team.
For Defence Force, it was mission accomplished but not without some stumbles. Almost certainly, Jabloteh will not be the last team to try to play them that way in this competition.
Defence Force (4-1-4-1): 80.Aaron Enill (GK); 5.Jerome McIntyre (6.Rodell Elcock 82), 14.Trevin Latapy, 17.Curtis Gonzales, 13.Jules Lee; 27.Aaron Lester; 7.Jerlani Felix (15.Shaquille Bertrand 87), 26.Justin Garcia, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain) (32.Jameel Cooper 83), 18.Reon Moore (22.Darius Ollivierra 76); 9.Devorn Jorsling (11.Dwight Quintero 75).
Unused substitutes: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK), 2.Kevon Blackman, 8.Brent Sam, 16.Kellon Serrette.
Coach: Lloyd Andrews
San Juan Jabloteh (4-1-2-3): 30.Christopher Bigette (GK) (captain); 4.Nical Stephens (29.Josiah Baird 85), 28.Myles Yorke, 24.Taryk Sampson, 16.Jameel Neptune; 6.Jamal Spencer; 8.Delon Jagassar (3.Nickolai Orr 89), 10.Sean Bonval (22.Elair Brewster 75); 15.Kadeem Hutchinson, 14.Jodel Brown (7.Shaquille John 62), 26.Kathon St Hillaire,
Unused substitutes: 35.Erskin Johnson (GK), 12.Hakim Baird, 18.Kirwin Bonnette, 19.Shawndel August, 27.Josiah Daniel,
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
Referee: Marlon Peruse
Wired868 Man of the Match: Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force)
Ascension Invitational Tournament
Division One result
(Wednesday 21 August)
Defence Force 2 (Aaron Lester 55, Curtis Gonzales 82), San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Jodel Brown 28) at Larry Gomes Stadium.
(Friday 23 August)
FC Santa Rosa v Guaya United, 8pm, Arima Velodrome;
(Saturday 24 August)
Police FC v Defence Force, 4pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
Terminix La Horquetta Rangers v Cunupia FC, 6pm, La Horquetta;
Matura ReUnited v M’vt Caledonia AIA, 4pm, Matura Recreation Ground;
(Sunday 25 August)
Prison Service FC v QPCC, 4pm, YTC, Arouca;
Club Sando v San Juan Jabloteh, 4pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium Training Field.
Ascension Invitational Standings