A first half Jelani Felix item maintained Defence Force’s 100 percent record at the start of the 2019/2020 Pro League season on Friday night, as the Army/Coast Guard combination motored to a deserved 1-0 win over W Connection in a Hasely Crawford Stadium double header.
“It was one of the better games that Defence Force played since the League start, in terms of our ball pressure and controlling the game,” said Defence Force assistant coach Hutson ‘Barber’ Charles. “The guys really stuck to the plan, which was to close down W Connection because they are a team that loves to play [passes] into space for their quick players on the flank. We nullified that.”
The result saw the ‘Teteron Boys’ stretch their lead atop the standings as Morvant Caledonia United slipped from second to third place after a 1-1 draw against Cunupia FC at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar yesterday.
Caledonia remain unbeaten after five match days with three draws to go with two triumphs. But their failure to pick up three points against bottom placed Cunupia, who are in their debut top flight season, could be costly.
Elsewhere, Terminix La Horquetta Rangers rebounded from a midweek loss to W Connection to maul San Juan Jabloteh 6-0 at their Phase Two headquarters, thanks to a double from in-form midfielder Keron ‘Ball Pest’ Cummings.
And Central FC managed their first win of the season, as strikes from Ché Benny and Shackiel Henry steered the ‘Couva Sharks’ past Tiger Tanks Club Sando in La Horquetta. Central are ninth in the 11-team standings while Sando are sixth.[sports-match template=”logos” match=”59514″]
In the opening game at Port of Spain on Friday, Police FC came from behind to down Point Fortin Civic 3-1 in a result that pushed the ‘Lawmen’ to second place. They are two points shy of Defence Force, although the Army/Coast Guard combination have a game in hand.
Civic, coached by Dexter Cyrus, drew first blood after four minutes through giant striker Kerville Jeremiah—a hulking specimen at six foot seven, although short on technique—only for Police to pull level via attacking midfielder Kareem Freitas in the 13th minute.
As Police’s midfield trio of J’deem Parris, Dillon Kirton and Jabari Mitchell controlled the centre of the pitch, Civic found Jeremiah incapable of holding the ball up to help his teammates get forward while Tyrel ‘Pappy’ Emmanuel, used as a ‘number 10’ rather than his customary role as an orthodox midfielder, lacked the legs to get behind the opposing defence.
Police would make their southern opponents pay in the 63rd minute thanks to the move of the night, as a cute exchange of passes ended with a slipped ball from Parris into the path of leggy striker Keion Wilson.
Wilson needed only one touch—bang! His left footer surprised Civic custodian Kenny Dick at his post. It was a strike that pacy Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy would have been proud of.
Cyrus shuffled his pack, as he replaced Emmanuel and Jeremiah with Akeem Redhead and Ackeel ‘Hulk’ Jacob. But Civic could not regain their early momentum. And Freitas secured all three points with a header off a Mitchell corner kick in the 81st minute.
In the second affair, Defence Force were not as efficient in killing off the match—although Connection’s Grenadian goalkeeper Jason Belfon had something to do with that—but their dominance was just as unmistakable.
Connection coach Earl Jean gave 15-year-old attacker Nathaniel ‘Natty’ James his first Pro League start, as reward for an assured cameo in their Tuesday win over Rangers. But the ‘Savonetta Boys’ were ahead and Rangers deflated when James came on. A fired-up Defence Force were a different kettle of fish altogether and James was a largely uncomfortable spectator for most of the night.
To be fair, so were most of his teammates as Connection failed to deal with Defence Force’s athleticism and determination.
Charles said the result started with two tactical moves. The first was his decision to start 23-year-old Brent Sam upfront ahead of 36-year-old veteran Devorn Jorsling.
“We thought we needed someone upfront with a little more mobility and he did a tremendous job in terms of really pressing their defenders,” said Charles. “[Connection] love to play the short passes at the back and wait for a chance to hit [the ball] in the space. Sam wasn’t giving them the chance to build up.”
The second alteration was partly injury related. Right back Isaiah McIntyre was unavailable due to a lower back strain, so Charles shifted rugged, experienced central defender Curtis ‘Boyo’ Gonzales to defend that flank instead.
“When we played W Connection in the FCB Cup, they were exploiting those spaces behind the wing backs and were really killing us,” he said. “So we put Boyo there as right back to come up against [Dimitrie] Apai who had caused a lot of problems for us [in our last match against them]. He did a tremendous job in keeping Apai quiet.”
It was one way traffic for the first half hour, as Connection looked short of ideas against the Defence Force press and were often unable to get the ball, as captain Jerwyn ‘Bally’ Balthazar and Hashim Arcia, a former Connection employee, made rapid passing combinations for the Teteron Boys.
Balthazar should have opened the scoring but wasted his volley off an Arcia header in the 27th minute while Belfon used his legs to deny Shaquille Bertrand at the half hour mark. But the seal was finally broken in the 34th minute, as Felix nipped in off the left flank to finish from close range after a sweeping buildup down the opposing flank.
As the pressure eased slightly, Connection did manage to create a chance in transition. James collected in space in the 36th minute and released captain Neil Benjamin with a pinpoint through ball, only for the attacker to hit over with his left foot.
Connection had the odd half chance after the interval with right back Adan Noel coming closest with a free kick that was turned around the post by opposing goalkeeper Aaron Enill at full stretch.
But with attacker Mickaeel Jem Gordon subdued and then replaced by a similarly ineffective Isaiah Hudson, Connection never really got their claws into the match. And the only surprise was that Defence Force did not extend their lead.
Although Charles praised the roles played by Sam and Gonzales, Defence Force’s ‘Smooth Operator’, Arcia, was vital too in creating an inferiority complex in Jean’s slick side.
“[Arcia] is very, very creative, his touches are always on point and he brings a lot in terms of calming that midfield,” said Charles. “We are happy to have a player of that calibre within our squad.”
By the 80th minute, Defence Force hit the proverbial wall and Connection might have feasibly found an equaliser. But neither Hudson nor fellow substitute Quinn Rodney brought the dynamism necessary to overwhelm Charles’ suddenly overworked defence.
And Defence Force marched on.
Defence Force (4-2-3-1): 80.Aaron Enill (GK); 17.Curtis Gonzales, 23.Jamali Garcia, 26.Justin Garcia, 21.Aklie Edwards; 37.Cassim Kellar; 15.Shaquille Bertrand, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (captain) (27.Aaron Lester 82), 10.Hashim Arcia, 7.Jelani Felix; 8.Brent Sam (18.Reon Moore 73).
Unused substitutes: 1.Andre Marchan (GK), 4.Kevon Blackman, 32.Jameel Cooper, 45.Dylon King, 70.Adrian Welch.
Coach: Lloyd Andrews
W Connection (4-2-1-3): 1.Jason Belfon (GK); 11.Adan Noel, 3.Isaiah Garcia, 6.Alvinus Myers, 2.Kurt Frederick; 19.Briel Thomas, 8.Rhondel Gibson (24.Ronald Charles 78); 9.Mickaeel Jem Gordon (32.Isaiah Hudson 62); 35.Nathaniel James (99.Quinn Rodney 84), 7.Neil Benjamin Jr (captain), 17.Dimitrie Apai.
Unused substitutes: 18.Denzil Smith (GK), 14.Akinola Gregory, 27.Aaron Rodney, 34.Dawn St Rose.
Coach: Earl Jean
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Man of the Match: Hashim Arcia (Defence Force)
Pro League Match Day Five
(Friday 10 January)
TLH Rangers 6 (Keron Cummings 2, 24, Samuel Delice 45, Tyrone Charles 57, Kishon Hackshaw 60, Jamal Creighton 70), San Juan Jabloteh 0 at Phase 2, La Horquetta;
Police FC 3 (Kareem Freitas 13, 81, Keion Wilson 63), Point Fortin Civic 1 (Kerville Jeremiah 4) at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Defence Force 1 (Jelani Felix 33), W Connection 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC 2 (Ché Benny 7, Shackiel Henry 29), Tiger Tanks Club Sando 1 (Shaqkeem Joseph 43) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Saturday 11 January)
Cunupia FC 1 (Hakim Legall 46), M’vt Caledonia Utd 1 (Raphael Joseph 80) at Larry Gomes Stadium.