Police FC and Morvant Caledonia United lost more ground to Pro League leaders Defence Force FC on Friday night, as the third and fourth placed teams cancelled each other out in a 2-2 draw at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The result means that Police (19 points) are seven points off Defence Force, despite playing a game more, while Morvant Caledonia trail the frontrunners by eight points.
Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, who face AC Port of Spain from 3.30pm today at the Larry Gomes Stadium, are second with 19 points thanks to a superior goal advantage over the ‘Lawmen’.
In today’s other fixtures, W Connection challenge Point Fortin Civic from 4pm in the first game of an Ato Boldon Stadium double header. Tiger Tanks Club Sando and Cunupia FC close the curtain with their clash at the same venue from 6pm.
Newly promoted Cunupia, who are bottom of the standings, are still seeking their first Pro League win after 11 attempts in the 2019/20 season; and they face a Club Sando team that is fresh from a 5-0 mauling of San Juan Jabloteh last Tuesday.
In Friday’s other affair, Central FC fought back from an early deficit to whip 10-man Jabloteh 3-1 in Couva.
Jabloteh’s teenage striker Justin Araujo-Wilson put the ‘San Juan Kings’ ahead after just five minutes. But the ‘Couva Sharks’ were level soon after as veteran attacker Akim Armstrong equalised in the 11th minute. And two set pieces from Central’s own teenaged star Ché Benny—a penalty and then a free kick—lifted the club from 10th to fifth in the 11-team standings.
There was a memorable comeback in the Police/Morvant Caledonia showdown too, although only neutrals were satisfied at the final whistle.
“When we scored the second goal, you would think that we would have been able to kill off the game,” said Police head coach Richard Hood. “To be frank, we looked tired. lacking fitness… We lost control because our players were ‘bun’!”
Morvant Caledonia manager Densill Theobald felt the ‘Eastern Stallions’ should have taken more than the solitary point from the game.
“I feel it was two points lost,” said Theobald. “We were in the ascendancy for the second half after being two goals down and I thought we would have snatched it. It was a heartbreaker.”
These days, Morvant Caledonia appear to have the words ‘work in progress’ written all over them.
There was a mini-exodus at the club since their sterling showings but eventual meltdown at last year’s Ascension Invitational Tournament. Gone are young talents like Malik Mieres, Renaldo Francois and Keshawn Hutchinson while, not for the first time, technical director Jamaal Shabazz turned to the Caricom for replacements.
On Friday, Morvant Caledonia started with four Trinidad and Tobago players on the field and ended the match with half that number. In contrast, they used six players from St Lucia alone—where Shabazz is now stationed as national head coach.
“Caledonia’s philosophy was always to integrate a Caricom core, so we never have any issues with that,” said Theobald. “But this is the most amount of Caricom players we have [signed] at any one time…”
Morvant Caledonia’s technical area has been in a state of flux too. Jerry Moe was head coach for the Ascension Tournament but is abroad now.
Moe’s assistant, Abdallah Phillips, left the club soon after his head coach for entirely different reasons but since had a change of heart and rejoined the team. Theobald did duties as head coach for much of the season with Shabazz assisting him.
On Friday, former St Ann’s Rangers and Club Sando head coach Anthony ‘Prowler’ was in charge of Caledonia for the first time—although Shabazz appeared to be the most active person on the sidelines. And yet, despite the multiple changes in staff and players, Morvant Caledonia remain within striking distance of the Pro League title.[sports-match template=”logos” match=”60461″]
They did look in trouble for much of the first hour though, with the Lawmen going ahead from as early as the 10th minute with a counter-attack that sliced open the opposing defence like a birthday cake.
One minute, Caledonia flanker Joshua Alexander was shooting into a defensive block. The next, Police midfielder J’deem Parris freed Kareem Freitas down the left wing and Freitas’ superb outside-of-right boot cross was matched with a clinical headed finish by former World Youth Cup forward Juma Clarence.
“I thought Police started the stronger of the two teams,” said Theobald. “They did well with Juma on top, who caught us by surprise.”
Morvant Caledonia might have equalised in the 33rd minute, if their St Lucian forward, Tev Lawrence, could match Clarence in the air. But Lawrence, the younger of two brothers in the starting team, headed overbar from barely eight yards, after a superb left sided cross by winger Ryan Jordan.
Police’s second item was fortuitous, as Freitas’ shot—following a right side corner kick—took a decisive deflection off Alexander before creeping home in the 58th minute. But they were worth their lead, as they controlled the centre of the pitch and always looked capable of creating problems through Clarence’s intelligent hold up play.
Caledonia’s comeback plan was already underway though.
“Jamaal [Shabazz] and Streete gave a halftime speech that was spot on,” said Theobald. “We wanted to see more from [our players], especially for our injured player Lukeman [Brooks] (who suffered a fractured jaw in their draw against AC last weekend and for our title hopes too.
“[…] We still conceded another goal which was unfortunate but the boys never dropped their heads and they showed the belief that we will come back.”
As crucial as the oratory was the tactical rejig, as Alexander moved from right wing to his more natural station as right back with Jevick McFarlane on as a substitute higher up the flank.
MacFarlane and Alexander combined to telling effect in the 62nd minute, as the latter cut inside before releasing the former Arima North schoolboy down the left side of the Police defence. Freitas had not tracked back and Thomas was exposed.
“Don’t miss!” someone shouted at Police central defender Elijah Belgrave, as Alexander drilled a low cross towards the opposing penalty spot. Too late. The burly and usually dependable Belgrave fell over in a clumsy attempt to cut out the ball and, this time, Lawrence made no mistake.
Lawrence should have had another in the 68th minute but spliced wide after Police midfielder Jabari Mitchell conceded possession near the half-line.
The Lawmen were sputtering now.
“Caledonia brought on some runners and they were coming at us and we couldn’t keep the ball or counter when we had options to do it,” said Hood. “[…] We are not as fit as we are supposed to be. And now we are going into a Carnival break and I don’t know how it will affect us, particularly in my absence [on international with the Women’s Under-20 team].”
The Lawmen, it seems, are having their own troubles. In their case, the outsiders are civilians. Since the Police do not get a government subvention, like their Pro League colleagues, there is no funding to pay even stipends and the only remuneration possible is a TTPS salary.
Eight of the 14 Police players used on Friday—Kaydion Gabriel, Xavier Wheeler, Stephan Campbell, Joel Lewis, Clevon McFee, Mitchell, Parris and Clarence—are civilians; and a lack of finance, Hood explained, sometimes leads to issues with attendance and concentration.
“We are trying to get them into the [TTPS] system but the red tape is taking so long,” said Hood. “[…] We’re suffering as a result.”
Lawrence fluffed another good scoring chance with a tame header off a cross from compatriot Aaron Richard in the 80th minute before Morvant Caledonia finally drew level in the 82nd minute.
Caledonia and St Lucia international defender Melvin Doxilly lunged in to win the ball from Mitchell and, immediately, found McFarlane down the right flank. The latter player stepped inside a defender before picking out Lawrence, who produced a composed finish to beat Police and Trinidad and Tobago international goalkeeper Adrian ‘Milo’ Foncette for a second time.
The contest was, to be blunt, a substandard affair in terms of quality. For much of the second half, neither team looked capable of either maintaining possession or consistently executing passes over distance.
But there was no doubting the passion and ambition of Police and Morvant Caledonia and the small gathering of supporters seemed to enjoy the contest.
Hood, who allowed his assistant Garfield Ambrose to run the bench as Police prepare for his departure this weekend, was disappointed.
Police’s last win was an emphatic 4-0 triumph over heavyweights W Connection on 28 January. Since then, they have been unable to put away Jabloteh, Cunupia and now Morvant Caledonia.
“The mentality of the players is not where we want them to be—we are not professional enough still,” said Hood. “We definitely have the talent. I think we showed that in the First Citizens [Bank] Cup. If we come out on a given day and are focused, we can beat anybody…”
Police FC (4-2-3-1): 18.Adrian Foncette (GK); 27.Kaydion Gabriel, 24.Xavier Wheeler, 20.Elijah Belgrave, 19.Christon Thomas; 6.J’deem Parris (16.Stephan Campbell 65), 8.Kurdell Brathwaite (4.Kadeem Boyce 73); 25.Joel Lewis (29.Clevon McFee 46), 7.Jabari Mitchell, 10.Kareem Freitas; 35.Juma Clarence.
Unused substitutes: 1.Terrence Lewis (GK), 13.Dillon Kirton, 26.Marcus Chandool, 30.Joshua Leach.
Coach: Garfield Ambrose
Morvant Caledonia United (4-4-2): 30.Katibi Kolapo (GK); 2.Frae Gervais (26.Jevick McFarlane 46), 5.Melvin Doxilly (captain), 4.Otev Lawrence, 3.Richard Williams; 22.Joshua Alexander, 8.Joshua Sylvester (20.Aaron Richard 65), 16.Eden Charles, 19.Ryan Jordan (17.Kerry Daniel 71); 7.Pernell Schultz, 9.Tev Lawrence.
Unused substitutes: 31.Jaydon Taylor (GK), 6.Nkosi David, 14.Raphael Joseph, 15.Elair Brewster.
Coach: Anthony Streete
Referee: Keilon Bacchus
Wired868 Man of the Match: Melvin Doxilly (M’vt Caledonia Utd)
Pro League results
(Friday 7 February)
Central FC 3 (Akim Armstrong 11, Ché Benny 61 pen, 72), San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Justin Araujo-Wilson 5) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Police FC 2 (Juma Clarence 10, Kareem Freitas 58), Morvant Caledonia 2 (Tev Lawrence 62, 83) at Ato Boldon Stadium;
(Sunday 9 February)
AC Port of Spain v Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, 3.30pm, Larry Gomes Stadium;
W Connection v Point Fortin Civic, 4pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Cunupia FC v Club Sando, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.