Reigning Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division champions Naparima College will not retain their crown this season after a 1-0 defeat to St Benedict’s College yesterday ruled them out of contention for a place in the Big 4 competition.
Naparima, who lifted the last two successive Premier Division titles, went into yesterday’s decisive fixture on 12 points—just one shy of St Benedict’s and Fatima College. However, with one game left in Group A, victory was essential for new “Naps” head coach Travis Mulraine.
They could not manage it, though. Naps simply lacked the necessary vigor or attacking impetus to seize the moment.
And when Benedict’s winger Nicholas Bobcombe slotted past goalkeeper Kerdeem Duncan in the 39th minute, it already felt like a knockout blow to their title hopes.
Bobcombe’s goal was a counter-attacking move of beauty.
Nippy Benedict’s captain Tarik Lee collected the ball on the halfway line, after a Naparima attack broke down, and swiftly turned defence into attack, as he spun past a couple of defenders and burst into space before playing a gem of a through pass for Bobcombe.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the speedy attacker beat the onrushing Duncan to slide home a tidy finish from close range.
It would be the goal that ended Naps’ stranglehold on the Premier Division trophy and it left quite the sting for Mulraine as well.
“I think we lacked that bit of quality St Benedict’s found coming down towards the end of the first half—I think some of our guys took a bit too long to settle into the game,” Mulraine told Wired868. “We didn’t [give them too much respect]. It was just a matter of playing with that extra aggression.
“For instance on the breakaway, Lee should have been fouled—that’s what you call street-smart football. We tried to get into a foot race and you can’t catch him. I think that’s some of the street-smarts that St Benedict’s players possess which one or two of our guys didn’t.”
Benedict’s front trio of Bobcombe, Lee and Jeremiah Niles buzzed around with intent through, while the midfield triangle of Ephraim Brown, Derrel “Zoom” Garcia and Josiah Ochoa were assured and precise with their movement and passing.
On the other hand, Naps’ play seemed more reactive, with their midfield and forward lines too far apart.
Much of their positive play in the final third was down to individuality—often from lanky playmaker Kanye Francis, who simply couldn’t do it on his lonesome.
In the eighth minute, Francis dragged a left-footed shot just wide after some link up play with Jabari Forbes, while he showed his physicality in the Benedict’s penalty area in the 36th minute as he fashioned an opportunity after outmuscling opposing defender Nesean Alexander.
The moment of truth would soon swing Benedict’s way though.
“We knew that Naps had to win, but they also had to play good football—and we knew that we could play,” said St Benedict’s coach Randolph Boyce. “We wanted to keep the ball and take them away from their game. We felt as though the longer we kept the ball and the clock ran down, it would put them in a more sticky situation where they had to get a goal.
“If we scored the goal first as we did, it would put them in an even worse situation.”
In the end, Bobcombe dug Naps a hole they could not climb out of.
“As I told them, [Naparima] would have moments and we will also have our moments,” said Boyce, a serial Central Zone Intercol champion with Carapichaima East Secondary. “We wouldn’t have much moments, but the moments we get, let’s try and execute those moments positively.
“As you saw, there was one moment of brilliance and that’s all that was needed to settle the game.
“[…] We all know the brilliance of Lee and we all know his explosiveness. The opponents and them know it as well.”
In truth, Naps never looked like beating Thane Devenish in the Benedict’s goal. Their best attempt at an equaliser came in the 85th minute when striker Nathaniel O’Garro dinked a right-footed shot across the face of goal, after lovely interplay in the attacking third of the field between Francis and substitute Omari Campbell.
“We lacked that extra bit of quality, whether it’s from Kanye or anyone else,” said Mulraine. “We need guys to have a little more confidence. I try to teach them to play with confidence. We want to play nice, attractive football but sometimes it wouldn’t work out. It’s not to tear up the game plan as soon as things not going too well.
“I think today we took a bit too long to readjust and give them a proper battle.”
For the boys from Pond Street, San Fernando, who were asked to use the Hasely Crawford Stadium as their home venue yesterday, it was mission accomplished in a close affair.
“When you come down to teams like Naps, Fatima, ‘Pres’ and San Juan, they are well-drilled and all these games will be difficult,” Boyce said. “[Yesterday’s] game was a very disciplined one. Everybody carried their role and function to a tee and I think the boys did very well.
“They proved that they could play at this level and this is what we have been preparing them for all season.”
At present, St Benedict’s and Fatima are inseparable atop Group A, with 16 points each as well as 30 goals scored and two conceded. Both schools played to a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the season and enjoyed slender victories over the defending champions, Naparima.
Yesterday, Fatima got a 4-0 win away to St Augustine Secondary to continue their unbeaten season and extend the anniversary celebrations for Fatima coach Hutson “Baba” Charles.
The Boys from Mucurapo will close their Group A campaign at Westmoorings in a potentially tricky fixture against St Anthony’s College, while Benedict’s will face off against a Pleasantville Secondary team that is still trying to avoid relegation.
At stake on the final match day is top spot for Group A, as they prepare to challenge Group B representatives Presentation College (San Fernando) and San Juan North Secondary, in what should be an epic climax to the league season.
San Juan North and the “Pres Lions”—both on 18 points—meet to decide the Group B champs in a rescheduled top-of-the-table clash on Tuesday.
The leader of one group will play the runner-up of the next in the Big 4 semifinals, with the winners meeting for the trophy in the final.
Mulraine, of course, was not slow in denouncing the format of the truncated 2022 season, even before the first ball was kicked.
“From day one, I didn’t agree with this format—I don’t know what the administrators were thinking about,” said the Naps head coach, who vowed to bounce back in the National Intercol tournament. “Nine games for a Premier Division season when you have the lower division playing at least twice the number of games we are playing?! All the money and resources we spent to prepare the team was for nine games?!
“It doesn’t make any sense. It is what it is. We will have to lick our wounds and jump back out for the next game [against Carapichaima].”
It was all smiles amongst St Benedict’s entourage, though, as their supporters and rhythm section sang “ole, ole, ole” in the closing minutes of the game.
And, when referee Crystal Sobers blew the final whistle, the Benedict’s players celebrated as though the Premier Division title was already in the bag. Maybe, it is a sign of things to come yet.
“They have been brilliant so far this season,” said Boyce. “They have been like sponge, they are absorbing everything that we are teaching them […] and going out and executing.
“I am seeing that a lot of learning is taking place [and] that’s the most important thing because when they leave us and they go on to college or the national team, we must be producing a product which can go up and stand up in any market.
“These persons can then say ‘hey, those guys from Trinidad were well-taught’. That’s the main thing we’re looking for and we’re seeing it as we go game by game. Hats off to them.”
Benedict’s definitely deserved their plaudits yesterday and they will take some beating in this 2022 Premier Division season.
Move over Naps, let Benedict’s pass.
St Benedict’s College (4-3-3): 22.Thane Devenish (GK); 4.Keanu Morean (3.Anthony Williams 90), 6.Nesean Alexander, 5.Joshua Demas, 19.Lyshawn Morris; 12.Josiah Ochoa (20.Rayshawn Crichlow 84), 15.Ephraim Brown, 8.Derrel Garcia (21.Malacai Webb 90+3); 10.Nicholas Bobcombe (9.Jaden Grant 76), 7.Tarik Lee (captain), 11.Jeremiah Niles.
Unused substitutes: 1.Jair Buckmire (GK), 2.Joshua Phillip, 18.Tyrique Lucas.
Coach: Randolph Boyce
Naparima College (5-3-2): 1.Kerdeem Duncan (GK); 2.Jelani Calliste, 12.Omari Asher (captain), 6.Daimiel Mitchell (11.Omari Campbell 71), 5.Josiah Cooper, 7.Jkwon Bailey; 10.Kanye Francis, 4.Jaron Pascal, 8.Terrell Rajoon; 22.Jabari Forbes (16.Andres France 73), 9.Nathaniel O’Garro.
Unused substitutes: 30.Dajeon Collingwood (GK), 15.Chad King, 17.Kyrise Frontin, 20.Israel Joseph, 21.Zachary Seecharan.
Coach: Travis Mulraine
Referee: Crystal Sobers
Wired868 Man of the Match: Tarik Lee
SSFL Premier Division results
(Sat 15 October)
St Benedict’s College 1 (Nicholas Bobcombe 39), Naparima College 0 at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
St Augustine Secondary 0, Fatima College 4 (Chaim Williams, Khiba Romany, Michael Chavez ) at St Augustine.
Malick Secondary 4 (Lendell Baptiste, Jabarie Brumble, Josimar Duncan, Oba Samuel), East Mucurapo 2 at Serpentine Road, St Clair
Trinity College East 5 (Khaleem Prince , Joshua Figaro), Chaguanas Secondary 0 at Larry Gomes Stadium;
Moruga Secondary 1 (Brandon Collymore), QRC 5 at Moruga.