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Suriname’s Dimitre Api scored a second-half hat-trick as four-time Digicel T&T Pro League champions, DirecTV W Connection stayed on course, thumping Police 6-1 in the feature match of a double-header at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, on Tuesday night.
In the second match, Central FC led by a Willis Plaza treble spanked Caledonia AIA 5-1, to join W Connection and idle defending champion Defence Force, with 32 points from 17 matches, in a three-horse race for the $1 million prize.
Entering the match with a seven-point lead over Couva neighbour Central FC, W Connection was eager for a quick start and did so, courtesy two penalty-kicks converted by national midfielder Joevin Jones in the 15th and 23rd minute.
First, Joevin blasted past goalkeeper Adrian Foncette’s reach towards the upper netting after Ariel Mc David’s foul on Kurt Frederick well inside the area and then he got his second when referee Cecil Hinds pointed to the spot when Joevin’s brother, Alvin Jones went to ground under a challenge from Jasimar Ashers to take his tally to 12 for the season, the same as North East Stars forward Trevin Caesar and one behind Pt Fortin Civic’s Marcus Joseph.
It got worse for Police three minutes later as Mc David was shown a second yellow-card by Hinds for a foul on Apai near the touch-line to leave his team to play the rest of the match with 10 men.
W Connection then had shouts for a remarkable third penalty waived off after Apai was brought down by Ashers and within seconds Police pulled a goal back in the 29th when Jameel Perry fired past W Connection goalkeeper Julani Archibald after intercepting a poor back pass by Frederick.
The short-handed Lawmen almost got another when Perry fired onto the base of the post in the 40th minute but it was not to be and three minutes into the second-half, he was quick to react to a Todd Ryan that ricochet into his path, only to fire tamely at Archibald.
The 19-year-old Apai, who joined the “Savonetta Boys” during the January transfer window, then made Police pay for their missed efforts when he scored from a Neil Benjamin pass, to restore his team’s two-goal cushion at 3-1 while 20-minutes later, Hashim Arcia, ended any hopes of a Police comeback with his team’s fourth item, a sweetly timed volley.
With the match all over as a contest, Apai managed to add a late double in the 88th and 93rd, to complete his hat-trick as his team improved to 45 points with three matches left to play.
They include two against Defence Force and one versus Caledonia as they bid to add to their previous league triumphs in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2011/2012.
But still hot on W Connection’s heels, is Central which also got a hat-trick from former Vietnam-based striker, Willis Plaza in its equally as impressive, 5-1 demolition of Caledonia.
Plaza, who also scored a double in his team’s 4-0 bashing of the same Caledonia in their Lucozade Sports Goal Shield quarterfinal at the same venue last Friday, fired in the opener in the 17th minute but Montserrat striker Julian Wade leveled for Caledonia within six minutes.
It seemed as though Caledonia did not learn anything from Friday’s meeting with Central, as the dangerous Plaza regained his team’s lead in the 29th while former midfielder Ataulla Guerra made it two goals in two matches against his former employers with a 45th minute item for a 3-1 cushion.
Plaza then completed his hat-trick 13 minutes after the restart while Samuel Delice, snapped up during the transfer window added a fifth item, in the 75th.
Up at the Marvin Lee Stadium, Macoya, North East Stars saw its slim hopes of lifting the title ended in a 1-0 loss to fellow top-two hopefuls, Pt Fortin Civic.
Getting the decisive strike for Pt Fortin was Joseph in the 54th minute with his league leading 14th goal of the campaign.
The win saw Pt Fortin take sole possesion of third spot with 36 points, but with only two matches left to play while Stars, slipped to fourth with 33 points and three matches remaining. Before they resume league play, W Connection and Central will be favourites to reach the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final when they meet Pt Fortin (6 pm) and North East Stars (8 pm), respectively, in their semifinal at Couva tomorrow.
W Connection 6 (Dimitre Apai 53rd, 88th, 93rd, Joevin Jones 15th pen, 23rd pen, Hashim Arcia 73rd) vs Police 1 (Jameel Peery 29th)
Central FC 5 (Willis Plaza 17th, 29th, 58th, Ataulla Guerra 45th, Samuel Delice 75th) vs Caledonia AIA 1 (Julian Wade 23rd)
Jabloteh 2 (Neil Mitchell 88th, 92nd) vs St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Kevon Cornwall 63rd, Kadeem Corbin 66th)
Pt Fortin Civic 1 (Marcus Joseph 54th) vs North East Stars 0