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Russell confident in Army’s repeat bid
Former national goalkeeper Ross Russell is confident his Defence Force can overhaul current leader and favourites DirecTV W Connection to retain this year’s Digicel T&T Pro League which carries with it a $1 million prize. With less than a month to go in the league, W Connection, winners in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2011/12, lead the standings with 45 points from 21 matches and three left to play while Pt Fortin Civic FC is next with 39 points but with only one match left. Defence Force which also lifted the title in the inaugural league season in 1999 and 2010/2011, as well is third with 38 points and five matches, the same as Central FC, but the latter only has three matches to play.
As it stands, W Connection is in firm control of its own destiny along with Defence Force while Central FC needs some other results to go its way to be crowned champion after slipping up against North East Stars, 1-2 in its last match. Pt Fortin Civic and fifth placed Stars (36 points from 22 matches) while out of the title race for certain are also still in the hunt for a top two finish which will guarantee a spot in next year’s Caribbean Football Union Club Championships, a qualifier to the Concacaf Champions League, meaning a lot is still to play for apart from the league’s top prize. W Connection, which also faces Central FC in the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final on April 25 with the hope of adding to its three titles won already this season, Digicel Charity Shield, T&T Football Association FA Trophy and Toyota Classic, will face Defence Force on May 4 and May 6 before completing its schedule versus Caledonia AIA on May 13.
In addition to playing four-time champions W Connection on May 4 and May 6, Defence Force, which is seeking a third title in four years and fourth overall since the league was established in 199, will also come up against St Ann’s Rangers, Caledonia and San Juan Jabloteh. The Terry Fenwick-coached Central FC have matches remaining against Police, San Juan Jabloteh and St Ann’s Rangers; Pt Fortin ends against Caledonia while Stars come up against Rangers and Police. Despite what seems to be a tough road ahead, Russell, who has led his team to seven straight league wins, and winners of eight of 11 since returning to league play following their stoppage for work commitments says his team has what it takes to go all the way again.
However, the “Teteron Boys” coach also noted that there is still a long way to go before the destination of the league title is decided.
Speaking after a training session on Thursday, Russell said, “We know we have two big matches against W Connection, but we also see our matches against Rangers, Caledonia and Jabloeth as being tough and crucial to the cause as well.” The “Teteron Boys” have endured a start-stop-start season along with having to deal with the deaths of two key players in defender Rawle Fletcher, who was murdered last December 22, and more recently national winger Kevon Carter, who died February 28 following a heart-attack during a morning training session at the Defence Force’s Macqueripe Base Volunteers Ground earlier the same day. Prior to Carter’s death, the team was issued a self-imposed suspension by the T&T Defence Force on January 10, which saw all Defence Force teams pulled from sporting activities at national, regional and community levels.
The suspension came following Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s call to use every possible resource in the fight against the disturbing spike in violent crime, which at the time, led to 22 murders just ten days into 2014. A statement by the TTDF back then, said the suspension was in favour of the operational exigencies of the service and because of the particular requirements personnel are expected to satisfy. The statement also said that the self-imposed suspension would last as long as is deemed necessary by the TTDF. They eventually return to Pro League action on February in a 2-0 loss to Central FC, but since then have only tasted defeated twice in 12 matches, 3-2 versus Central FC in the league and on penalty-kicks to Pt Fortin in the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield quarterfinal.
But with only a month left in the season, Russell’s team suffered yet another set-back although not so catastrophic, with leading striker Devorn Jorsling, picking up a hamstring injury in last Sunday’s 3-1 win over Police at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. Jorsling, the league’s top scorer in 2010/2011 when Army were champions as well has so far netted nine goals this season, but despite his injury which Russell said might keep the burly forward out of action for two-weeks, the ‘Teteron Boys” coach, said he was confident in the players he had in his squad to get the job done. “As was shown by Corey Rivers with his late winner against Police on Tuesday night, there are other players who can step up in Jorsling’s absence and there are others like Richard Roy, Josimar Belgrave and Balondemu Julius.” “Those guys have all done it before this season and in previous campaigns and In have full confidence that when called upon they will be able to get the goals.” He added, “We are all professionals and know whats at stake in the end and we will just continue to work very hard in training and take each match as it come.
“We are now on a good run of form and the team is playing much better football while the guys are also fitter, and we will be pushing straight down to the final match of the season to keep our crown.”