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Army makes it eight straight
Kerry Joseph and substitute Josimar Belgrave both netted second-half goals as defending champion Defence Force continued its chase of leader DirecTV W Connection for the $1 million Digicel T&T Pro League title with a 2-1 win over St Ann’s Rangers at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on Tuesday night.
The win improved the Army/Coast-Guard combination to 41 points from 20 matches, the same as Central FC which whipped Police 4-1 in the second match on Tuesday, and four behind W Connection which has played 21 matches.
However, while Defence Force, also champion in 1999 and the 2010/2011 campaign, has four matches left to play including what looks like two deciding encounters on May 4 and May 6 against W Connection, the latter only has three while Central FC has two left and is now ranked outsiders for the crown.
The top two clubs in the league will also qualify to compete in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championships, a qualifier to the Concacaf Champions League.
Despite being without the services of ace forward Devorn Jorsling—due to a hamstring injury —for a second consecutive match and doubtful for another week and a half, Defence Force started as the favourite having won its last seven straight league matches.
But at the end of the first 45 minutes, the Ross Russell-coached “Teteron Boys” had nothing to show on the scoreboard against a plucky Rangers line-up, no doubt bouyed by its 3-2 win over Caledonia a week ago, only its second win from 21 matches.
With his team needing all three points, Russell replaced the in-effective Richard Roy with Belgrave at the restart and he came within inches of the opener soon after with a header off a Curtis Gonzales cross, that crashed off the crossbar. From the resulting corner, Defence Force eventually took a 1-0 lead with Joseph diving to meet a Keston Williams centre to beat goalkeeper Akel Clarke.
The goal came at a cost for Joseph as he sustained a nose injury and was replaced by Akeem Roach, but it did not seem to affect Defence Force as Belgrave created an opening in the 67th minute but blasted overbar before he found the target six minutes later with a fierce blast to ease his team’s nerves.
But three minutes later Rangers, which defeated Defence Force 3-2 in their first round league clash before losing the second encounter 5-1 cut the lead in half via a 76th-minute strike from Kennedy Isles, who was first to react after goalkeeper Kevin Graham spilled Kevin Carter’s long range strike.
Rangers then went in search of an equaliser and had a late shout for a penalty waived off as Defence Force held on for valuable three points.
In the second match, Police, unbeaten in two previous league meetings with Central, took a shock 1-0 lead after only four minutes through a long range effort from Aaron Stewart which took a wicked deflection past goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams.
It looked as though it would be Police’s day when goalkeeper Adrian Foncette denied Ataullah Guerra’s 17th minute penalty attempt after defender Jasimar Ashers had clipped Rundell Winchester inside the area.
But nine minutes later Guerra redeemed himself with a low blast past Foncette before Willis Plaza put the Central “Sharks” ahead, 2-1 in the 30th minute with a solo effort after collecting a pass from Winchester.
Two minutes before the half, Police almost drew level through Clevon Mc Fee, however, his effort was kept out by a diving Williams.
Five minutes into the second-half, Plaza got his second of the match and his team’s third when he netted from inside the six-yard box after Foncette had blocked out his first effort from a Jason Marcano cross.
Any chances Police had of getting back into the contets suffered a blow when defender Anton Hutchinson was shown a straight red card by referee Gyasi Mc Donald for a tackle on Winchester with 25 minutes left.
With a player advantage Central urged on by coach, former England defender Terry Fenwick piled on the pressure in search of more goals, but Akeem Benjamin and Dwight Quintero, who replaced Plaza in the 52nd were both thwarted by Fonceette.
And five minutes into added-on time substitute midfielder Darren Mitchell wrapped up the scoring for Central with a solo run as his team kept its slim title hopes alive.
Central FC, winners of the First Citizens Cup already this season will now shift its attention to Friday’s meeting with W Connection in the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva from 8pm.
Also on Friday, Defence Force, which is third in the league only on goal-difference will tackle Caledonia in a rescheduled match at Couva from 6 pm.
A win for the “Teteron Boys” will see them climb to within a point of W Connection, before their back-to-back meeting and then San Juan Jabloteh on May 13 to end the season.
Defence Force FC 2 (Kerry Joseph 48th, Josimar Belgrave 73rd) vs St Ann’s Rangers 1 (Kennedy Isles 76th)
Central FC 4 (Willis Plaza 30th, 50th, Ataullah Guerra 36th, Darren Mitchell 90+5) vs Police 1 (Aaron Stewart 4th)
Teams P W D L F A Pts
W Connection 21 13 6 2 43 15 45
Defence Force 20 13 2 5 40 25 41
Central FC 22 11 8 3 46 21 41
Pt Fortin 23 12 3 8 35 24 39
NE Stars 22 10 6 6 24 17 36
Caledonia 21 7 6 8 32 31 27
Police 23 8 3 12 30 41 27
Jabloteh 22 3 3 16 22 53 12
Rangers 22 2 1 19 19 64 7