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Pro League curtain raiser: Rivals W Connection and Central FC to clash on Saturday

Central FC goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams believes that the ‘Sharks’ are faced with a “very big test” against his former club and bitter-rivals W Connection, when both sides meet from 6 pm on Saturday 20 September at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva to contest the 2014 Digicel Charity Goal Shield.

 Connection, the two-time defending Charity Shield winners, are into the 2014 edition by virtue of winning last season’s Digicel Pro League and Digicel Pro Bowl – both deciding tournaments for the Charity Shield contenders.

While Central FC will have their first shot at the Charity Shield by way of finishing runners-up in the League last season, edging two-time defeated Charity Shield finalists Defence Force for the spot.

Last month, Connection head coach Stuart Charles Fevrier, who led his side to last season’s five-title haul: the Charity Shield, Pro League, Toyota Classic, FA Trophy and Pro Bowl, said, “Personally it doesn’t matter whatever opponent we meet. We just have to prepare ourselves for any eventuality, whether it is Central or any other team.”

The head-to-head of seven meetings between Connection and Central last season stands at a deadlock of 3 wins and 1 draw each.

The "Sharks", led by coach Terry Fenwick, defeated Connection 4-2 on penalty kicks following a goalless First Citizens Cup semi-final round meet en route to lifting the 2013 title last October.

But Connection fired back in December with a 1-0 Round One win in the league, and in the same month defeated the ‘Sharks’ 6-5 on penalties in the Final of the FA Trophy after a 2-2 draw.

Both sides met again in Round Two of the league in February, and that contest finished in a 2-2 tie.

However in March, Central trounced the ‘Savonnetta Boys’ 3-0 in Round Three of the league, and defeated Fevrier's men again in the Final of the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield in April with a 2-1 score.

Fevrier then leveled the head-to-head in May, following a late Pro Bowl semi-final round equaliser by Surinamese forward Stefano Rijssel against Central to tie the score at 1-1 before winning 4-2 on penalty kicks.

Since their last meeting, a pre-season break and a change in coach at Central, employing 63-year-old Serbian coach Zoran Vranes, will definitely keep things interesting.

“It was all about mock exams before,” said Williams. “Now we are finally in the real exam and with a very big test on the first day (Saturday).”

Williams, a former Connection custodian, captained the ‘Savonnetta Boys’ in the inaugural Digicel Charity Shield in September 2012, and his clean sheet together with a goal each by Shahdon Winchester and Joevin Jones, both currently attached to clubs in Finland, earned coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier’s side a 2-0 win against Defence Force.

But a verbal bust-up four months later between Charles-Fevrier and Williams, eventually led to a split at the end of his contract in March 2013.

Williams, who had served Connection at youth and professional levels, then joined St. Ann’s Rangers on a short stint till the end of the season, before being snapped-up by bitter Connection rivals, Central FC in August 2013.

“Last year having played against W Connection it was a bitter-sweet feeling,” explained the 29-year-old Trinidad and Tobago first choice goalie. “Obviously it would be that way playing against a club you represented for many years and help build.

“But it’s different now. I have no animosity for the coaching staff or the players of W Connection. It’s just an important game for us (Central) and it’s just about the win on Saturday to springboard to a better season than we had last season. It’s about getting a good start for the new season.

“We know it wouldn’t be easy against W Connection. We know they have some of the best coaches in the country and are very organised. But I’m excited for Saturday’s game and for the start of the season like many other players. It’s exciting times for us at this stage.”

Between the sticks, Williams’ performances helped Central to last season’s First Citizens Cup and Lucozade Sport Goal Shield titles, as well as qualified, along with Connection, for this season’s Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship, which also serves as the CONCACAF Champions League qualifiers.

But for both Central FC and W Connection, lifting Saturday’s Digicel Charity Shield – which also awards $10,000 to a charity of choice by the winners – is very important in the ambitions of both clubs.

“We are looking to snatch the title from Connection,” continued goalkeeper Williams. “We are looking to win as much trophies as possible this season. It could be against Rangers or whoever on Saturday, it doesn’t matter. The focus to win is the same.”