St. Ann’s Rangers moved to the top of the food chain last night in Couva, albeit occupying a bottom three position, after handing three-time reigning champions Central Sharks their first defeat of the 2017 season with a 1-0 score in the first game of the double-header at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
Josh Toussaint’s second-half strike coincidently earned Rangers their first ever win over Central, and first win of the season in six attempts to move two spots off the bottom but level on 4 points with ninth-positioned Defence Force, who must take on seventh-placed Morvant Caledonia United today from 4pm at the Larry Gomes Stadium.
W Connection (13 points), leaders only by goal difference, in the feature game of the night, allowed a two-goal lead to slip late and had to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw with second-positioned North East Stars, who have a game in hand against Central FC.
Neil Benjamin Jr. fired Connection ahead after one minute and 23 seconds before setting up another, scored by Marcus Joseph six minutes from the half to cushion Savonetta Boys before the break.
However Jameel Neptune and Kordell Samuel, both pre-season signings from Morvant Caledonia, fired back late for North East Stars in the top-of-the-table clash to secure a point.
“A point against Connection or any of the top teams is a valuable point,” said Stars head coach Derek King afterwards. “We weren’t disciplined in our tactics in the first half, allowing Connection to capitalize with their speed in the wide attacking areas. But we changed things tactically in the second half and it limited their chances. In the end I am happy with the effort of our guys and the result; they did really well.”
King knows W Connection all too well. The former Trinidad and Tobago international began his professional life at the Savonetta Boys under current coach Stuart Charles-Fevrier in 1999, but later joined rivals Joe Public. A knee injury, however, in 2002 curtailed a promising career, forcing the defender to move into coaching at an early age. King went on to enjoy success as a club coach – most notably leading the Eastern Lions to a historic five-title haul in 2009, including the Pro League title as the youngest winning coach – and had stints at the national level, most recently as assistant coach with the T&T Men’s Senior Team.
“But I’ve told my players five games unbeaten doesn’t mean we have achieved anything,” continued the relatively new North East Stars coach with just five games under his belt. “While it’s the best start for the club as far back as I can remember, it is a short season – just two rounds – and we have to continue to work, stay disciplined, and keep pushing forward.”
North East Stars had fallen behind before fans had settled back into their seats following Rangers’ shock win over Central FC.
Benjamin with an untidy finish, lifted the ball over North East Stars goalkeeper Akel Clarke when he met a low Kurt Frederick cross from the left with less than two minutes played.
Benjamin then failed to double his tally and that of his team on 24 minutes when he failed to make contact at the back post to another low cross from left—this time Suriname international Dimitri Apai the provider.
But in a play started by Marcus Joseph and ended by the forward’s head, Connection were two goals in front. Joseph initiated the attack with a brilliant pass to Benjamin, who raced past three yellow shirts with ease before feeding a cross towards the back post for Joseph to head past Clarke on 39 minutes.
Benjamin was however replaced injured soon after the restart and Connection, a side loaded with talent, were made to pay late despite the late inclusion of forwards Isaiah Hudson and Jamal Charles.
Neptune capitalised on a parry by goalkeeper Julani Archibald nine minutes from time by sending an early strike into the Connection net, slicing theSavonetta Boys’ advantage in half.
The visitors however, should have had the ball in the back of the Connection net as early as 36 minutes but veteran forward Kerry Baptiste spilled wide on a perfect Akeem Garcia cross.
Then in the first of four added-on minutes, Leston Paul, with possibly his last kick in North East Stars colours, launched a free kick into the area and Samuel with a glancing header put the ball past Archibald and into the Connection net for a 2-2 finish.
Paul, who has been selected in a provisional 25-man Trinidad and Tobago squad to prepare for an international friendly against Ecuador on July 26, is expected to travel to Honduras in the coming week for a possible move to that country’s top-flight league.
King however, has a suitable replacement for the 27-year-old Paul. Duane Muckette, who had returned to the United States due to illness of his mother, is expected to return to the Stars for the first time this season and the former Portugal-based midfielder will be a huge asset to an already talented bunch according to King.
Another coach with high praise for his bunch was St. Ann’s Rangers coach, Anthony Streete.
Rangers driven by solid performances from Anselm “Worm” Jackson, Shane Sandy and Omari Lezama among others, had taken a deserving lead on 57 minutes against Central, moments after the Couva Sharks thought they found the back of the net.
Central forward Tyrik John briefly contested referee Crystal Sobers decision not to award his team a goal in the 55 minute, arguing that the ball had instead found a hole in the net. But video replay showed the official was accurate in her decision and that Tyrik, the son of legendary Trinidad and Tobago forward and current Central assistant coach Stern John, had wasted inches wide off the low Carlos Edwards’ cross.
Tyrik, who skied an attempt on the half-hour mark, had another effort, hooking a Gordon cross towards goal, however Biggette was positioned for a comfortable take. But the Rangers second choice goalie and younger brother of number one choice Cleon John was forced into a brilliant save moments later.
There were no arguments, however, over Josh Toussaint’s goal. The Rangers forward, set alive in the box by a lifted Micah Lansiquot pass, escaped two Central defenders before unleashing a left-footed strike off the underside of the bar to beat the Sharks goalkeeper Stephon Seepersad.
Seepersad avoided Central further embarrassment, with a point-blank save to deny Rennie Britto in the 85th minute then putting behind an angled free kick from the veteran winger a minute late.
But despite the efforts of Seepersad and some solid defending from Taryk Sampson on the night, Central, held to a goalless draw by Morvant Caledonia last Tuesday, were left stunned and without a win in their last two outings, while Rangers were celebrating following an incredible performance.
“Tactically, we planned for this game,” said Streete, the proud Rangers coach. “We really did our homework on the training field and I think the players grab out instructions. We knew once we score it would be hard for them.
“The discipline in the players tonight to work for each other was a plus. Before we were getting individual football but tonight we put it together. I think we (also) had a little more possession and that [gave] us a little more positivity in the game.”
Elsewhere on Friday night Point Fortin Civic held Police FC goalless at the Mahaica Oval.
Today, third-place San Juan Jabloteh will also host Club Sando from 5pm at the Barataria Oval (Recreation Ground).
Central FC 0 vs St. Ann’s Rangers 1 (Josh Toussaint 57’), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection 2 (Neil Benjamin Jr 2’, Marcus Joseph 39’) vs North East Stars 2 (Jameel Neptune 81’, Kordell Samuel 90’+1), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic 0 vs Police FC 0, at Mahaica Oval.
Central FC: 1.Stephon Seepersad (GK), 5.Keston George, 6.Carlos Edwards (Capt.), 10.Johan Peltier (11.Jabari Carasquero 72nd minute), 12.Taryk Sampson, 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 18.Tyrik John, 19.Nathaniel Garcia, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon, 40.Sean Bateau, 46.John Charles (3.Vashami Allen 80th minute).
Unused substitutes: 30.Prince Walter (GK), 13.Rhondel Gibson, 17.Jesse Joseph, 29.Ross Dowden, 44.Kerville Jeremiah.
Coach: Dale Sunders
St. Ann’s Rangers: 22.Christopher Biggette (GK), 4.Shane Sandy (Capt.), 6.Omari Lezama, 9.Jair Edwards (23.Kathon St. Hillaire 55th minute), 10.Josh Toussaint (17.Hakeem Baird 75th minute), 12.Rennie Britto, 15.Keshawn Hutchinson, 16.Stephon Smith, 19.Anselm Jackson, 20.Aquil Selby, 21.Micah Lansiquot.
Unused substitutes: 1.Cleon John (GK), 7.Sedale Mc Lean, 14.Xae Pierre De Fou, 28.Shem Alexander, 32.Marvin Lee.
Coach: Anthony Streete
Referee: Cyrstal Sobers
W Connection: 16.Julani Archibald (GK) (Yellow Card), 2.Kurt Frederick, 3.Gerard Williams (Yellow Card), 4.Maurice Ford (Yellow Card), 5.Triston Hodge (Yellow Card), 7.Neil Benjamin Jr. (Yellow Card) (17.Qian Grosvenor 48th minute), 10.Dimitri Apai (32.Isaiah Hudson 77th minute), 13.Hughtun Hector (Capt.) (23.Jamal Ray Charles 77th minute), 16.Alvin Jones, 19.Briel Thomas, 99.Marcus Joseph.
Unused substitutes: 1.Terrence Lewis (GK), 21.Rondell Paul, 24.Jameel Antoine, 26.Isaiah Garcia.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier
North East Stars: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 3.Kevon Villaroel, 4.Kerry Baptiste (13.Kyle Bartholomew 71st minute), 6.Leston Paul, 11.Rundell Winchester, 12.Elton John, 14.Jomoul Francois (17.Korell Samuel 60th minute), 15.Seon Thomas (8.Adrian Noel 46th minute), 22.Jameel Neptune, 20.Yohance Marshall, 23.Akeem Garcia.
Unused substitutes: 1.Jabari Bryce (GK), 9.Dwight Quintero, 16.Giovani Abraham, 19.Jalani Felix.
Coach: Derek King
Referee: Rashby Mc Phie