Central FC’s unbeaten run in the Digicel Pro League this season came to a crashing halt on Saturday when the two-time defending champions fell 2-0 against Ma Pau Stars at the Larry Gomes Stadium.
Veteran winger Hayden Tinto broke the deadlock after an hour of goalless play at the Malabar venue before a clinical Jerrel Britto from the penalty spot completed the victory for former Couva Sharks coach Ross Russell.
For Central, the loss is a dent to their ambition – to hoist a third successive league crown – with bitter rivals W Connection (34 points) leading by two points after defeating Defence Force 4-1 courtesy a double and an assist from Suriname international Dimitrie Apai on Friday night.
It spelt the end of Central’s permanent reign at the top of the standings since Oct. 7.
Central (32 points), though, have a rescheduled game in hand against Defence Force, while there are only four regular league games left in the truncated 2016-17 season which will conclude later this month.
Central, on 10 league wins and two draws prior to Saturday’s kick-off, had two first half scoring opportunities—the clearer of the two falling to Jason Marcano, but the midfielder fired overbar from the top of the six-yard area with goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel at his mercy.
Samuel was later forced into a low save near the hour mark by Marcano before a lunging goalmouth attempt from Johan Peltier on the rebound had Central, including their coach, Dale Saunders, and assistant coach, Stern John, appealing for a goal. However, assistant referee Joseph Bertrand, the official best positioned to tell if the ball had indeed crossed the line, stood his ground.
There wasn’t any doubt, however, when Tinto smashed a low drive beyond goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams in the 64th minute on the other end after the Central defence had allowed Shane Sandy’s cross to sneak through.
Central’s troubled worsened eight minutes from time when referee Keilon Bacchus pointed to the spot after defender Kevon Villaroel, in a desperate attempt to quell goal-bound run by Britto, upended the forward just inside area.
Britto made no mistake from the spot to hit beyond Williams for the 2-0 score and his seventh league goal this term.
Despite five minutes stoppage-time, and the return of speedy Tobagonian forward Rundell Winchester, who entered play on the hour mark, Central were unable to rebound from the two-goal deficit and must now focus on Tuesday, when a new slate of matches are contested.
Winchester, who is back with the Sharks following his most recent stint abroad with PS Kemi Kings in Finland, was played through on goal by Darren Mitchell with a couple minutes of regular time left, but a slip in the area saw the lanky forward steer the ball wide.
Central, for the second time in as many matches this season, were unable to beat Ma Pau, led by two-time former Defence Force league-winning coach Russell, who was sacked by the Couva Sharks after less than five months into last season. Both sides played to a goalless draw last October.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Club Sando and San Juan Jabloteh were also in winners’ row.
Nical Stephens’ 12th-minute strike provided the decisive item as Club Sando edged Courts Morvant Caledonia United 1-0 in the first game of a double-header at the Barataria Recreation Ground.
Later, Jabloteh enjoyed a 3-1 win over Police thanks to a second-half brace from forward Jamal Gay, cementing the San Juan Kings position in third on the standings with 26 points, five points ahead of Ma Pau (21 points) who hurdled Defence Force by two points for fifth position. Sando (17 points) meanwhile are sixth, climbing two spots with their narrow win.
Nathan Lewis had given Jabloteh an early lead before Police forward Jameel Perry equalised just over the half-hour mark.
But Gay struck twice in a space of 12 minutes (53rd and 64th minutes) to win it for last season’s runners-up, Jabloteh.
Morvant Caledonia United 0 vs Club Sando 1 (Nical Stephens 12’), at Barataria Recreation Ground;
San Juan Jabloteh 3 (Nathan Lewis 11’, Jamal Gay 53’, 64’) vs Police FC 1 (Jameel Perry 32’), at Barataria Recreation Ground;
Central FC 0 vs Ma Pau Stars 2 (Hayden Tinto 64’, Jerrel Britto 83’ penalty), at Larry Gomes Stadium.
Ma Pau Stars: 22.Glenroy Samuel (GK), 4.Kerry Baptiste (Capt.) (Yellow Card) (9.Jason Scotland 90’+2 minute), 5.Taryk Sampson (Yellow Card), 6.Neil Gerard Mitchell (12.Sayid Freitas 77th minute), 7.Kerry Daniel (14.Chike Sullivan 77th minute), 10.Jerrel Britto, 11.Elton John, 17.Hayden Tinto (Yellow Card), 18.Shane Sandy, 19.Glenton Wolffe, 25.Keryn Navarro.
Unused substitutes: 1.Shane Mattis (GK), 8.Adrian Noel, 16.Kareem Eastman, 20.Quincy Charles.
Coach: Ross Russell
Central FC: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 3.Keion Goodridge, 5.Keston George, 6.Leston Paul, 7.Jason Marcano (Yellow Card), 10.Keron Cummings (12.Kishun Seecharan 73rd minute), 11.Darren Mitchell (Capt.), 17.Johan Peltier (77.Rundell Winchester 60th minute), 19.Nathan Garcia, 24.Kevon Villaroel (Yellow Card), 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon (29.Jabari Casaquero 87th minute).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 18.Rhondel Gibson, 28.Jules Lee, 45.Tyrik John.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Referee: Keilon Bacchus