It was not the most convincing of victories, but Trinidad and Tobago's senior footballers displayed a great deal of fighting spirit to snatch an injury time 3-2 victory over Guadeloupe at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, Monday night.
The victory in front of 1,000-odd supporters ensured they topped Group A with a maximum nine points from three matches. Second half substitute Stokely Mason was the man of the moment, scoring the equaliser in the 42nd minute and then the winner two minutes into injury time for the come-from-behind win just as their arch rivals Jamaica had done against Grenada earlier in the evening.
T&T's success in the two previous matches along with Guadeloupe's losses led to the automatic assumption that the host nation only had to put in an appearance to collect full points.
The home side began with Peter Prosper and Stern John up front, dropping Mickey Trotman into midfield. The likes of Arnold Dwarika and goalkeeper Clayton Ince were missing. Inside two minutes T&T got their noses in front when a nice one-two combination between Angus Eve and John led to Eve's shot which was pushed out by 'keeper Eddie Ishmael only for Prosper to bang home the rebound.
The Guadeloupeans however, had no intention to lay down and die. They attacked with several runs down both flanks, but without success, in breaking a T&T defence, playing without Ansil Elcock, sidelined with a groin strain.
Patrice Pochet tested Michael McCommie with a powerful free kick, but the Joe Public 'keeper was up the task, saving low down. T&T's game began to look ragged as build-ups from the back were poor and the midfielders failed to stretch the opposition defence. To add to the locals' dismay in the 23rd minute skipper Anthony Rougier's penalty shot came off the woodwork after Lyndon Andrews was tripped by Marc Acipe in the area.
Guadeloupe were rewarded for their earlier efforts when in the 34th minute the normally reliable Marvin Andrews failed in his casual attempt to claim a ball played across his right side and Patrice Damis Agiste collected the resulting cross and comfortably beat McCommie with a low shot.
Fifteen minutes into the second half the Frenchmen surged into a 2-1 lead when Patrice latched on to a pass by Didier Plummasseau inside the six-yard box and shot past McCommie's left. T&T's struggle to make forceful inroads continued and at the back of the Guadeloupeans' minds must have been memories of their 2-0 victory over T&T in 1989.
Midway through the second half Arnold Dwarika and Hector Sam were introduced into play and almost immediately there was more purpose in T&T's play. Guadeloupe had defender Alain Vertot was sent off by Barbadian referee Mark Forde for time wasting at the back, his second bookable offence T&T's last ditch urge paid off with three minutes of regulation time left.
Mason, who had replaced Andrews (L) minutes earlier met Eve's through ball and kept his composure before hitting low past Ishmael's left hand. T&T now saw the opportunity of pulling of a late winner and did so against nine men when Romain Taffial was shown the red card for a harsh tackle on Sam.
The home team went for the kill and from the resulting free kick, Dwarika's cross ball fell to Sam who unselfishly played back to Mason. Positioned just inside the box, he picked his spot before shooting into the right hand corner of the net to give the "calypso boys" a narrow 3-2 escape.