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1976 FC Phoenix applaud their fans after defeating Defence Force 2-0 at Dwight Yorke Stadium, Bacolet, Tobago on Sunday, February 18th 2024.

1976 FC Phoenix coach Nigel De Souza says his team may not have the big household names, but he believes they have the quality required to compete in the Trinidad and Tobago Premier Football League (TTPFL) top tier and challenge any rival team.

The Tobago-based Phoenix team, who clinched the inaugural TTPFL tier two title last season, endured a rough start to life in the TTPFL's tier one with a couple of heavy defeats. On November 24, Phoenix were humbled on the opening night of the season by defending champions Defence Force when they fell to a crushing 5-0 defeat.

A week later, Phoenix were then beaten 4-1 by last season's TTPFL runners-up, AC PoS, at Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago.

De Souza says his charges are doing their utmost to make the Bacolet a fortress, and their first of three TTPFL home wins came in the shape of a thumping 4-0 win over the much-fancied Terminix La Horquetta Rangers team on December 14.

With additional victories over the struggling Central FC and Eagles FC (formerly Cunupia FC) teams, Phoenix again raised eyebrows on Sunday night when they got revenge over Defence Force with a 2-0 win in Bacolet. Phoenix (13 points) consolidated eight spot on the 11-team table, but De Souza says the victory reflects the current mental and physical state of his team and he believes they are now "a little more comfortable with performing at this level."

With Army missing the dangerous attacking pair of Reon Moore and Brent Sam, both of whom are set to take overseas deals, Phoenix did their best work early on in the weekend contest and scored both goals in first-half action. Phoenix's first goal came in the ninth minute when former Soca Warriors winger Trevin Caesar headed home from close range following a surging run through midfield by Adriel George.

Phoenix's second goal was a thing of beauty from Jariel Arthur, who lobbed custodian Christopher Biggette from well outside the area following a loose pass in the Army half by Kevon Goddard.

"We made some tactical adjustments from the first game (against Defence Force) and throughout the season we have made adjustments," De Souza told Newsday. "Going into (Sunday's) game, we understood how Defence Force like to play. We understand what they like to do tactically."

Having played against Defence Force, AC PoS, Police FC and Rangers in their first four tier one games, De Souza said his team has finally adjusted to the rigours of the league after a difficult start.

"I think the players are in a much better space tactically, mentally and physically now, compared to when we just started competing at this level," De Souza said. "Now, we are seeing the level we are at and we believe we could compete with everybody, despite teams having bigger names and a little more experience."

Before the 2023/24 season began, De Souza insisted Phoenix were not entering the league to be "whipping boys," and now he wants his players to show the best of what Tobago has to offer.

"What we aim to do is continue to improve and show we can compete at this level, and show a team from Tobago can compete at this level – and with a full Tobago team," he said.

"We want to give the guys a chance to showcase themselves on the national level and we are doing that."

With nine games left in the season, De Souza does not want to make any "proclamation on where (Phoenix) could finish" the campaign. He said landing the Army scalp on home turf gives the team more confidence, but they will not rest on their laurels.

"We have quality. We may not have any big names, but we do have quality," De Souza said.

"We want to continue to improve and get results against everybody. That was a good start for us (Sunday), but we go again on Friday. Sometimes the home comfort works, but we also understand we need to pick up points on the road if we want to be competitive throughout the league."

Having exacted revenge on the fourth-placed defending champions, Phoenix will try to follow suit against league leaders AC PoS (26 points) when they journey to Trinidad for their next clash later this week.

"(AC PoS) are on top of the table and they have been the most consistent team throughout the league so far," he said. "We have a big job to go and try to upset the apple carts. If we can, we will. That is our next challenge."

SOURCE: T&T Newsday