Champions Defence Force are certainly being given the hurry-up to make for lost time in the Digicel Pro League after the top brass removed them from competition in January.
Playing well at the moment, they should be too good for the bottom team St Ann’s Rangers today when they play a third match in five days from 6 p.m. at Marvin Lee Stadium, Macoya. Afterwards, the “Army” will rest for two days before returning to action on Sunday for a must-win match against in-form Point Fortin Civic at Mahaica Oval.
On Tuesday night, Defence Force won for just the second time in six matches since coming out of “jail,” when defeating last season’s runners-up Caledonia AIA 2-0 in the feature match of an Ato Boldon Stadium double-header, which also saw North East Stars whipping Police 3-0.
Army coach Ross Russell often thinks aloud, and apparently admired his team’s work on Tuesday. Or, maybe he was congratulating the match officials, especially referee Neal Brizan, whom Russell had not been too pleased with in recent matches.
“All yuh look good tonight,” Russell said once the second goal came, but he urged his soldiers to “keep working” to the final whistle—probably remembering Atuallah Guerra’s injury-time goal which lost them the last match against Central FC 3-2 on Sunday.
The last time Defence Force had such a tight schedule was 2011-2012 when a nationwide State of Emergency saw the recall of Defence Force personnell from sporting activity and lost all hope of retaining the title they had won the previous season.
The soldier/coast guard have won the Pro League for two of the last three seasons, only losing out to W Connection in the year when the S.O.E. was in force.
However, except for a dramatic Connection collapse in the third round, it seems the decision to withdraw the team earlier this season might rob the Army of the chance to the title once again. At best, Defence Force might finish second.
The recent death of one of the main men, 30 year-old former T&T National midfielder Kevon Carter to heart-attack last week, will also certainly not help.
But the Army had more than enough firepower to win a match of very few chances against AIA. From atop the penalty area, Josimar Belgrave superbly curled a shot deep to the far corner for a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute and would have had a second in the 20th, except for Caledonia AIA defender Kareem “Tiny” Joseph stopping his powerful shot on the goal-line. Caledonia’s Grenadian goalkeeper Shemel Louison was well beaten.
Thin-framed Jerwyn “Bally” Balthazar has developed into quite a playmaker for Defence Force, and was both an attacking threat and also contributed to the second goal. Balthazar set his sights and powerfully put a mid-range shot on the Caledonia AIA goal in the 74th minute, and was only foiled when Louison acrobatically turn the ball over the bar. Balthazar then put in a good wide pass which found the substitute Sean Narcis overlapping wide on the left, and the front runner pinned a perfect cross for the other wide midfielder Jemel Sebro to head in from close-up, to make the score 2-0 in the 80th minute. The teams fought equally for long periods, but Caledonia never quite put a scare in the Army at any time.
Also on Tuesday night at Couva, North East Stars picked up three points when Trevin Caesar’s (26th & 52nd) goals on either side of half-time and a Clevon Mc Fee own goal in the 89th minute gave North East Stars a 3-0 win over Police. Caesar re-directed a Chike Sullivan shot to the far post for the opener and showed real determination to force in the ball for a second goal on his third attempt. Newly-recruited Former Rangers captain Mc Fee also scored his first goal for Police, albeit an own goal, when he put into his team’s net when trying to cut out a dangerous ball across the box from former T&T youth striker Franz Husbands .
UPCOMING DIGICEL PRO LEAGUE MATCHES:
6 (p.m.) - Defence Force v St Ann’s Rangers, Marvin Lee Stadium
6 (p.m.) - San Juan Jabloteh v North East Stars, Ato Boldon
8 (p.m.) - Central FC v W Connection, Ato Boldon Stadium
4 (p.m.) - St Ann’s Rangers v Police, Larry Gomes Stadium
4 (p.m.) - Point Fortin Civic v Defence Force, Mahaica Oval
(Tuesday, March 18)
6 (p.m.) - Police v San Juan Jabloteh, Larry Gomes Stadium