Football fans were hoping it would happen.
Now it is a reality.
Akademiks and Firehouse, the two favoured teams in the Lime Pelican Football Challenge, stormed into the Independence Day $100, 000 final with contrasting but much cherished victories at Kensington Oval last night. Akademiks defeated T S Strikers 2-0 while Firehouse overcame Top Bay Settlers 2-1 in the nightcap thriller.
Playing before a crowd estimated at between 4 500 to 5 000, Top Bay Settlers immediately showed their intention of keeping Firehouse’s inspirational attacking mid-fielder Norman Forde quiet. They assigned Brian Gay to mark Forde and for the rest of the game until Forde went off in the second-half with a niggling strain, Gay stuck to Forde like white on rice.The effect was that Top Bay Settlers controlled the mid-field for the initial stages of the first-half and made a number of speculative runs on the Firehouse defence. Settlers’ Ramuel Miller had an early opportunity but shot straight at goal-keeper Shaheika Duke.
Defender Ricardio Morris also should have scored in the early exchanges when with only Duke to beat, he delivered a weak shot that gave the custodian no bother.
Firehouse, though, also had their moments. Rohan Hall on the left of the field squared the ball to former national Ricky Barnes whose header on goal was brilliantly saved by Top Bay Settlers’ goalie Bernard Howell.
But with former national and English Premier League player Gregory Lalu Goodridge proving an inspiration from his sweeper position, Top Bay Settlers seemed destined to score at any minute as Firehouse soaked up the pressure.Then against the run of play, as often happens when the team dominating fails to score, in the 36th minute Jason Blackman collected a pass on the run from Kevin Bartlett, waltzed past Goodridge and sent a delightful shot out of the reach of a beaten Howell.
As the first half came to an end Forde had pushed more forward in the attack with Gay still on his shirt tail, while Paul Soup Lovell, seeming to be carrying an injury, dropped further back into mid-field. A few near-misses ensued but there were no further goals going into the break.
On the resumption, Top Bay Settlers played their trump card by bringing on Ryan Griffith and it had an almost immediate effect. Firehouse’s Vincentian national player Oscar Nero, who had a poor game, and was often found out of position, was beaten once again by Griffith who sent a lovely ball to Edwin Brereton who squared to Mustafa Haqq and he coolly slotted the ball past Duke to leave the score 1-1.
Forde was substituted by Dylan Marius and Lovell pushed back into a more direct forward position.
Settlers should have equalised when Miller got himself into a great position but rather than take a shot, he elected to dribble or perhaps walk the ball into the goal and was stripped. The regulation time expired with the teams locked and extra-time the eventuality.
Some tired legs took to the field and despite some close chances, the clock ticked away toward possible penalty kicks. Then heartbreak came for Settlers. Referee Matthew Alleyne awarded a penalty against Howell for a negligible touch on Blackman in the area who went down in a heap. Lovell stepped up to the line and brought grief to all the Top Bay Settlers’ supporters in the Oval.
There was drama, still, as Goodridge’s free kick from a foul on Settlers, was heading into the back of the net before it was intercepted by a diving Duke who saved magnificently.Then Griffith played a ball inside the six-yard box to Henderson Richards and with both goal and goal bars offering him welcome with Duke out of position and not a Firehouse defender to be seen, Richards headed the ball wide of the goal. And that was the end of the tournament for Top Bay Settlers.
Earlier a game built on defence by both Akademiks and TS Strikers meandered along for almost 90 minutes. There were times when as many as six players on both sides were in defensive positions in their half and neither team seemed willing to push forward.
Then in the dying stages of the game the encounter blazed into life. First Andre Daniel handled the ball in the area in his effort to prevent it reaching Arantes Lawrence. Lawrence then calmly scored the †penalty past goal keeper Omari Eastmond. Eastmond saved the initial strike, but Lawrence latched onto the rebound with T S Strikers’ players in slumber mode inside the box and making no attempt to reach the rebound.
And in extra time, Lawrence scored his sixth goal of the competition when an initial shot ricocheted off a defender into his path and he hit past an advancing Eastmond. (WG)