Neil Benjamin Jr. struck an opening goal and assist to steer record seven-time former champions W Connection into the semi-finals of the 2017 First Citizens Cup with a 3-1 quarter-final win over Couva rivals Central FC on Sunday at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.
Connection advances to face Club Sando in semi-final two from 8pm on Friday at the Ato Boldon Stadium, but the Savonetta Boys must first tackle the Angus Eve-coached side on Tuesday from 3:30pm at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in a crucial rescheduled top-of-the-table Pro League clash.
Point Fortin Civic will take on defending First Citizens Cup champions Defence Force in semi-final one from 6pm on Friday.
Mickaeel Jem Gordon had levelled Central on the stroke of the half but second-half goals by Brazilian forward Euller Eduardo Couto and substitute Daniel Diaz saw the Savonetta Boys comfortably secure the final semi-final spot.
“[Our guys] were focused,” said Benjamin whose side celebrated their sixth straight win in all competitions and are seven games unbeaten.
The 23-year-old Connection star added that Central are three-time Pro League holders and “we knew it [would not have been] an easy game, and we would have to put out in order to win the game—I think we gave our all today.”
Benjamin, who leads this season’s Pro League scorers’ list with 9 goals, took his tally to 12 goals in all competitions by firing past Central goalie Kern Caesar on 37 minutes at the Marabella venue after rounding defender Sean Bateau to give the Savonetta Boys a 1-0 lead.
But Gordon, picked out by a neat Jesse Joseph pass, levelled the two-time former First Citizens Cup champions, Central, 1-1 in stoppage-time of the first half with a blast into the top corner of goalkeeper Julani Archibald’s net after evading two Connection shirts at the edge of the box.
Archibald had earlier made light work of two long-range efforts by Sean De Silva and Tyrik John, but the St. Kitts and Nevis international was unable to match Gordon’s strike—although at full stretch.
Couto, however, restored Connection’s one-goal advantage in the 59th-minute. The Brazilian executed a solid first-time finish past a hapless Caesar to put the score at 2-1 off a precise low feed from Benjamin who had, with great ease, escaped Central left-back Tyrik John.
“I always try to contribute to my team in every way that I can [whether it be] attack, score goals, defend; I give my all,” added Benjamin. “We had one or two errors but we bounced back and kept going, and got the result.”
Caesar kept down the Central deficit in the 79th-minute with a brilliant save to keep out a deflected strike from Connection left-back Frank Padilla Gil, who showed excellent footwork against defender Taryk Sampson to create shooting room for himself.
Soon after on the other end, Caesar’s teammate and midfielder Jason Marcano’s hammered attempt from eight yards out miraculously cannoned off the Connection upright before the rebounded attempt by another Central shirt deflected overbar.
Connection, though, put the match out of Central’s reach in the first of three minutes stoppage-time with substitutes Daniel Diaz and Shaquille John combining brilliantly at the end. John whipped a low right side cross through the Central area and Diaz, who earlier attempted to beat Caesar from distance, finished confidently at the back post to complete the 3-1 win.
“It was a reasonably good game,” said Connection head coach Stuart Charles Fevrier. “Central also were not that bad although from their point of view they would feel they could have done better. The game at one point in time could have gone either way. But I always thought we had a little more control than they had because our team currently are a little more experienced than they are.
“First half we made too many simple errors, especially conceding on the whistle which I thought it was a goal we should not have conceded. The second half [however] I must give our guys credit, they came out with more purpose and the substitutes we brought on, they had a positive effect in giving us the 3-1 victory.”
Fevrier looks to another victory on Tuesday when Connection tackle Sando in league competition. But the Savonetta Boys’ coach says his side are at a disadvantage with Sando, 3-1 First Citizens Cup quarter-final winners over Morvant Caledonia United last Friday, having “three days to recover.”
“It’s unfair from my personal point of view because we are playing for a championship,” said Fevrier. “At least there must fairness because all of us would like to win. You cannot give an unfair advantage. But having said that we will go out and give our best.”
Connection (23 points) and Sando (18 points) are second and third respectively on the League standings with Tuesday’s game in hand while North East Stars (27 points) lead the table by four points.
Also on Tuesday in two other rescheduled league fixtures, Central FC must visit San Juan Jabloteh from 4pm at the Barataria Oval and MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers will host Police FC from 3:30pm at St. Augustine Secondary School Ground.
W Connection 3 (Neil Benjamin Jr. 37’, Euller Eduardo Couto 59’, Daniel Diaz 90’+1) vs Central FC 1 (Mickaeel Jem Gordon 45’+1), at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.
W Connection: 18.Julani Archibald (GK); 2.Frank Padilla Gil, 3.Gerard Williams (Capt.), 4.Maurice Ford, 7.Neil Benjamin Jr. (30.Shaquille John 90th minute), 10.Dimitri Apai (20.Daniel Diaz 78th minute), 11.Shirvone Malik St. Prix (16.Alvin Jones 60th minute), 14.Euller Eduardo Couto, 19.Briel Thomas (Yellow Card), 24.Jameel Antoine, 26.Isaiah Garcia.
Unused substitutes: 33.Jason Belfon (GK); 21.Ronell Paul.
Coach: Stuart Charles-Fevrier,
Central FC: 30.Kern Caesar (GK); 7.Jason Marcano (Capt.), 8.Sean De Silva, 10.Paul Sirjoo (Yellow Card), 12.Taryk Sampson, 15.Kaydion Gabriel (46.Caleb Folan 61st minute), 17.Jesse Joseph (6.Shem Clausel 80th minute), 18.Tyrik John, 24.Jules Lee, 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon, 40.Sean Bateau.
Unused substitutes: 1.Stephon Seepersad (GK); 13.Rhondell Gibson, 28.Jiron Francis.
Coach: Stern John
Referee: Kwinsi Williams