Trinidad and Tobago international goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams produced a save, and on the very next kick, scored the winner after eight rounds to send Central FC into the final of the 2016-17 season-ending Digicel Pro Bowl with a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Club Sando after a goalless draw in semi-final one on Sunday at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
But the Couva Sharks goalie's epic strike from the spot stood second to a second-half hat-trick by Jamille Boatswain in Defence Force's 4-0 win over Police FC in semi-final two at the very same Couva venue.
Just as they started the season against each other on Sep. 9 in the Digicel Charity Shield, which the Couva Sharks won, Pro Bowl holders Defence Force and Central, who were recently crowned Digicel Pro League champions for a third consecutive time, will tackle each other in the season-ending $100,000 "Winner Takes All" Pro Bowl title-match on Sunday Feb. 19 from 6pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
The 23-year-old Boatswain, who joined the Army/Coast Guard combination during the January transfer window from Point Fortin Civic, broke the deadlock on the hour mark when he ran unchallenged at the back post to head powerfully past Police goalie Adrian Foncette off a perfectly placed Marvin Jones cross from the right.
That goal arrived eight minutes after Aklie Edwards had a wonderful opportunity to put Defence Force ahead with two bites of the cherry at point-blank, but on both occasions the left-back directed his attempts into the chest of Foncette.
Foncette, however, stood beaten for a second time in the 68th-minute when in-form midfielder Hashim Arcia unleashed a 25-yard free-kick to find the back of the Police net.
Foncette avoided a third on 72 minutes with a diving save to put behind an effort from distance by Kerry Joseph.
But there was little the Police custodian could do to stop a 25-yard rocket from Boatswain, who celebrated his second goal by the 78th-minute.
By then there was no coming back for Police, who enjoyed a better showing in the opening moments and even forced Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke into saves to deny Christon Thomas and Elijah Belgrave.
“We executed everything from the training park,” said Defence Force head coach Marvin Gordon. “We started slow but we came into it as the game progressed. We really lifted our game after the half-time talk and got a great result.”
Boatswain was not done. He completed his hat-trick with his 14th goal in all competitions this season – six of them for Defence Force – with a composed finish past Foncette, who was hung out to dry by his defence, after Christopher Durity’s through-pass from the centre of the field set Boatswain free ahead of two defenders.
“After the first goal it opened up the game for me and my confidence grew,” said Boatswain. “And I just wanted to keep scoring as much as I could. It’s good to fit in so quickly with the team and good scoring my first hat-trick for the team.”
It was a refreshing finish to Sunday night for football fans who turned up as early as the sunny afternoon but witnessed a stalemate after ninety minutes between league champions Central FC and mid-table finishers Club Sando in the earlier semi-final.
Central forward Johan Peltier muffed two excellent scoring opportunities in the second half and defender Keston George saw his efforts from distance on either side of the break kept by Sando ‘keeper Kelvin Henry, in somewhat of a lacklustre performance by the Sharks.
While Sando, without star forward Akeem Roach, who according to his coach Angus Eve, left for trials Major League Soccer outfits Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire in the United States, had to manage with attacker Kevon Piper in the centre forward role for most parts while sticking to counterattacking strategies.
“Being without Roach was a big loss for us,” Eve explained. “Our game plan is really to get [the ball] up to him, he holds it up and brings all the guys into play.
“Unfortunately today we had to use one of the wide forwards, Piper, up front, and to his credit I think he did a good job for us. Defensively we were very solid. I played an extra defender because we have to give Central their credit; they are the top team. We tried to [play defensively] to wear them down and play on the counterattack. It worked most for most parts.”
Eve's side created their best opening five minutes from the break, but Piper, with four orange shirts in support across the area, clattered his attempt into a defender.
They were lucky not to concede when an unchallenged Central winger Rundell Winchester headed inches overbar off a deep Kaydion Gabriel cross from the right in the 78th-minute. And, a minute from time Winchester’s cross from the right fell to Darren Mitchell inside the area but the Central captain provided Henry with a simple gather.
Sando also survived a scare in stoppage-time which ended with Central substitute Tyrik John hitting inches wide of the upright.
But Sando had the chance to celebrate their first ever win against Central since joining the league last season, after Kemuel Rivers, Keron Cornwall, Akeem Humphrey and Nical Stephens buried their kicks from the spot and goalkeeper Henry had blanked Central’s Jason Marcano on the Sharks first attempt. But Trevin Latapy thumped his effort aimlessly high.
“The game plan worked,” added Eve. “We got to the point on penalties to win it and I think Latas’ didn’t hold his nerves.”
It was the start of the end for Sando with Piper and Leslie Joel Russell joining Latapy in entirely missing the target and Shaquille Holder denied by Jan-Michael Williams.
Jan, adding insult to injury, stepped up and scored the winning kick past a wrong-sided Henry, but quickly interrupted his celebrations to lend support to his opposite number.
Jan, who estimates it was his first penalty kick in over 10 years, said, “I always try to put pressure on myself to save penalties and not to kick them. But today, however, the players we [entrusted to kick the penalties] didn’t do well and I took the opportunity to step up and, thankfully, it came out our way.”
Jan joined Central teammates Mitchell, Leston Paul, George and Winchester in finding the back of the net from the spot, while Keron Cummings and substitute Tyrik John joined Marcano in failing to hit the back of the net.
"Great effort from our guys today (Sunday)," said Central coach Dale Saunders. "We came out on top. It shows the confidence we have in the camp. We knew if it came down to penalties we would come out on top.
"We were a bit lethargic in the first half and tried to improve in the second half but muffed our chances. But there was no doubt in coming out on top; we have national team goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams and quality players in our squad. But we must also give credit to [Sando coach] Angus Eve, he organised his team well behind the ball [during the ninety minutes]."
Police FC 0 vs Defence Force 4 (Jamille Boatswain 61’, 78’, 84’ Hashim Arcia 68’), at Ato Boldon Stadium.
Central FC 0 (5) vs Club Sando 0 (4), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Central won the game 5-4 on kicks from the penalty spot.
Kicks from the penalty spot
Club Sando 4 v Central FC 5
Kemuel Rivers (scored) Jason Marcano (saved)
Keron Cornwall (scored) Darren Mitchell (scored)
Akeem Humphrey (scored) Leston Paul (scored)
Nical Stephens (scored) Keston George (scored)
Trevin Latapy (overbar) Rundell Winchester (scored)
Kevon Piper (wide) Keron Cummings (wide)
Leslie Joel Russell (overbar) Tyrik John (overbar)
Shaquille Holder (saved) Jan-Michael Williams (scored)
Central FC: 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK), 3.Keion Goodridge, 5.Keston George, 6.Leston Paul, 10.Keron Cummings, 11.Darren Mitchell (Capt.), 12.Kishun Seecharan (Yellow Card) (7.Jason Marcano 68th minute), 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 17.Johan Peltier (45.Tyrik John 83rd minute), 33.Julius James, 77.Rundell Winchester.
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 18.Rhondel Paul, 27.Derron John, 28.Jules Lee, 29.Jabari Casaquero.
Coach: Dale Saunders
Club Sando: 34.Kelvin Henry (GK), 5.Nical Stephens, 6.Kemuel Rivers, 7.Akeem Humphrey (Capt.), 8.Kevon Piper, 9.Keron Cornwall, 17.Jared London (Yellow Card) (10.Shaquille Holder 64th minute), 18.Trevin Latapy, 19.Leslie Joel Russell, 23.Nicholas Thomas (Yellow Card), 27.Jayson Joseph (Yellow Card).
Unused substitutes: 4.Rondell Payne, 11.Joel Kevin Lewis, 12.Michael Basdeo, 16.Anderson Toussaint, 21.Sharkeel Donatien, 33.Alexei Julien (GK).
Coach: Angus Eve
Referee: Keilon Bacchus
Police FC: 18.Adrian Foncette (GK), 5.Anton Hutchinson, 6.Jibri Mc David (Yellow Card), 10.Kareem Freitas, 15.Jameel Perry (23.Micah Lewis 68th minute), 17.Dexter Alleyne, 19.Christon Thomas (12.Kadeem Riley 68th minute), 20.Elijah Belgrave, 21.Todd Ryan (Capt.), 25.Kenaz Williams (24.Keeron Benito 72nd minute), 38.Nequan Caruth.
Unused substitutes: 22.Theon Browne (GK), 3.Ryan O’Neil, 7.Kareem Perry, 13.Dillon Kirton.
Coach: Richard Hood
Defence Force: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK), 3.Jamali Garcia, 6.Rodell Elcock, 7.Jamille Boatswain (9.Devorn Jorsling 86th minute), 8.Christopher Durity, 10.Hashim Arcia (20.Levi Serries 82nd minute), 13.Marvin Jones (32.Jameel Cooper 86th minute), 17.Curtis Gonzales, 21.Aklie Edwards, 23.Kerry Joseph, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (Capt.).
Unused substitutes: 19.Thurlani George, 22.Anthony Charles, 35.Tirek George, 94.Keron Fox.
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Referee: Cecile Hinds