ATO BOLDON STADIUM, Couva - Shahdon Winchester scored on either side of the break on Saturday to secure a 2-0 W Connection victory over cellar positioned St. Ann's Rangers, while keeping the "Savonnetta Boys" on course for the 2013/2014 Digicel Pro League million-dollar title.
Winchester, who is expected to return to Finland with FF Jaro by mid-March, gave Connection a 1-0 advantage by the 19th minute, and overcame a resilient Rangers' goalie Akel Clarke again in the 57th minute to complete the 2-0 win, while restoring coach Stuart Charles Fevrier's men 8-point lead at the top of the table with 37 points.
"I think we (Connection) can hold on (for the title) once we keep scoring out goals and building our confidence as we go along," said Winchester.
"It's not out of our reach to take the championship this season and everyone is focused on the goal and what's needed to be done."
In hot pursuit of Connection are second positioned Point Fortin Civic (29 points), 3-0 winners over Police FC on Friday night in their Round Three Match Day One fixture, and third positioned Central FC (26 points).
Central will meet defending champions Defence Force from 4 pm at the Larry Gomes Stadium on Sunday 9 March, and Connection will certainly be paying close attention to the result of that contest.
Connection have registered an amazing total of 11 wins, 4 draws and conceded just one defeat; scoring a total 32 goals and letting in 9.
On Saturday, Clarke was guilty of nervously gifting Connection the opening item, when, under no challenge, his poor clearance fell to the feet of Hashim Arcia, who quickly found Winchester at the area. The 22-year-old Connection starlet took one touch away from Clarke and buried his strike into the back of the net.
The 25-year-old Guyana international Clarke — who was fortunate not to concede in the 4th and 8th minutes when Jerrel Britto guided wide of the upright, a Winchester cross, and the latter shaving the side netting from above the area — bounced back to pull off a number of great saves in the second half despite conceding another goal.
Six minutes after the break, Clarke turned away a powerful left footed strike by Kurt Frederick, for a corner, after a neat ball by Connection defender Daneil Cyrus over the Rangers back-line created room for the second half substitute.
Moments later Cyrus also had an opportunity, but his header off a Joevin Jones free-kick flew overbar.
But when Jones slipped a pass through the defence in the 57th minute, Winchester handed Connection a 2-0 cushion — with his fifth goal since returning to Fevrier's squad in January — on the second bite after Clarke had charged down the initial effort.
That didn't flatten Clarke though. The Rangers goalie was able to twice deny Connection substitute and nippy Surinamese striker Dimitrie Apai a place on the scoresheet and Winchester any further items.
Clarke tamed an acrobatic attempt by Jones on a Connection counterattack and recovered superbly to deny Winchester on the rebound at the near post with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Clarke was unbeatable again, three minutes from time, when he intercepted Winchester's strike to preserve the 2-0 deficit — the same result of Round Two — and avoiding anything similar to Round One's 7-0 defeat against the "Savonnetta Boys".
"It's really important (for me scoring a double and helping my team," a somewhat unsatisfied Winchester added. "(...) because as (leaders) we aren't scoring as much as we should. It has a lot to do with our confidence. Tonight I scored two, but threw away four (chances). Credit to the (Rangers) goalkeeper (Clarke) but I think I should have done better with the chances I had."
While Rangers' goalie deserved credit for his work between the uprights, Connection's 22-year-old Julani Archibald sparkled when called upon.
The St. Kitts/Nevis international produced three saves in the 37th minute, first with an excellent block-out against Kyle La Borde, and in the same play charged down Keron Cornwall's blast before wrapping an effort from the right by Kennedy Isles.
Rangers were inches away from leveling the score in the 54th minute, however Keron Alexander's free kick from 24 yards out was only worth an applause as it flew over the crossbar.
Digicel Pro League 2013/2014 Round Three Match Day One
Friday's results, at the Marvin Lee Stadium
Police FC 0—3 Point Fortin Civic
Marcus Joseph 21’, Andre Toussaint 38’, Kariym Balthazar 90'+
Caledonia AIA 2—3 North East Stars
Densill Theobald 32’ , 85’ ; Trevin Caesar 7’, 61’, Kennedy Hinkson 87’
Saturday's result, at the Ato Boldon Stadium
St. Ann's Rangers 0—2 W Connection
Shahdon Winchester 19', 57'
Upcoming Round Three Match Day One fixture
Sunday 9 March
Central FC vs Defence Force—6 pm, Larry Gomes Stadium
St. Ann’s Rangers—1. Akel Clarke, 4. Jelani Peters (C), 10. Kennedy Isles, 14. Michael Yaw Darko (21. Jair Edwards 84th), 16. Keron Alexander, 33. Isaiah McIntyre, 41. Kevin Carter, 43. Shomarie Antoine, 44. Sedale McLean, 50. Kyle LaBorde, 51. Keron Cornwall (26. Josh Toussaint 54th)
Unused substitutes—22. Christopher Biggette (GK), 31. Jameel Antoine, 5. Keon Peters, 49. Chad Clinton, 39. Shaquille Moses
W Connection—18. Julani Archibald, 3. Gerard Williams (C), 4. Daneil Cyrus, 10. Joevin Jones, 12. Jerrel Britto (32. Demitrie Apai 58th), 65. Neil Benjamin Jr. (2. Kurt Frederick 46th), 14. Hashim Arcia (7. Silvio Spann 78th), 39. Alvin Jones, 16. Shahdon Winchester, 19. Leslie Joel Russell, 40. Jomol Williams
Unused substitutes—22. Aquelius Sylvester (GK), 25. Christian Viveros, 3. Devaughn Elliot, 17. Jamal Clarence
Coach—Stuart Charles Fevrier