Nathan Lewis has quickly grown into a San Juan Jabloteh home favourite after just two games at the Barataria Recreation Ground.
It took Jabloteh 17 years to return to the community but just two home games for the 25-year-old Lewis, who joined the Jabloteh this season from crosstown rivals Morvant Caledonia United, to treat the people of Barataria to three superb goals—two of which came against Defence Force in a 2-1 win on Saturday night.
Lewis scored on either side of the break on counterattacks against the Army/Coast Guard combination to steer the “San Juan Kings” to their fifth straight Digicel Pro League win while taking his league goal tally this season to 10 goals—six of them by scoring in each of his team’s last four games.
“Out of the 22 players on the field he (Lewis) was a total standout tonight,” said Jabloteh coach Keith Jeffrey on Saturday. “His pace and movement destroyed Army.”
Jeffrey, though, said he was disappointed that Lewis was not selected among a 22-man squad, mainly made up of locally based players, by Trinidad and Tobago national team coach Stephen Hart for an upcoming friendly international against Grenada on March 19.
“I am so disappointed,” Jeffrey said. “I can’t understand you’re picking a local national team and no Nathan Lewis. Nathan has been excellent all season, not just tonight. (Jerwyn) Balthazar was among the 22 players on the field tonight and was absent because of the speed of the game. But Balthazar at age 33 was selected on the national team. I don’t understand. Leave Balthazar on the national Futsal team!”
Jeffrey called on Hart to have more faith in local players and that more top national team opponents must be provided to help local players improve for the international stage.
“We are not giving the local guys the regular international exposure,” said the Jabloteh coach. “We have to get the right opponents on a regular basis to help develop our players for the international stage. We have no excuse. Look at Jamaica, $122 Jamaican are equivalent to US$1, and TT$6.60 are equivalent to US$1, but Jamaica national team attracts quality opponents on a regular basis.
“This [Pro] league is very good. I am proud of this league and great work of the local coaches. For instance Club Sando recently got four Grenada national team players and those players aren’t mastering our league. It’s time national team coaches really start having faith in the local players who just need consistent international level play.”
Lewis gave Jabloteh a 1-0 lead against Defence Force in the 25th minute after racing onto a pass and firing beyond goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke and into the far bottom corner from just inside the right of the area. It was a similar strike to the one he executed in the 3rd minute against visiting Point Fortin Civic a week ago for a 1-0 win at the Barataria venue.
This time his goal brought life to some 500 spectators—nearly three times the turnout for the Civic game—who turned up, and the second item was enough to put them over the top.
Lewis made it 2-0 in the 69th minute, smashing the ball beyond Clarke and into the far netting, after he was set free behind the defence by a lifted Fabian Reid pass.
Jabloteh’s second item didn’t come as a surprise after a few earlier attacks in the second half, one of which Reid (F) forced an excellent save out of Clarke.
But Defence Force, although failing to cope with Jabloteh’s intensity, pegged back a penalty goal on 83 minutes through forward Richard Roy for the 2-1 score after Rodell Elcock was upended in the Jabloteh area.
Roy was sharp from the spot, twice, after referee Gyasi Mc Donald had ordered a retake for encroachment. However Defence Force, who had defeated Jabloteh twice in the league and once in Cup competition this season, were on the losing end for the first time this season against the "San Juan Kings".
“I am happy with the result although I thought it wasn’t a right penalty because they (Defence Force) weren’t supposed the get the corner that led to the penalty in the first place.
“The game was very difficult, very physical. Army are always a seasoned team and bring a lot of physical presence. But the pace we are playing at will give every team difficulty. When you have pace, there is no formation or tactics to work against you. We are a pressing team trying to win the ball at all times.”
Jabloteh (38 points) are now one point behind third positioned Defence Force, who are without a point in their last two games, and eight points away from leaders Central FC (46 points).
Jeffrey said his side are aiming for a top two finish this season in the DPL to qualify for next season’s 2017 Caribbean Club Championship, the Caribbean qualifier tournament towards the Concacaf Champions League.
“The five wins in a row is because our players understand what the club wants to achieve and they are buying into my philosophy,” said the Jabloteh coach.
“They understand there is a lot of history at Jabloteh and the importance of returning the club as one of the teams in the Caribbean. This type of result against Defence Force will harness the Jabloteh way. Previously we have outplayed Army all season but never beat them until now. At present we are one of the better teams in the league. We have six league games remaining and we are going after [front runners] Central and W Connection.”
Jeffrey welcomes the two-week DPL break which facilitates the T&T national team preparation for the upcoming friendly international against Grenada and back-to-back FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on March 25 in Kingston and March 29 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad. The DPL resumes on the weekend of April 1-3.
“It will allow my players some time to recover, especially with players like Tyrone Charles, Nathan Lewis and a couple others who have picked up knocks against Army,” Jeffrey said. “I don’t think it will affect our run of form. We will have a few practice games within the two weeks and we will be relentless.”
San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Nathan Lewis 25’, 69’) vs Defence Force 1 (Richard Roy 83’ penalty), at Barataria Recreation Ground.
San Juan Jabloteh: 35.Andrew Durant; 4.Garth Thomas, 6.Akeem Benjamin, 7.Jamal Gay (9.Brent Sam 84th minute), 10.Tyrone Charles (2.Noel Williams 46th minute), 11.Damian Williams (Capt.), 13.Fabien Reid, 21.Aquil Selby, 24.Adrian Reid, 27.Nathan Lewis (8.Keyon Edwards 84th minute), 26.Marvin Oliver
Unused substitutes: 15.Jerome Mc Intyre, 20.Aaquil Campbell, 23.Kennedy Hinkson, 30.Shemel Louison (GK)
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
Defence Force: 25.Sheldon Clarke; 3.Jamali Garcia (8.Curtis Gonzales 46th minute), 4.Dave Long (10.Hashim Arcia 66th minute), 6.Rodell Elcock, 12.Jemel Sebro, 13.Marvin Jones (9.Devorn Jorsling 66th minute), 21.Aklie Edwards, 23.Kerry Joseph, 26.Richard Roy, 30.Kishun Seecharan, 99.Jerwyn Balthazar (Capt.)
Unused substitutes: 1.Andre Marchan (GK), 7.Jelani Felix, 18.Sean Narcis, 20.Levi Serries
Coach: Marvin Gordon
Match Referee: Gyasi Mc Donald