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Defence Force's Matthew Woo Ling (left) and Isaiah Leacock (right) celebrate after scoring against AC Port of Spain during the 2024 First Citizens Cup final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo on Wednesday, May 29th 2024.

DEFENCE Force claimed the 2024 First Citizens Knockout Cup title when they got a comprehensive 3-1 victory against AC PoS in the final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo on Wednesday night.

A lethal hat-trick from former AC PoS striker Isaiah Leacock did the trick as the Army/Coast Guard combination sauntered to the knockout crown for the second straight season — pocketing a $100,000 prize in the process. Last season, coach Lloyd Andrews’ Defence Force team lifted the inaugural T&T Premier Football League (TTPFL) knockout title when they defeated Terminix La Horquetta Rangers by a 5-3 margin in an extra-time thriller. And against the newly crowned TTPFL champions AC PoS, Defence Force showed they are still the knockout kings as they got their third win over their rivals in the 2023/24 season.

AC PoS copped the league title with a convincing win against Heritage Petroleum Point Fortin Civic on May 19, and they also showed off their fluency in a 4-1 First Citizens semifinal win against Prisons FC last week.

However, in the finale, AC PoS met their match and it came in the shape of their former front man Leacock. The talented striker, who lit up the TTPFL’s tier two with Harlem Strikers last season, opened the scoring with a sweet sliding volley in the 22nd minute to beat former Soca Warriors goalkeeper Marvin Phillip after receiving a cross from the left.

Leacock, who hails from Cocorite, celebrated his first goal by removing his playing jersey to pay homage the men who were the victims of a quadruple murder at Phase One, Powder Magazine on May 4.

Defence Force held a 1-0 lead at the half, and a bit of madness from Phillip saw the “Capital Boys” of AC PoS reduced to ten men soon after the interval.

In the 48th minute, after collecting a left-side Jelani Felix free kick, Phillip was shown a straight red card by referee Kwinsi Williams after flooring opposing midfielder Matthew Woo-Ling with a clothesline in the penalty area. Phillip made no fuss over his dismissal, and his replacement Jacques Poon-Lewis was comprehensively beaten from the spot by Leacock who rifled a left-footer into the top corner to make it 2-0 in the 52nd minute.

Defence Force were well in control at that point, and the final result looked like a forgone conclusion as the TTPFL champs struggled to establish the smooth and slick passing rhythm which helped them ascend to the title.

In the build-up to the game, Andrews said getting the upper hand in the middle of the park would have been key to the game’s outcome. And he definitely felt his battalion executed the game plan to a T to keep AC PoS’ crafty ball-players at bay.

“What made us successful is that we crowded them out of the centre, especially (Michel) Poon-Angeron and Duane Muckette. They started to come deep and go wide for the ball. And in doing that, it allowed us to organise defensively,” Andrews told Newsday.

“They were unable to create that magic in terms of creativity in the middle of the park. We took that away from them. They didn’t know what to do in order to break us down.

“Based on what they were doing, we were able to break them down and score some goals.”

Leacock looked like a man on a mission, and the player who answers to the alias “Bongo,” beat Poon-Lewis once more by arrowing a wicked left-footed shot into the bottom corner from outside the area in the 62nd minute. It was Leacock’s second hat-trick in back-to-back games, as he also scored three times against Central FC in a 5-0 semifinal victory for Defence Force.

It was a superb performance from the striker, who took his season’s tally to 15 goals, with six of those coming in the last two knockout matches. Painfully for AC PoS, Leacock’s first seven goals this season came with the Capital Boys at the start of the league campaign.

“Because of the mobility of Leacock and his ability to shoot the ball – he has a really good left foot – we were creating the one-on-ones and then when we played the ball into him he was able to make combination plays,” Andrews said.

The Defence Force coach marvelled at the quality of the goals scored by his striker as he said Leacock displayed great awareness and instinct in front of goal.

“You couldn’t ask for two more wonderful goals than that to win a championship.”

When asked about the possibility of an upcoming national call-up for Leacock, Andrews said, “Nothing happens before its time. He will get his time on the national team once he remains consistent. Once he has the right attitude and the right mindset, he’s going to get it.”

AC PoS got a consolation in the 72nd minute when their captain and talisman Muckette buried a penalty following a needless foul in the area by opposing skipper Jamali Garcia.

Both teams created half-chances in the dying minutes, while the tackles flew from all sides in rainy conditions.

Most importantly, at the final whistle, the Army/Coast Guard combination were able to stand tall and salute their fans after defending their knockout title.

After a slow start to the league season, which saw them eventually finishing third behind AC PoS and Miscellaneous Police FC, Andrews said his team wanted to redeem themselves and continue their Cup dominance.

“We wanted to make history. We wanted to be the first team to win the knockout competition in the TTPFL and we have (now done it twice). The guys made a little history for themselves.”

AC PoS can still hold their heads high after beating both Police and Defence Force to the league title, and they ended the campaign with a $50,000 prize for their runner-up finish in the First Citizens Cup.

SOURCE: T&T Newsday