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Defence Force's Brent Sam (left) congratulates a teammate after scoring against 1976 FC Phoenix during a TTPFL match at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on Friday, November 24th 2023.
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Reigning Trinidad and Tobago Premier Football League (TTPFL) tier one champions Defence Force wasted little time in laying down their marker in the new campaign, as they spanked tier one newcomers 1976 FC Phoenix by a 5-0 margin at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo on Friday night.

Playing in the second game of a doubleheader on the opening night of the TTPFL's second season, coach Lloyd Andrews' team showed no mercy to last season's tier-two winners as they put on a militant display to get the first win of the season. The Army shared the love around, as five different goal scorers found the back of the net as last season's league and knockout cup winners cut Phoenix's flight. There was also a familiar surname on the scoresheet for Defence Force, as three of their five goals were scored by Garcias – none of whom are related.

The first goal came in only the sixth minute, as Nathaniel Garcia – the elder brother of Soca Warriors star forward Levi Garcia – beat Phoenix goalkeeper Duvaughn Daniel. The Phoenix shot-stopper was named the best goalkeeper of the inaugural tier two campaign as his team went unbeaten in league play last season. However, Daniel and his defence did not have an answer for Defence Force, who are intent on repeating their double-title feat from last season. Phoenix, who were accepted into tier one for the 2023/24 campaign after satisfying both financial and club licensing criteria, were given a rude awakening in their first game in T&T's top flight.

Defence Force were direct in their play down the flanks, with the pair of Kathon St Hillaire and in-form Soca Warriors attacker Reon Moore threatening the Phoenix defence with their trickery and lightning speed. For all their pressure, Army's second goal came as a result of lackadaisical play at the back by the opposing team, although the finishing touch was still pleasing to the eye. Towering Defence Force striker Brent Sam was the man who got his team's second goal, as he rifled a right-footed shot past Daniel from just inside the box in first-half stoppage-time following a Phoenix giveaway.

Phoenix arguably had their best opening of the game with a pair of chances within seconds of each other just after the interval, but the defending champions swiftly put the game to bed with a goal at the other end. In the 52nd minute, the visiting Tobago team initiated a swift counter-attack, but Trevin Caesar's goal-bound effort was expertly charged down in the area by Justin Garcia – tier one's Defender of the Season and Player of the Season award-winner. At the end of the same play, Phoenix's Le Jandro Williams rippled goalkeeper Christopher Biggette's side-netting with a rasping right-footed blast.

In the 55th minute, Justin, fondly known as "Shiggy," made his presence felt in the opposing box as well as he rose above the defence to head home a right-side corner by Justin Sadoo to make it 3-0. Last season, Shiggy scored seven league goals – inclusive of penalties – to help Army to the tier one title.

In the 66th minute, Moore emerged as the new spot-kick taker for Defence Force, but his right-footed penalty was kept out by Daniel's trailing leg. Three minutes later, Daniel was picking the ball out of his net after another set piece, as Shiggy's fellow central defender, Jamali Garcia, headed in a corner by Nathaniel Garcia. Phoenix coach Nigel De Souza may have been sick at the sight of Army's cadre of Garcias at that point.

The defending champions were not done there though, as substitute Lashawn Roberts sent a lovely stooping header past Daniel in the 90th minute after receiving a delightful cross from Curtis Gonzales. Roberts, who hails from Tobago, will hold the bragging rights among his Phoenix peers after Army's convincing win.

On Sunday, three games will be contested in the TTPFL. In an Arima Velodrome double-header, Caledonia will face last season's tier one runner-up AC PoS from 4 pm, while Prisons FC will play Central FC from 6 pm. At the Mahaica Sporting Complex in Point Fortin, Heritage Petroleum Point Fortin Civic will host Terminix La Horquetta Rangers from 6 pm.


SOURCE: T&T Newsday