National defender Curtis Gonzales went from villain to hero as his penalty-kick strike four minutes into time added on at the end of the match earned T&T Pro League leaders Defence Force an entertaining 4-4 draw with Tiger Tanks Club Sando at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo on Wednesday night.
Despite the drawn results, Defence Force still leads the 11-club table with 42 points from 17 matches, seven ahead of Terminix La Horquetta Rangers with three matches left for both clubs and will claim the title with a victory in their next match or a slip up by Rangers.
However, on Wednesday, the Army/Coast-Guard combination had only themselves to blame for not coming away with all three points and climbing to within a win of a record 19th national league crown and fourth in the competition 20-year history after squandering a commanding 2-0 lead.
Going into the match at Mucurapo, Defence Force who last won the Pro League in the 2012/2013 season held a nine-point cushion over Terminix La Horquetta Rangers and needed to win two of their remaining four matches to seal the title.
And it took only six minutes for first-year head coach Lloyd Andrews and his charges to take the lead through Dylon King who then doubled the "Teteron Men" advantage in the 32nd minute.
But on the stroke of half-time things started to turn in coach Angus Eve's Club Sando favour when some sloppy defensive play by Gonzales allowed Kevon Williams to steal the ball and beat advancing goalkeeper Andre Marchan, who picked up a thigh injury in the process.
Seven minutes after the restart, Shaqkeem Joseph made amends for a clear missed chances two minutes earlier when he capitalised on a mix-up between defender Jamali Garci and a nervous-looking substitute goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke to make it 2-all by lobbing the ball over the latter from a long clearance in his half.
Keon Moore then had a chance to reclaim the lead for Defence Force in the 55th minute, but his tame effort was easily handled by goalkeeper Kelvin Henry.
Clarke's nightmarish afternoon would continue in goal for Defence Force on the hour mark when he hesitated with the ball at his feet before robbed of possession, only for Club Sando's Michael Basdeo to let him off the hook, by firing his effort overbar.
Keron Cornwall eventually made Clarke and his sloppy defender pay for their casual play after the goalkeeper's weak clearance fell to his feet, and he nonchalantly curled a right-footed effort into the top left-hand corner of the goal for a shock 3-2 lead.
The out-of-sync Moore had another chance to get on the scoresheet and put his team on level terms, but after some neat build-up play at the top of the Club Sando 18-yard box with Brent Sam, his effort was smartly kept out at the near post by Henry.
The game was no an all-out attacking affair with chances coming fast and furious at both ends with both sets of players tiring from the afternoon hot and humid conditions.
And newly recruited Dwight Quintero eventually took one of the many chances for Defence Force to get his team level again at 3-3 by out jumping two Club Sando defenders to nod in a headed at the from a Moore left-sided flighted cross in the 76th minute.
Club Sando may have felt hard done by Quintero's equaliser after wasting a few chances of their own, but Joseph had them celebrating six minutes later when tapped into at the far post, with his league-best 11th goal of the season, for a 4-3 advantage after second-half introduction Trevin Caesar had raced past three opposing players on the left side of the defence and fired a pass across the goal through a crowd of four players.
Joseph's strike seemed a certain match-winner for Club Sando, however, Defence Force managed to eke out a deserved share of the points when Gonzales stepped up and converted a penalty after referee Kwinsi Williams whistled for an infringement four minutes into time added-on.
At La Horquetta Recreation Ground, Phase II, La Horquetta, Rangers had no such troubles as they coasted to a 4-0 trashing of Morvant Caledonia United with Isaiah Lee scoring a first-half brace in the 23rd and 45th minutes before Jamal Creighton (66th) and Kadeem Corbin (86th) added second-half items.
Also on Wednesday, Point Fortin Civic whipped three-time league winners Central FC 4-1 in the first match at La Horquetta while six-time league winners and out-going champions W Connection blanked Cunupia FC 3-0 at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
Wednesday March 11
Central FC 1 (Ché Raul Benny 42) v Point Fortin Civic 4 (Cory Cyrus 9, Tyrel Emmanuel 24, Akeem Redhead 84, Rondell Paul 90+1), 6pm, La Horquetta Recreational Ground
La Horquetta Rangers 4 (Isaiah Lee 23, 45+1, Jamal Creighton 66, Kadeem Corbin 86) v Morvant Caledonia United 0, 8pm, La Horquetta Recreational Ground
W Connection 3 (Neil Benjamin Jr, 23, Mickaeel Jem Gordon 48, Isaiah Hudson 64) v Cunupia FC 0, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium
Defence Force 4 (Dillon King 6, 32, Dwight Quintero 76, Curtis Gonzales 94+4-Pen) v Club Sando 4 (Kevon Williams 45+1, Shaqkeem Joseph 52, 82, Keron Cornwall 65), 6pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium
Latest Team Standings
P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Defence Force FC 17 13 3 1 35 17 +18 42
2 La Horquetta Rangers 17 11 2 4 48 18 +30 35
3 Point Fortin Civic 17 8 4 5 25 23 +2 28
4 W Connection 16 8 3 5 28 20 +8 27
5 Morvant Caledonia United 17 6 6 5 20 23 -3 24
6 Police FC 17 6 5 6 29 22 +7 23
7 Club Sando 18 5 6 7 28 25 +3 21
8 San Juan Jabloteh 17 5 4 8 21 31 -10 19
9 Central FC 18 3 5 10 18 34 -16 14
10 AC Port of Spain 17 3 4 10 18 38 -20 13
11 Cunupia FC 17 2 6 9 14 33 -19 12
11 - Shaqkeem Joseph (Club Sando).
10 - Jamal Creighton (La Horquetta Rangers).
8 - Isaiah Lee (La Horquetta Rangers).
7 - Kevon Woodley (Cunupia FC), Tyrone Charles (La Horquetta Rangers).
6 - Tev Lawrence (Morvant Caledonia United), Che Paul Benny (Central FC), Keron Cornwall (Club Sando), Kareem Freitas (Police FC), Keion Wilson (Police FC), Kerville Jeremiah (Point Fortin Civic), Kishun Seecharan (La Horquetta Rangers), Dimitrie Apai (W Connection).
5 - John-Paul Rochford (AC Port-of-Spain), Sean Bonval (Central FC), Reon Moore (Defence Force).
4 - Keron Cummings, (La Horquetta Rangers), Rashad Hyacinth (AC Port-of-Spain), Cristian Thomas (Police FC), Juma Clarence (Police FC), Daniel Diaz (Point Fortin Civic), Jevaughn Humphrey (W Connection).
Upcoming Matches - Round Two Match Day Nine.
Friday March 13
AC Port of Spain v Police FC, 6pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium
Sunday March 15
Cunupia FC v Point Fortin Civic, 3:30pm, Larry Gomes Stadium
La Horquetta Rangers v Central FC, 4pm, La Horquetta Recreational Ground
San Juan Jabloteh v W Connection, 4pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium
Morvant Caledonia United v Defence Force, 6pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium