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defence force v starworld.jpgPro League stragglers aim high...

Former Trinidad and Tobago internationals Ron La Forest and Kerry Jamerson both know a thing or two about excellence on the football field. In the 2008 Pro League season, thus far, neither coach has been able to inject their brilliance as players into their hapless squads with any regularity.
On Tuesday evening, the Pro League's two worst clubs met at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella and it was Jamerson who exhaled at the final whistle as his Defence Force overcame La Forest's Ma Pau SC 3-2. It was just their second league win this year-the last victory came on April 12 when a late Devon Jorsling goal saw them edge St Ann's Rangers 2-1.

"I thought the match was not at the best level," said Jamerson, "but we had the better of 90 per cent of the game. (It) started to slip away from us in the last 15 minutes and I think we should have been a lot more comfortable (in terms of the score line) by then.

"But it is the first game back after the break for us and we will move on from here."

Ma Pau were on a five-game losing streak before Tuesday's fixture while their last triumph came on June 24 against United Petrotrin. La Forest, who coached the more accomplished San Juan Jabloteh and Joe Public teams and won the schoolboys' competition with Mucurapo and St Anthony's College, is having a tough time adjusting to life at the other end of the table.

La Forest began the season preaching about Ma Pau's influence in the poorer communities in northern Trinidad through their football club. But the boys who sported club colours in April face a fight to remain on the roster as the "Casino Boys" are poised to register seven Brazilian players when the transfer window opens tomorrow.

"Right now, I am punch drunk," said La Forest, with a laugh. "I have smelling salts by my nose. I gave the locals their chances and they're not converting.

"So I am just waiting for the (transfer) window to open so I can bring through my (Brazilian) players."

Ma Pau's shopping expedition on the South American mainland follows a precedent set by W Connection, Economy North East Stars and Neal & Massy Caledonia-all with some degree of success.

Maybe Jamerson is lucky to have run into Ma Pau when he did although the feeling persists that Defence Force, who boast five players capped by national coach Francisco Maturana this year, are punching below their weight.

"I think (the problem) is mostly confidence and goal scoring," said Jamerson, as he tried to explain their poor season, thus far. "I need the players to have confidence in themselves and in their teammates and work hard. We are missing (striker Richard) Roy who is in (army) training because he seems to have that chemistry (upfront) with Jorsling.

"(Roy) should be back by mid-September and we hope to be in mid-table by then."

Defence Force drew first blood on Tuesday as two of Maturana's recruits, Michael Edwards and Kevon Carter, combined for the opener, seconds before the halftime whistle. By then, Hashim Arca and Trevin Caesar had already wasted good opportunities to put Ma Pau ahead.

La Forest has seen it before.

"I don't know what it is wrong in terms of finishing," he said. "I am doing all I can but it ends with the players."

Defence Force possess the worse scoring record in domestic competition with just eight goals from 12 outings before Tuesday's kick-off. But they belied that stat with a clinical finish from substitute Anton Joseph in the 63rd minute after a clever Jorsling pass.

Jorsling had six of the regiment's eight league goals at the opening whistle but wasted a hat-trick of headers before Ma Pau stole a lifeline through the 19-year-old Caesar, who was recommended by successful Tobago-based coach, Bertille St Clair.

Jamerson swapped Jorsling with veteran striker Sherman "Ants" Phillip in the 78th minute and was rewarded, three minutes later, as Phillip tapped a Kerry Joseph cross into an unguarded net on a counter attack.

By then, La Forest had reinstated Ma Pau's leading scorer, Rennie Britto, from right back to the forward line and Britto-cousin of promising national youth striker Jerrol Britto-promptly converted his sixth league goal this season with a decisive finish.

"The (usual) right back was taking too long to go forward (in previous games)," said La Forest, as he explained why his most productive attacker started in defence, "so I made a switch for tactical reasons because Britto is very good going forward and backwards I am not sure if he will stay there (on the weekend) or go back upfront. It depends on the (positions taken up by the) foreigners coming in."

Defence Force and Ma Pau, eighth and tenth respectively, are far off the Pro League's summit at the moment. But they do not plan to stay there.