Vibe CT 105 W Connection coach Stuart Charles shook hands with his fellow technical staff members with his usual wry smile yesterday evening as the defending champions downed Defence Force 2-1 for another three-point haul at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Malabar.
The final result, though, hardly told the whole story.
For the last 20 minutes, the Connection backline were pinned to the edge of their own penalty area as the Army/Coast Guard combination battled vainly for an equalizing goal.
Star striker Jason Scotland came closest with a thunderous left footer that shook the Connection crossbar.
But, for the second consecutive weekend, the defending champions held on to move six points clear of CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh, who have a game in hand.
Charles might have hoped for an easier path to victory after an opening goal within the third minute of play.
Brazilian striker Luciano Sato notched his 10th item of the season—the league’s highest—with an accurate stooping header after a right side cross from countryman Ronaldo Viana.
But Defence Force responded in kind, two minutes later, when stopper Anton Pierre popped up in the opposing penalty area to head home at the near post following a Kwesi Smith free kick.
The pendulum almost swung the other way in the 18th minute when Sato controlled a Gefferson Goulart through ball and hit goalward, only for Defence Force left back Michael Edwards to make an impressive clearance under his own crossbar.
By then, Connection were controlling the tempo, with captain Reynold Carrington doing his best “disc jockey” impression at sweeper back.
Slow, vertical passes tested Defence Force’s structure and patience before the southerners suddenly switched to crisp diagonal balls aimed at either flank.
In the 28th minute, the ploy reaped its second dividend as Gefferson Goulart released Sato down the right flank and strode into the penalty area to convert his cross with a neat finish to custodian Selwyn George’s right.
Connection thought they had a third goal in the 44th minute as a firm Jose Manoel header was blocked on the goalline by Corey Rivers.
The champs argued that the young full back had used his hand to keep out the effort, but referee Neil Brizan saw it differently and booked Manoel instead.
It was Connection’s last threatening move of the match.
One by one, Charles recalled strikers Leonson Lewis, Sato and Manoel in the second half, with each replacement failing to benefit from the outing.
In contrast, Defence Force substitutes Akudu Goodridge and Owen Matthews added width and physical presence to their offence and ultimately offered more freedom to central striker, Scotland.
It made for a spirited fight back.
Twice, only the pace and intelligence of combative midfielder Elijah Joseph stopped Scotland from taking his mark in the opposing area, while there was one rocket from the talented forward that made even the crossbar wince in the 75th minute.
Only Connection custodian Alejandro Figueroa could say how he managed to spot—let alone save—a stinging free kick from Pierre at the edge of the area in the 81st minute.
Entertaining stuff but, as the final whistle sounded, there was the similar sight of the boys in green celebrating another three-point capture.
It will take even more artillery than the Defence Force could muster to wreck their title march this year.