Return of the Maestro
Hue-inspired Harbour View brace for MBU push in RSPL semis
AFTER 33 rounds of action, the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) enters the play-off stage with today's first leg semi-final encounter between title-holders Harbour View FC and rural area flag bearers Montego Bay United at the Harbour View Mini-Stadium.
Kick-off is slated for 7:00 pm.
Of note, Harbour View's midfield maestro Jermaine Hue returns from a ban handed down by world governing body FIFA after the national player's sample, taken in a World Cup Football qualifier against Honduras last year, returned a positive result for the prohibited substance dexamethasone. The nine-month suspension ended 11:59 pm yesterday.
Clyde Jureidini, general manager of Harbour View, said the creative midfielder's inclusion in today's squad is a fillip for the entire club.
"The return [of Hue] boosts the morale of the player himself, his family and also the club. He is an integral leader for this team," Jureidini told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
Though comfortable winners last season when the competition was contested in a full league format, Harbour View have been underwhelming at times this campaign, finishing with 56 points -- a distant second to preliminary phase winners Waterhouse FC (65).
In fact, only a sustained unbeaten run in the middle of the season pushed them away from relegation threat after a disappointing league start.
They have wobbled since then, recently crashing out of the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship on home soil, and uncharacteristically dropping points in three of their last five games.
Along the way, head coach Harold Thomas was also replaced by his assistant Andrew Hines.
Jureidini maintains, however, that the team has what it takes to peak at the right time.
"Were it a straight league format, I can guarantee you the team would have been pushing full blast in the last four or five games to get the vital points.
"I'm not perturbed. There were some high points and some low points and that's natural in a league. We had a string of 13 games undefeated which included 11 victories and we moved from the back to the front of the league, then we wobbled a bit. We did well to finish second overall... it must mean that we were the second most consistent team," the Harbour View general manager argued.
The head-to-head statistics between the teams are not favourable to the 'Stars of the East' either. Harbour View lost 0-1 and 0-3 before drawing 1-1 in their three league clashes, but Jureidini insists that he is "pretty sure it would motivate" the players to finally get it right.
Montego Bay, the leaders several times during the preliminaries and the only team outside of the Kingston & St Andrew Football Association to reach the semi-finals, ended third on 53 points.
While Harbour View are third on the scoring charts with 44 goals, Montego Bay, former national champions under the name Seba, have been less impressive in front of goal, scoring on 32 occasions. The Dr Dean Weatherly-coached Montegonians do, however, have the best defensive record, letting in only 21 goals, while the reigning champions have allowed 26.
The sage veteran Weatherly, who took charge of the St James-based team with four rounds remaining in the league stage, gave his more experienced opponents the edge in what he expects to be a tight contest.
"It is going to be a very tough game for us. Harbour View, the defending champions, have a lot of mettle and a lot of tradition. We, being a young team, it's a first in uncharted waters. It should be a good fight. We are not going to play dead, we are up for the challenge and it should be a good game to watch," he said.
Their form has also been scratchy of late, winning only once in five games, but Weatherly believes the chemistry within the squad has improved.
"We have worked on a lot of things over the last couple of weeks and we see where things are baring fruit. It's just for us to go and show what we are made of and we should really come out on the top end of things."
In a two-legged contest, some would expect that the away team would settle for a draw and hope to win at home, but Weatherly flatly dismissed any notion that his players will be instructed to do so.
"Each game is there to be won, so we are not going there to draw and then win in the other game. There's no strategy to go there to give up anything," he told the Observer.
The return leg will be played at the WespoW Park in St James on Sunday.
The first leg of the other semi-final tomorrow pits Waterhouse against long-time rivals Arnett Gardens FC at the Drewsland Stadium.
Jermaine Hue returns to action following a FIFA-imposed nine-month ban for a positive test for dexamethasone