UWI brace for Premier League challenges

BY SANJAY MYERS Observer staff reporter myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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IT is uncharted waters for University of the West Indies (UWI) and, by all accounts, it is a challenge they relish.


The team from the Mona Campus in St Andrew gained promotion to the 2015-16 Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) football competition after a 2-2 result against Savannah SC on Sunday in the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) All-Island Confederation Play-off match at Frome Sports Complex in Westmoreland.


The draw gave them nine points and assured them of second place in the four-team standings behind the other promoted side Portmore United, who ended with 14 points.


York United, who were thrashed 0-5 by Portmore at Spanish Town Prison Oval in a simultaneous fixture, ended third with seven points, while Savannah brought up the rear of the standings with two points.


"It's an exciting feeling and it's a new day for the university...it's a milestone. The players are excited and raring to go," Marcel Gayle, the head coach of UWI told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.


It was not an easy road for the university, who represented the Kingston & St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) in the All-Island play-offs after winning the urban area Super League title.


UWI entered the final Play-off game needing to beat Savannah to be sure of promotion since York, who were hot on their heels, still had a chance of leapfrogging them.


But as some predicted, Savannah, who had no chance of advancing, proved too tough to crack on their home pitch.


"I thought we played well and in the first half we pushed them and got the ascendancy goal early in the game. We got complacent and Savannah came back late in the first half.


"In the second half they pushed us and they scored again, but with the quality within the (UWI) team we came back and got that other goal. We got the point, but I thought we should have won the game," Gayle said.


He said he was aware of the score-line as Portmore pounded in five second-half goals against York, but still wanted his team to beat Savannah to keep destiny in their hands. Gayle added that "it's a lesson going forward" for his players.


It was not the best start to the play-offs for UWI after they lost 1-3 away to York and drew 1-1 at home to Portmore.


Those were followed by 6-0 and 1-0 home wins over Savannah and York, respectively. Another draw with Portmore (0-0) consolidated their position in second place and put them on the cusp of first-time promotion to top-flight football before they realised the dream on Sunday.


Gayle said rustiness, brought on by the break between the Super League final and the All-Island Play-offs, contributed to the opening game defeat, but explained that his team "got confidence" from the 1-1 outcome against Portmore and they were able to rebound in telling fashion.


Looking ahead to RSPL, which is set to begin between late August and early September, Gayle said plans are already afoot to develop a structure that will see the team last the nine-month campaign.


"Everything is relatively new to the university. But we have a good support staff and a cadre of coaches. We have weaknesses and shortcomings, and we have to go to the drawing board and see how best we can manage," the head coach said.


Currently, UWI's squad is restricted to present and former students, but Gayle said "discussion is on the table right now" to change the rules to allow recruitment from a wider pool of players.


In the meantime, Gayle declined to comment on his future at Premier League side Waterhouse FC, the team located in his home community and one in which he has been a member of the coaching staff for years.


Despite his ties to the Drewsland-based club, the Observer understands that he is likely to stick with UWI.


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