Resilient STETHS reclaim Ben Francis Cup
5-IN-A-ROWFriday, November 14, 2014
BY OSHANE TOBIAS Observer writer
THERE'S an argument brewing in the streets that, henceforth, the Ben Francis Cup should be nicknamed the 'STETHS Cup'.
While this might only be in the name of banter, no one will begrudge them this right, for the manner in which they have dominated this ISSA-administered, LIME-sponsored knockout competition it is actually starting to feel like they own the trophy.
To the fans, who made the 70-minute journey from Santa Cruz to Clarendon Park, playing Glenmuir High in the final was like a formality.
"Our trophy is here to be collected," they seemed to say, as they filed into Juici Park yesterday. And the way in which the St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) players reciprocated on the pitch, the supporters had no reason to doubt that 'their trophy' would indeed be heading back to the breadbasket parish with them.
To be fair to them, though, it's not as if Glenmuir handed their opponents the trophy on a platter. In fact, for long spells in the second half, the Clarendon side appeared to be in the ascendancy and will most likely reflect on this game feeling a bit unlucky not to have at least recorded their name on the scorecard, before Tavar McCulloch's late winner chiselled his STETHS on the trophy for a record-breaking fifth time. "It really feels good to create another piece of history," beamed coach Omar Wedderburn in his post-match interview. "We knew that we were on the verge of something great, but we came here today not to be (overwhelmed) by the occasion. We just wanted to play our game.
"At half-time, we told the players to play the ball out wide because we noticed that Glenmuir was crowding the middle. So it was a real crocodile attack from us today."
As expected, it was the defending champions who dominated the early exchanges, but Glenmuir never seemed to mind. They just sat back, with almost a blanket screen protecting goalkeeper Daniel Forrest, while anticipating the break on the counter.
These moments did come, but playing a waiting game against a side as fearless as STETHS is always risky. And were it not for a combination of luck, poor finishing and good goalkeeping, Glenmuir would have suffered the consequence multiple times before the interval.
Goalkeeper Forrest twice denied STETHS in quick succession, first blocking a rasping Donjay Smith shot, before tipping over a looping header from Akito Graham. On the next occasion, Forrest could only pay homage to his closest ally, as Tavar McCulloch's snap shot crash into left upright.
Though employing this reactive tactic, Glenmuir were still a big threat, with the fleet-footed Ricardo Dennis proving an industrious outlet on the break. In one instance, he swivelled past three markers gracefully on the left flank to set up a nice shooting opportunity. However, the follow-on effort lacked the quality of his dribble.
But there would be other chances for the little man. As a matter of fact, for most of the second half it was the Glenmuir High School show, conducted by their creator-in-chief.
In the opening minutes of the half, he came face-to-face with an open net. STETHS defender Orlando Clarke had missed a headed clearance after mistiming his jump, which allowed Dennis to ghost through on goal, beat goalkeeper Carson Findlay, only for his momentum to take the ball into the upright. The rebound fell kindly for him, but, perhaps thwarted by a bad bounce or the pressure of the backtracking defender, he totally missed the ball with his kick.
Moments later, he again wormed his way into the box, but instead of shooting to the far corner, which was screaming for attention, he opted for the closely manned near post. STETHS, at this point, appeared jaded, with most of their attacks, like the closely guarded Donjay Smith, dying a natural death by the time they crossed the half line.
But, as we have seen before, a team like STETHS only need one moment of brilliance to change the colour of their game. That moment duly arrived in minute 84. On this occasion, McCulloch, not Smith, was the inspiration -- making room for himself on the edge of the box before firing a right-footed effort into the bottom corner of Forrest's net.
To their credit, Glenmuir did maintain the fight until the end, but by this time the Ben Francis trophy was already on its way back to Santa Cruz for a fifth consecutive term in Keith Wellington's office.
"They say fortune favours the brave," the Glenmuir coach, Warren Simpson, commented. "Even when we put them under immense pressure, they stuck to the task. So congratulations to STETHS. We did not put away our chances and you have to score to win."