Dale Saunders seeks Couva Clasico debut win in charge at Central FC

​Flashback: Dale Saunders (second from right) while serving as Central FC assistant coach to Ross Russell (far right) during the quarter-final round of the 2015 First Citizens Cup.

Issued on Thursday 21 January 2016

Central and W Connection, last season’s Digicel Pro League champions and runners-up, respectively, will renew their rivalry on Sunday from 4 pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva in Round Two Match Day Four of the DPL.

The always highly anticipated clash between the two powerhouses will, this time, provide the opportunity for Central FC interim head coach Dale Saunders to show off his managerial skills in charge in a Couva Clasico, although, arguably, already proving his worth as head coach at the Pro League level.

Under the 42-year-old Saunders’ spell to date, as interim head coach, Central are undefeated in five league games, with 4 wins and 1 draw, netting 16 goals and conceded just one. But for the first time he will lead the Couva Sharks out against their bitter rivals W Connection on Sunday.

“We would love to win the game but we know Connection are a great team,” said Saunders, a former Trinidad and Tobago international and Joe Public player and coach.

Saunders is no stranger, having served as Central’s assistant coach to Zoran Vranes then Terry Fenwick last season. He stayed on for the 2015-16 season and was assistant coach to Ross Russell for five months, before his chance as interim coach arrived in December when the club’s management decided to part ways with Russell.

“The main thing was to change the attitude of the players," Saunders explained. "What I worked on was simply getting back the frame of mind in the players that won us seven titles last season. It all comes down to the attitude.”

Last Tuesday Central edged Club Sando in a hard-fought 2-1 win, while Connection, this season’s First Citizens Cup and Toyota Classic champions, trashed Point Fortin Civic 7-1 ahead of Sunday’s Couva Clasico.

“Winning is an attitude—sometimes you win easy and sometimes it’s a hard win,” said the Central interim head coach. “We are happy for the win [against Sando]. It’s a confidence booster for us heading into the game against Connection.

“Connection will always be Connection, deserving their credit as a great club. But once we transfer what we are doing on the training pitch into the game on Sunday, we stand a good chance. Our focus is to get the best possible preparation for the best possibility. The focus is on three points although we know it won’t be easy.”

Central (24 points) and Connection (22 points) are second and third, respectively, while leaders Defence Force (27 points), undefeated in their last six games, with 5 wins and one draw, are against seventh positioned Club Sando (10 points) from 6 pm on Friday at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

Defence Force players Rodell Elcock (left) and Curtis Gonzales.

Also on Friday at the Couva venue, sixth positioned San Juan Jabloteh (17 points), coming off a two-game losing spell, must tackle fourth positioned Police FC (21 points) from 8 pm.

Fifth positioned North East Stars (21 points) will welcome eight placed Point Fortin Civic (10 points) at the Larry Gomes Stadium from 3:30 pm on Saturday.

The Larry Gomes Stadium will come alive again on Sunday from 3:30 pm with a bottom-of-the-table clash between ninth positioned St. Ann’s Rangers and bottom positioned Morvant Caledonia United.

While at the Ato Boldon Stadium the Couva Clasico between rivals Central and W Connection will complete the weekend fixtures.

W Connection assistant coach Earl Jean.

W Connection assistant coach Earl Jean said it is unfortunate that “the biggest game in the Pro League” will have to compete with the National Steelpan Panorama semi-finals on Sunday.

“The Clasico is about the fans and the players want the crowds,” Jean said. “But I don’t see our football competing with Carnival.

“But like always we are professionals and we will prepare for Sunday’s Clasico. It’s very important [that we win against Central] and we are going to treat the game that way.

“We started off slow in the league but are now on a good run. The most important thing is getting through the second round near the top of the standings.

“We still have to play [the leaders] Defence Force twice in the league. We can’t afford to lose points, especially against the teams that are on top.”

Central and Connection have met on four occasions this season. The Couva Sharks edged Connection 1-0 in September to unseat the three-time defending Digicel Charity Shield winners. But the Savonetta Boys fired back in October, dethroning the, then, two-time defending First Citizens Cup champions Central 2-1 in the 2015 final.

Both teams walked away with a point following a 1-1 draw in their Round One clash of the DPL on Nov. 24, however five days later Connection had the last say, defeating Central 6-5 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the semi-finals of the Toyota Classic en route to lifting the title.

Connection are on a three-game winning streak since suffering a 1-0 upset against Club Sando on Jan. 9. But although scoring 15 goals in their last three outings, five were conceded.

“The goals that we have been conceding are very soft goals,” stated Jean. “We are a team that don’t usually conceded much goals. We are scoring goals and the competition up front is good, but we are also aware that we need to correct things at the back starting with Sunday.

“We know that Central have Dale Saunders as their coach now, but we expect the same Central. They are a good team and on any day, they can stifle us. They have got some good results in the league, good quality players like Ataulla Guerra and Marvin Oliver. We know what they are capable of and we must give it our best,” ended the W Connection assistant coach.

Digicel Pro League 2015-16
Round Two Match Day Four
Friday 22 January 2016
Ato Boldon Stadium
Defence Force vs Club Sando—6 pm
San Juan Jabloteh vs Police FC—8 pm

Saturday 23 January 2016
Larry Gomes Stadium
North East Stars vs Point Fortin Civic—3:30 pm

Sunday 24 January 2016
Larry Gomes Stadium
St. Ann’s Rangers vs Morvant Caledonia United—3:30 pm

Ato Boldon Stadium
Central FC vs W Connection—4 pm