With the clock winding down and another exit from a major tournament steering Trinidad and Tobago in the face, Shahdon Winchester fired a late equalizer to give his team a lifeline in the 2012 Olympic qualifying campaign.
Winchester entered the match on 62 minutes in place of Micah Lewis and the substitution by head coach Angus Eve paid off in the 93rd minute when the W Connection forward was on spot to tap home from close range after Kevin Molino’s left footed shot was partially blocked on the left post. The goal sparked celebrations in the T&T camp and among the dozen or so T&T fans who braved the rainy conditions to support their country at the Home Depot Center, California.
With Mexico defeating Honduras 3-0 in the second match on Sunday and booking their spot in the semi-finals, T&T now remain with a chance of advancing too as a victory over Honduras on Tuesday will see them finish in second spot on four points ahead of Honduras (3pts).
Eve changed up his starting team from the one that got hammered by Mexico on Friday, bringing in defender Curtis Gonzales, winger Micah Lewis, stopper Kareem Moses and left side defender Joevin Jones. And for much of the first half, T&T were able to keep their shape and organization, stifling the Panamanians for most parts. But there was still the usual break down in certain parts of the field and T&T’s pace in attack was too slow to cause much of a panic for the Panama back line.
Lewis had T&T’s first try at goal in the 12th minute when he collected from Molino but his right footer was saved low down by Luis Mejia.
On 27 minutes Eric Lewis tested Marchan from outside the box but the ‘keeper, who suffered a mild concussion against Mexico, was up to the task, pushing away to his left as the defence averted danger
On the other end, Jamal Gay and Jones also went up for a deep cross from the right but there was not enough on the ball to trouble Mejia as T&T tried to force themselves into the Panamanian penalty box.
The game opened up in the second half as the rains came belting down with strong winds and the field conditions didn’t make it easy for either side despite there still being relatively good passes on the green carpet in spurts from both teams
Panama created their fair share of scoring opportunities but T&T were not to be outdone as they put a lot more into their efforts, realizing the absolute need to grind out a result.
Amir Waithe and Yairo Glaize both missed chances for Panama with shots that were off target. All the while, Moses and Daneil Cyrus were on top of their game, with Bateau and Gonzales putting in strong efforts to ensure T&T kept themselves in the game. But Marchan gifted Panama their opening item when his weak punch to a Rolando Algandona’s free kickout saw the ball fall on a platter for Anibal Godoy and his shot towards the right post was deflected in off the inside of Cecilio Waterman’s heel past Marchan. Waterman had entered the game just three minutes earlier.
Gay had a header saved and Kevan George’s glancing attempt went wide of the far left post a T&T pressed for the tying goal.
Molino also had an attempt foiled while a free kick by Jones after Molino was hacked down, was saved low by Mejia.
Substitute Trevin Caesar muffed a wonderful opportunity to draw level in the dying stages when he fired a right footer wide of the far left post after getting behind the Panamanian defence with only the advancing Mejia to beat.
Cyrus’ long throws from the right eventually brought reward to T&T for their valiant efforts as Molino drove the ball goalwards and the striker from Princes Town was on spot to direct the rebound home after Algandona got a faint touch.
Eve later credited his players for a gritty display.
“It was a game where we needed to get a result and while we got the point at the end I thought we could have come away with a win here but all in all, we can still celebrate it because it came right at the death,” Eve told TTFF Media.
“We have everything to play for now on Tuesday against Honduras because they lost to Mexico today and it means if we can get three points we will finish in second spot and move on to the semi-finals. It’s not beyond us but we have to believe more in our ability. It’s a challenge here and even in other instances to get players to believe that they can compete at this level but we’re getting there one step at a time and on Tuesday we have another opportunity to get closer to that.”
“I thought today we were a lot better defensively than on Friday against Mexico and our players didn’t give away balls cheaply. We conceded another soft goal which is definitely something we have to keep working on because it makes no sense putting in hard work in the preparations and in the match and then giving away cheap goals like we did here. But overall, I’m pleased with the fight and a draw that has kept us alive here in California,” Eve added.
T&T line up - Andre Marchan, Joevin Jones, Kareem Moses, Daneil Cyrus, Sheldon Bateau, Kevin Molino, Mekeil Williams (Jayson Joseph, 77') Curtis Gonzales (Trevin Caesar, 77') Jamal Gay, Micah Lewis (Shahdon Winchester, 62')and eKevan George. Subs not used - Sheldon Clarke, Sean De Silva, Jeromie Williams, Cordell Cato, Jomal Williams, Leslie Russell.