Roma 2 Elite 0
Digicel Cup semi-final, first leg
Football cup fever has come around again and on Sunday four teams battled it out in the first leg of the Digicel Cup semi-finals.
It was a blazing hot, sunny day with only a slight cooling breeze to help the teams, both of whom were totally fired up in the opening game at North Sound playing field.
It was West Bay’s finest, Elite, against the ‘Yardies’, Roma. Elite boast a raft of national and Under-23 players whereas Roma are predominantly Jamaican and even play in the national team colours of yellow, green and black. Not quite as good as the Reggae Boyz but they worked just as hard. These two drew in their only match last season so it was hard to predict the outcome. Elite evidently had youth and fitness on their side against the more robust and generally bigger and more experienced Roma.
On a dry, dusty surface, stringing several passes together was always going to be difficult and because both sides wanted to win so badly neither was able to settle quickly.
The first significant chance came in the 12th minute when Roma’s Munice Menns burst through on the left but hit his low shot wide.
Their next attack was more fruitful though. Bustling striker Linford Coore collected the ball from a crossfield Amar Mundle pass and Coore deftly steered home past Dominic Godet in the 19th minute. On the balance of play, Roma deserved to take the lead.
Spurred into action, Elite stepped up the pace and when Matthew Ebanks was cynically hacked down on the edge of the box, he took the free kick but skied it over.
On the half hour Jordan Thompson and George Evans combined beautifully but as Evans fired he got a bad bounce on the rough surface and his shot trickled away. Elite were finding their rhythm at last.
Good approach play by the Roma midfield ended with Munns firing high.
Shortly before half time, a sickening clash of heads with a loud crack saw Elite’s Jedd Ebanks and Clifton Ricketts both needing treatment. Ricketts had a nasty gash on the head which took enough bandage to wrap a mummy. He was willing to soldier on but was wisely substituted.
Roma’s more fluid passing and movement was the main difference before the break. They continued to dictate things early in the second half with Craig Carridice going close with a volley.
Substitute Wayne ‘Bigga’ Smith’s 30 yard drive brought out a spectacular save from Godet. Jedd Ebanks was having a great game trying to nullify the Roma passing game in midfield with his terrier-like bustling. He later ran out of steam and was substituted to wide applause.
Carridice troubled Elite throughout the second half on the right flank and another of his superb runs, beating two defenders to get a cross over ended with Khalifa Francis shooting tamely.
As Elite pressed to equalise and a tiring Roma slowing and becoming more physical, tempers inevitably began flaring. Matthew Ebanks was furious when a reckless tackle on him by Coore was not punished and things looked like spilling over. Elite manager Greg Ebanks wisely shouted: ‘Discipline Elite, discipline.’ It was shrewd advice because moments later Roma’s Kemar Boothe viciously fouled Dave McLaughlin who to his credit did not react badly.
With Elite pressing forward, they were open to counter attacks. Smith put Marlon Dunk through who beat off Elite challenges and tried to place past Godet but hit the side netting. In the 87th minute Smith was sharpest again and this time he made no mistake, smashing a bouncing ball home for Roma’s second.
That should have given Roma the confidence to play the game out safely but a rash challenge by Ruddy ‘Blacka’ Chambers who fouled McLaughlin again, led to his second yellow card and marching orders in the 88th minute. That marred what had been a great tussle, watched by a sizeable crowd swelling by the minute for the second game.
Elite will have to up their game and finish more clinically to have any chance of winning at the same venue on Heroes’ Day. In the other Digicel Cup first leg semi, George Town beat Scholars 3-1.
Roma coach Phil Gayle said: ‘It was a good team performance and our hard work paid off. Most of the game we had control but we were a little indisciplined at times. The sending off was kind of harsh, but it pays to learn. We’ll be better prepared for the return as a couple of our guys are coming back from Jamaica.
‘Elite didn’t surprise us. They’ve worked hard over the season and they played well. We knew they were fitter than us and our tactic was to keep the ball and knock it around and we ended up victorious so we can’t complain about that.’
Greg Ebanks said: ‘I think our preparation was excellent and based on that we never inserted any clippings in our participation in this game. We took this like a practice game. We were missing our top striker, Donovan Godet from injury and hopefully, early next month we’ll have him back. That’s one of our problems, not having a clinical finisher on the team. The second leg is going to be extremely competitive. We’re going to have to come from two behind. The potential is there to win as long as we demonstrate our attributes much better than we did today.’
ROMA: Sammy Morrison, Kemar Boothe, Craig Carridice, Ruddy Chambers, Linford Coore, Cohen Daley, Kevin McField, Munice Menns, Amar Mundle, Ronald Emmanuel, Clifton Ricketts Subs: Phillip Gayle, Wayne Smith, Khalifa Francis, Marlon Dunk
ELITE: Dominic Godet, Brian Hydes, George Evans, Matthew Ebanks, Derrin Ebanks, Dave McLaughlin, Gabriel Godet, Arden Rivers, Jedd Ebanks, Dante Hydes, Jason Ebanks Subs: Jordan Thompson, Jairo Sanchez, Benjamin Cupid, Erick Adam, Dan Kelly
Roma’s Daley (l) challenges Kelly in a midfield tussle Photos: Ron Shillingford