Shelton's double does it for Boyz
Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sport
IT wasn't a fluent performance, but Theodore Whitmore was nonetheless satisfied, as his Reggae Boyz ground out a 3-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda to kick off their Digicel Caribbean Cup title defence on a winning note.
Luton Shelton (14th, 37th) netted a double on the way to becoming the nation's leading all-time goalscorer in international football matches, while Dane Richards added another of the goals created with beautiful passing into space, in the second match of a double-header at the Rivière Pilote Stadium on Saturday night.
"In the first game in any tournament one wants to be victorious and that's what we went for this (Saturday) afternoon," said Whitmore after the match.
"We didn't get the kind of start we wanted but as soon as we got the first goal we started to keep possession of the football."
Shelton's goal was initiated through a series of passes by Richard Edwards at the half line, and culminated with an interchange between the scorer and Richards, before the ball was coolly slotted past the Antiguan keeper from close range.
For his second Shelton collected a pass near half line and he used his pace and skill to elude several defenders, before providing another calm finish.
Richards took another through pass and put it past the keeper to kill off the contest.
He could have had a hat-trick; lifting the ball over the advancing keeper on a one-on-one, only to see a defender slide and deflect the ball wide. Then he went on a solo dribble from half line in the second half, when he completely dismantled the Antiguan defence before placing the ball over an empty goal and the advancing keeper, from 12 yards out. If it had scored, it would have been difficult to better for the goal of the tournament.
Throughout the contest, Jamaica were not fully settled and often made the contest unnecessarily competitive because they squandered possession needlessly with hasty clearances and rushed passing, when easier options were available.
This was especially evident in the second half, when Antigua and Barbuda, keen to force a result, pressed high with energy provided by their goal, which was scored three minutes after the restart.
"In the second half we came out a bit flat after leading by three goals and we let in Antigua into the game, then we had a rough 10 minutes before we really calmed the sea again," admitted Whitmore. "Overall I thought that it wasn't 100 per cent, but for the first game it was very satisfactory."
The Antiguans scored three minutes after the break when Gason Gregory bent a left-footed free kick from 20 yards that goalkeeper Dwayne Miller tried to fist away, when he should have used a different technique to deal with the wet ball. It deflected off his gloves into the goal.
Four Reggae Boyz - Rodolph Austin, Edwards, Shavar Thomas and Adrian Reid - got yellow cards, but Whitmore said he wasn't perturbed.
"That's a part of football, we've taken 20 players to the tournament and it's a reason why they are here, in case we have a player out we have suitable replacements."
Antigua's coach Billy McEwen, a Scot who has worked with Manchester United, admitted being impressed by the Reggae Boyz.
"The Jamaica team, I was very impressed with them, especially in the first half," he said. "They've got a lot of good players, which was always going to be tough for us, we knew that. A few of them are good players, experienced players, a lot more experienced than our players are.
"The average age of our team is 24, so it's a learning process and I'm sure we learnt a lot tonight - how to deal with through balls and how not to deal with through balls and the finishing was clinical, that's why they won over us."
McEwen, whose team will tackle Guyana in tonight's opening game of the double-header at the Rivière Pilote Stadium at 6, added: "We're disappointed that we never got something from the game, but having said that, when you're 3-0 down at half-time there's always going to be a mountain to climb against a good side. All credit to the Boyz."