Robert Bailey, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Defending champions St George's College and Hydel High will clash in this year's final of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/Gatorade/Digicel Manning Cup competition.
The schools registered contrasting semi-final victories over Wolmer's Boys and Excelsior, respectively, at the National Stadium yesterday.
St George's blanked Wolmer's 2-0 with national Under-20 representative Cardel Benbow scoring both goals. The speedy and skilful Benbow netted his goals in the 12th and 80th minutes to lead the 'Light Blues' into this year's final.
In the feature game, Benbow stunned the Wolmer's supports when he arrived at the far post to volley home a well-measured cross from André Lewis past goalkeeper Amal Knight.
St George's outclassed their opponents in the second period with their clever one-two passing and swift off-the-ball movement.
Benbow sealed the victory for the Neville 'Bertis' Bell-coached St George's when he collected a pass from substitute Kendon Anderson inside the 18-yard box to fire home from close range past Knight.
LEARNT FROM MISTAKES
"I thought we played well," said Bell. "We learnt from our mistakes when they beat us in the semi-final of the Walker Cup. We thought if we could do some of the things that they did to us in that game, we would have got the better of them, and we did that."
Bell added: "I thought we played some good football and I am happy that we are in the final. We haven't won anything as yet because we still have a lot of work to do."
Wolmer's coach, Ludlow Bernard, was disappointed with his team's efforts.
"We were tentative in the first half, but we picked up our game in the second half, but we just could not get the equaliser," said Bernard.
"My players gave their best, but it wasn't good enough because we were up against a very strong St George's team," he added.
Hydel, who are in the final for the first time in their history, were led to victory courtesy of second-half goals from Gah-Sean Wray in the 56th minute and Giovanni Green in the 108th. Kareem Banton scored for Excelsior in the 45th minute.
Hydel's coach, the veteran Geoffrey Maxwell, said he was extremely satisfied with his team's performance as they have worked very hard this season.
"It is a good feeling because I was very confident that we would have been in the final," said Maxwell. I think that our patience and our passing game did the job for us.
"We did a lot of possession training and we felt that if we could keep Excelsior trailing, then we would break up their style of play because they tend to hit long balls and so we just stayed deep and it worked out for us."
Excelsior's coach, Leebert Halliman, praised Hydel.
"My team did their best, but I knew that if the game went into extra time we would be in trouble," said Halliman. "Hydel's players are older than us and they are stronger than us and so all the best to them in the final."
Excelsior dominated the first half and created a number of clear-cut chances, but poor finishing from their attackers Brian Richards, Shaquille Sanchez and Romaine HoSang let Hydel off the hook.
Excelsior were finally rewarded for their dominance on the stroke of half-time when Banton stunned Hydel's supports with a powerful 30-yard left-footed shot which went like a rocket past custodian Romaine Halliman.
Hydel came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and they dominated the ball possession as they pushed Excelsior on the back foot. Hydel's dominance finally paid off as Wray arrived at the back post to tap a cross from Omar Walcott past goalkeeper Ryan Jackson.
Green sealed the victory for Excelsior in the extra time when he rose above two Excelsior defenders to head past Jackson and into the back of the net.