TUCKER, St James — The Red Stripe Premier League will resume with a full schedule of six games today after the Christmas/new year break, and with statistically half of the season still to come, the rush for points at both ends of the tables will also resume with urgency.
There is still all to play for with six points separating the top five teams and another six separating the last four.
Additionally, with the transfer window almost a week old and another three weeks to go, teams across the board are aiming to address their deficiencies.
The disparity in the needs will be most obvious in the games at Wespow Park in Tucker, St James, and Harbour View, where teams at opposite parts of the tables will meet.
At Tucker, defending champions and leaders Montego Bay United (MBU) will host second to last Waterhouse FC, who are in a second-straight season fighting for survival. Also Harbour View, the home team, who are two points above the relegation zone, take on fourth-placed Humble Lion, four points from the top.
Arnett Gardens, who have dropped precipitously from the lofty heights they occupied for the last three seasons to mid-tables, will be tested by an ambitious UWI FC team, while second-placed Tivoli Gardens will host a Marverley-Hughenden team on the upward bounce under new coach, Anthony Patrick.
A number of teams have sought to boost their squads in the transfer window and few have made a bigger splash than MBU, who have brought several schoolboy players, including top striker of the season, Jourdaine Fletcher of daCosta Cup champions, Cornwall College.
Whether the 19 year old can force his way into the starting team after just one week of training is to be seen, given the return of last year’s MVP and top-scorer Owayne “Turtle” Gordon as well as the incumbent starters Dino Williams, who leads the team with seven goals, and Allan Ottey.
Waterhouse, under new coach Glendon “Admiral” Bailey, have picked up four points form their last two games to haul themselves off the bottom of the standings and closer to safety, but are still in a lot of trouble.
The last time Waterhouse played at Wespow Park they lost 1-2, and while they have improved since then, will also face a tough team, full of confidence and boasting the best defensive record in the league.
Dillon Thelwell, who has been handed the reins at Montego Bay United with the departure of the Serb Slavisa Bozicic back, will be hoping to reward the confidence of notoriously impatient club president Orville Powell with a good start today.
Until they were beaten by Portmore United in the final set of games last month, Tivoli Gardens were on a surge up the tables, winning seven of eight games. They will be seeking to start a new run when they host Maverley in what could be the game of the round.
Former national player Jermaine Johnson has been leading the charge for Tivoli and has scored eight goals, second only to Boys’ Town’s Shemar Nicholson and one more than MBU’s Dino Williams.
Johnson’s seven yellow cards are also the most by any player in the competition, along with one expulsion.
Maverley-Hughenden are unbeaten in three games and have added significantly to their roster in the transfer window, and will seek to take all three points today after earning one from their first-round 1-1 draw.
Phillip Peddie has carried his form over from the KSAFA Super League and the JFF Confederation play-offs last season and leads the promoted team with five goals so far.
Harbour View have struggled all season and are tethering on the edge of the relegation abyss, and will hope to get a well-needed win when they welcome a dangerous Humble Lion who are unbeaten in five outings.
Harbour View have lost eight games, one shy of the most by Marverley-Hughenden, and their 13 goals are just one off the least by Reno FC. The Westmoreland-based outfit must improve in almost every area if they are to avoid the relegation dogfight later in the season.
Humble Lion, who have a number of veterans in their line-up, including goal poacher Devon Hodges, will have ambitions of returning to the semi-finals and face a Harbour View team that has not played well at home this season, losing six times and drawing another in the eight times they have played at Compound.
The once-mighty Arnett Gardens are facing their toughest test in years and have slipped to mid-tables to sixth place on 22 points, 13 shy of the leaders.
Expectations must have been lowered this year and the new rules that allow the four teams from third to sixth position to play off for two semi-final spots must be their first goal, if not to avoid dropping below the cut-off mark.
Today they will face a UWI FC team that are well-poised to make a run at the top-four in only their second season at this level, and the visitors will start favourites to grab all the points at stake.
UWI FC led the tables earlier, but a slight dip in form saw them fall to third, but only trail Tivoli Gardens on goal difference. But the Christmas break would have helped them to regroup.
They have lost twice in their last six outings, both by 1-0 margins, but beat Reno FC 2-0 in their most recent outing.
Portmore United and Jamalco will meet in a Clarendon derby that the former won 1-0 in the first round, but Jamalco will have home advantage at the Wembley Centre of Excellence.
Whether they can take advantage against Portmore United, who have added Lenworth Hyde to their coaching ranks, is another matter.
Portmore United went to the final last season and with the CFU Club Championship coming up soon, will also want to step up their game a few notches against a team that has struggled to keep pace in the Premier League.
Despite being in fifth place, the Portmore United coaching staff will be concerned with the team’s unimpressive 15 goals, and know they must improve if they are to make a serious challenge for a spot in the top four.
Both hosts Reno FC and Boys’ Town will be desperate for anything they can get. Reno are in ninth position on 18 points and just off the drop zone, but they are much better off than last-placed Boys’ Town, who are on 12 and looking up at the other 11 teams.
Reno FC won their previous meeting 4-0 and coach Wendell Downswell, who reported signing three attacking players to bolster their anaemic scoring record, will hope they can hit the ground running.
Boys’ Town held MBU 1-1 at home in their last game, and coach Andrew Price will hope they can build on that performance starting today, while improving at the back where they have let in 33 goals in 17 outings — the most by any team in the league.
Source: Jamaica Observer