Gray’s brace propels Reggae Boyz 4-1 over Soca Warriors

June 29, 2023  -CNW News -New boy Demarai Gray scored a brace while teenager Dujuan Richards notched his first as Jamaica ran out comfortable 4-1 winners over Trinidad and Tobago in their Group A second-round contest at the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament on Wednesday.

Played as the curtain raiser before a bumper crowd inside CityPark Stadium in St Louis, Missouri, Gray, in only his second game for the Reggae Boyz, gave his team an early lead before Leon Bailey added another shortly after before Gray returned to double his tally and add a third for his team heading into the half-time interval.

Trinidad and Tobago reduced the deficit early in the second half via Andre Rampersad before Richards capitalized on great fortune to watch his tame effort deflect into the goal to regain a three-goal cushion for his team late on.

Reggae Boyz head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson, who was notching his first win for Jamaica, took the result in stride.

“I haven’t lost a competitive match for Jamaica, and that is what matters in the end, competitive matches I’m pretty sure this team will grow as a lot of new players start to play for us and we will only grow as the tournament gets older,” the Icelander said at a post-match press conference.

He explained the changes made to the starting team which faced the US in a 1-1 result in the tournament’s opener.

“We have good depth in the squad, not a big difference between some players, so we have tried these players in these positions, so it was Javain (Brown) for Dexter (Lembikisa), very equal players and it’s good to give both a chance to play. Amari’i (Bell) was a little bit injured and we didn’t want to risk him so that is why we changed the left back, “Taxi” (Kemar Lawrence) played there, did a good job and at half time he felt stiffening up so he wanted to come off so we needed to do a change there and Dexter played right back in the second half so there was a lot of changes in these positions and then just the rotation in the centre backs.

“I think Di’Shon Bernard had an outstanding game today, so I hope Jamaicans are happy to see that young center-back coming up, he showed his strengths and character in this game and defence, in general, was really good today.”

So good was his defence that Hallgrimsson is of the belief that the rivals created very few chances, except for Rampersad’s strike.

“I don’t think Trinidad created a chance except for that goal.  I think that was the only chance they created today so that shows how good defensively we played today.”

Everton’s Gray on his 27th birthday, was special and the coach was unafraid to shower him with praise.

“Now for everyone to see how good an individual talent he is, taking players on, creating danger, real quality in everything he did with the ball and he’s fast as well. It will take time for him to get into the tactics and get to know the players around him but I think it was a good birthday present that he gave to us scoring two goals and creating and I think he had a really good game today.”

Richards, who became Jamaica’s youngest-ever goal scorer at the Gold Cup, also came in for praise from the Icelandic Dentist.

“Normally I don’t like to talk about individual players but we were criticized for picking the kid and he only needed 10 minutes to score a goal, the youngest goal scorer (Jamaican) in the history of the Gold Cup. That shows why we selected him. I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do with the ball and I don’t think the opponents know what he’s going to do with the ball and he’s lethal.

“I have to admit when he took the shot I was “why are you shooting from this range” but he scored from it so he’s the kind of guy that defies the odds a little bit and all teams need players like him… and he has a lot to learn but he still knows a lot and can do a lot today.”

Jamaica went ahead on 14 minutes when Gray took a good first touch to set up a second which saw the ball placed into the goal from a Bailey final pass after Michail Antonio had held up the ball well inside the penalty box.

It was Gray’s first goal for Jamaica from only his second start.

Three minutes Bailey then turned goal scorer when he collected a long pass from Latibeaudiere behind the Trinidad and Tobago defence before firing past a hapless Nicklas Frenderup in goal.

However, his celebrations were curtailed as the assistant referee flagged for offside, only for VAR to validate the strike giving Bailey his fourth goal for Jamaica in 21 games.

Kevin Lambert in the middle of defence forced a turned over deep in the Trinidad and Tobago half and relayed a pass to Antonio who turned his marker before serving a sitter for Gray to tap in and further extend the Jamaicans’ lead on 29 minutes.

Four minutes after the interval and Rampersad neatly flicked home from close range after Levi Garcia did good work on the right to cross for him.

But for long periods of the second half Jamaica kept missing chances and Trinidad and Tobago appeared to have gained the momentum. For Hallgrimsson, he and his technical staff were not overly bothered.

“I think we created about 15 goalscoring chances, some really good chances, so the difference between the first half and the second is that we scored our chances in the first half and the second half we didn’t.

“When you get a lot of chances and you don’t score then sometimes you get a little bit sloppy in what you are doing, so nothing (bad) happened, if we scored the fourth goal instead of conceding then it would have been a totally different game.

“You tend to get cautious when you concede a goal and football is a game of momentum, so they gained for the first time in the game, some momentum and belief. That was unfortunate but we played a good defensive game as a unit and there was no danger even though they had momentum for a while.”

Jamaica continued to miss chance after chance with the most glaring being Bailey twice missing an empty goal, while substitute Shamar Nicholson watched in disbelief as Frenderup pulled off a magnificent save to tip his effort around the far post, even as the onrushing Antonio just failed to make contact at the back post.

Then Richards completed the scoring when Lembikisa relayed a pass to him on the right just inside his half. He was allowed time and space and he dribbled inside and from about 10 yards outside the penalty area, unleashed a shot which appeared destined to settle in the arms of Frenderup, but the ball took a wicked deflection off a defender and into the net, much to the chagrin of the dejected Trinidadians.

For head coach Angus Eve, his charges appeared to have been star-struck but the big names from the English Premier League.

“Unfortunately we seemed to be a little bit nervous tonight, I think names probably scared us and we really made some bad mistakes tonight, but all in all I take full blame for the result because I am the coach of the team.”

He also believed a handball call which went against his side could have shaken up the game if it had gone in his team’s favor.

“I think the handball we probably should have got a penalty and probably would be further back in the game and make it a little bit nervous for them in the last 15 minutes, but unfortunately we don’t get to see it on the pitch anymore.

“Last time around we had a tablet that we could see it, it looked from where we were the hand was very high, in an unnatural position. It was a penalty then it wasn’t a penalty and we didn’t get an explanation why not.”

Ahead of the group closing match against defending champion US on Sunday, Eve suggests it is just a matter of refocusing his charges for a must-win game if they are to guarantee a place in the knockout phase of the competition as only the top two teams advance.

“We just have to pick the guys up, the dressing room is very dejected, this is the first match we’ve lost in about nine for the season and we don’t normally concede goals, but I thought that the second half when we came back on I thought that we were really in the game and we created a lot of chances.”

The US swamped St Kitts and Nevis 6-0 in Wednesday’s second game with Jesus Ferreira netting a hattrick in the 16th, 25th and 50th minutes. He was ably supported by Djordje Mihailovic in the 12th and 79th minutes, and Bryan Reynolds in the 14th.

The US and Jamaica jointly lead Group A with four points with Trinidad and Tobago on three and St Kitts and Nevis pointless and eliminated at the foot of the table.

On Sunday Jamaica will oppose St Kitts and Nevis while The US and Trinidad and Tobago will do battle in Santa Clara, California.

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