By Ian “Magic” Hughes
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – Three teams – defending champions Parham, Grenades and Sap – will complete their slate of first-round matches in the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association (ABFA) Premier Division this weekend.
And, at this point in the season, teams are jockeying for top positions in preparation for the grueling second round.
Of the three teams mentioned above, Grenades is the only team that has an opportunity to finish round one in the top three, in pursuit of a championship run.
Parham and Sap, very briefly, have led the competition at one point during the first round.
These three teams must take maximum points if they are to remain relevant in the title race, at least early in the second round.
The defending champions are in trouble notwithstanding coach Rolston “Debu” Williams’ optimism of their chances of retaining the title.
Three players were ejected in the team’s previous game, a 0-3 defeat by Old Road. National goalie Molvin James, Tremain Paul and Kimarley McDonald all received red cards for foul and abusive conduct.
Even with these three key players in the line-up, Parham have struggled, earning just one point from the last three encounters.
“We have players that can fit in for those guys,” Williams said after the incident.
However, with the team and league’s top striker Trevaughn “Peter Redz” Harriette away on trials and with emotional defensive leader Akeem “Lepee” Thomas yet to play this year, Parham is in serious trouble.
This week, they come up against one of the more technical teams in the competition, Fort Road, who in recent times have also struggled.
Still, Fort Road is likely to give Parham a headache in this match, as the defending champions will have to look to its bench for maximum effort.
Fort Road, with two games in hand, is one place below the defending champions in the point-standings.
A victory this weekend will see the “town” team leapfrog the Parham.
This should be an interesting match for the many fans who turn out to the ARG each weekend.
Sap, which came out the gates flying, is also struggling. The team was sharp in weeks one and two with consecutive victories. Since then, one win, two draws and three losses have left Spa licking wounds, sometimes literally, as Peter Byers was carted off with a deep laceration last week.
Sap will face the league leaders, Hoppers, the only unbeaten team in the competition.
Byers is a warrior and while he may be doubtful for the game it is possible that he might show up against Hoppers.
Make no mistake about this match; it’s huge. As a matter of fact, it always is when these two teams clash.
Hoppers is coming off a brilliant 5-1 performance against Bullets while Sap lost a 4-3 thriller to Rangers.
This game may set the stage for Sap’s second round and surely coach Janiel “Board” Simon will be hoping to turn things around.
Grenades play Empire in the opener on Sunday before the Hoppers and Sap clash.
This is another intriguing encounter with both clubs needing to win to keep Hoppers in sight.
Empire has shown that in big games they are ready, as was demonstrated in victories against Parham and Sap.
The mood in the Empire camp is great and coach Steveroy “Demon” Anthony has his crew fit and ready for the Grenades that will be hurled their way.
Empire, in third position, is well poised to make a run at the title, and with a game in hand, a win this week should place them among the top three in round one.
The other two matches for the weekend have Old Road coming up against Five Islands in the feature match on Sunday while Bullets and Rangers will open the week’s slate of matches on Saturday.
Old Road is on a high and lowly Five Islands may have to bear the brunt of a fiery attack.
It would be difficult to see Old Road stutter after such a performance against Parham but Five Islands, though in the cellar, can be a tough opponent at times.
Rangers is another team on a high following that 4-3 upset thriller over Sap where they went up three-nil and gave up three strikes before claiming a late winner.
Bullets, hammered by Hoppers, need to rebound, especially against the team trailing them by one point.
This game is extremely important as cellar position and automatic demotion come in to play.
True, it’s only the end of the first round but no team wants to be in the relegation zone at the start of the second round.
There should be lots of fireworks for the fans this week.