Improved showing generates no goal, as Reggae Boyz fade away

On a bleak, rainy night in a charged atmosphere in Panama City, a large crowd pinned hopes on their local heroes to achieve success.

Fully clad in red and white, the supporters of Panama were highly expectant, but they witnessed a disciplined team performance led by captain Donovan Ricketts celebrating his 100th appearance, and bent on keeping a clean sheet.

Panama 0 Jamaica 0

The last-gasp hopes of a nation were invested in new coach Winfried Schafer and assistant Vin Blaine to inject new life, tactics and team selection from an array of players, many of whom were rejected by the former technical staff in the likes of attacking options Marlon King, Chris Humprey, Luton Shelton and local cult hero Jermaine ‘Tuffy’ Anderson.

Combining with a midfield trio of Rodolph Austin, and the Reading pair of Jobi McAnuff and Garath McCleary, fortified with two additional wide players in Alvas Powell and a fifth member in debutant Shaun Cummings, the new three-man defensive formation, marshalled by debutant Wes Morgan, stalwart Jermaine Taylor, and the recalled Lloyd Doyley worked well as a unit in tandem with Ricketts.

The major error must be the exclusion of the in-form attacker Jermaine ‘Teddy’ Johnson, who has tormented every team in his path by running riot, direct on goal at scorching pace, crafty dribbles more than anyone in the hexagonal. More so, on a must-win night, wet field conditions and a suspect defence in combination with speedster Shelton and marksman King, it could have been a deadly trio from the start.

But it was not meant to be and he belatedly appeared in minute 75 when the game was gone. His was the third substitution; unfortunately, following a rash schoolboy tackle from Austin, to be ejected in minute 58, reducing the team to 10 players and a defensive mode, that followed a forced replacement by the injured Powell just before half-time.

Panama fans disappointed

No doubt the Panamanians would have left the game more disappointed, having not scored after holding the one-man advantage for more than 32 minutes in the game.

Goalkeeper Jaime Penado had nothing to do all night as Jamaica’s attack promised much, early on, with good off-the-ball running and passing combinations with twin strikers Shelton and King, but never threatened the prized target of the goal at any time.

They were dominant in possession early in the first 32 minutes with defenders, captain Roman Torres, Luis Henriquez, Carlos Rodriquez and right fullback Roberto Chen running freely forward on the flank without opposition. The five midfielders handled the ball well to seize the initiative with Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy supporting attackers Alberto Quintero and the penetrative pair of Gabriel Torres and Cecilio Waterman, who personally pelted three shots on goal by half-time.

It was Torres’ curler from 20 yards that brought out the best save from Ricketts. On the one occasion that Ricketts was beaten, he was well covered on the line by Cummings to Waterman’s free shot at goal from a Torres corner.

Jamaica, after organising a good defensive team system, responded later in the half with determined ball-winning through Austin’s strong tackles to break up plays in tandem with the now more centrally positioned McAnuff and McLeary. Powell exhibited new enthusiasm and skills to advance on the right flank, eventually crossing dangerously to the far post but no player could get to it.

On the other hand Cummings’ crosses lacked accuracy while employing his right foot only on the left flank in good positions before the coaches rightfully switched him in the second half with substitute O’Brian Woodbine, who looked strangely fatigued before the game ended.

Shelton’s two bursts of speed behind defenders into space promised much, as did his passing sequences with King, who recovered from a knock to get his only shot off midway the second half just before being substituted by Johnson.

King earlier failed to controll a shunted cross at the near post at six yards, early in the second half from one of Woodbine’s attacking right-sided runs down the flank.

Austin’s red card all but left Jamaica holding out for a point, shattering the dream in a critical three-point game, while Panama’s Quintero and Torres continued the search for a goal to the end.

Johnson’s lonely effort up front proved futile as the service from midfield and defensive zones were not well co-ordinated and infrequent in a limited time frame, leading to his and Jamaica’s continued frustrations.

Panama knocked but could not get in

Under pressure twice, Taylor’s miscued clearances went over the crossbar on the dangerously slippery surface.

In the end it was again the magnificence of Ricketts that stood between defeat and delayed elimination, as he came up big to make a diving save low down to his right for his defenders to clear the second ball from Torres’ shot.

Lucky to stave off another late onslaught, Woodbine slid at the near post as the ball deflected from the upright onto his body and arm, to be ruled as one of eight second-half corners, as Panama kept knocking at a door that was ajar at times, but remained closed for business, as Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez called full time.

It could be game over if a victory is not attained for the Reggae Boyz on Tuesday against new hex leaders Costa Rica at the National Stadium.

Ground staff mopping up the pitch inside the Rommel Fernandez Stadium prior to the start of the World Cup Qualifier between Jamaica and Panama on Friday night.(PHOTO: JOSEPH WELLINGTON)

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