Theodore Whitmore’s 100th match at the helm ended in a deserved triumph as Jamaica stunned their confident hosts Saudi Arabia 2-1 at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd stadium in Riyad today (17 November).
With the Montego Bay-born head coach having seen his side well and truly thumped 3-0 last weekend, when they failed to hit a shot on target, this was his opportunity to get the best out of his Reggae Boyz.
Jamaica’s unbeaten run of seven games was halted by a shambolic display in the first of their double-headers, but the Boyz showed cohesion and purpose when they tackled Saudi Arabia for a second time.
Whitmore, whose plans were beset by a series of unfortunate events going into the two-match series in Asia, needed to shuffle his pack especially as he selected an attack-minded squad.
Jamaica’s obstacles to face Saudi Arabia included cancelled and delayed flights, a strike threat and positive COVID-19 test results ripping through their contingent to leave a depleted squad.
Yet Whitmore revised his tactics, and avoided a repeat of cluelessly throwing on players as substitutes like their last encounter against Saudi Arabia.
Rejuvenated Jamaica managed to finally hit their first shot on target in the two-match series. Whizzy winger Leon Bailey achieved this on the quarter-of-an-hour mark, only to see his long range effort blocked by Abdullah Al-Hamdan but win a corner.
Al-Hamdan came close to breaking the deadlock three minutes later, but fizzed his left-footed drive narrowly wide of the target.
Within 60 seconds the Boyz should have scored, keeper Mohammed Al-Yam brilliantly denying defender Gregory Leigh from six yards.
This at least buoyed the Boyz into action. Yet three times they were beaten by the offside trap employed with aplomb by the hosts that stopped Leigh, Norman Campbell and skipper Damion Lowe.
With frustration setting in for Jamaica after these narrow calls, and Lowe not appearing to actually be offside, the Boyz paid the price for suddenly lacking concentration. The ever industrious 21-year-old Al-Hamdan converted Hattan Bahebri’s cross to beat Dwayne Miller, as the hosts took the lead on the half-hour mark.
Ravel Morrison, employed with Daniel Johnson in a traditional sweeper role, was shown a yellow card for an unnecessary foul immediately after this opening goal. Although the midfielder had been fortunate not to have been booked in the opening minute of the contest.
But the Boyz bounced back to snatch a deserved equaliser on 34 minutes. Johnson set up Bailey, yet his close range effort ended up as a corner. The pair reversed roles as Bailey became the provider by lofting a telling corner into the area, which Johnson hoofed into the left corner past the stunned Al-Yam.
Amal Knight, who had been so unwell that he missed the previous night’s training, was called into emergency action between the sticks for the second half following an injury to Miller. And Whitmore reverted from needlessly throwing on substitutes for a change.
The Green Falcons continued their pressing tactics and dominated the early exchanges after the turnaround, with Bahebri sending his shot right of the gaping goalmouth.
But once the visitors settled, Javon East – playing the tricky role of the lone target man – had his first shot of the match saved. And two minutes later Oneil Fisher tried his luck, only for the packed area to block his effort.
With the bit between their teeth, Bailey and Fisher both came close to snatching the lead on the hour-mark and within 120 seconds of their respective shots being blocked they were both cautioned and in the referee’s book.
Whitmore threw on veteran Kemar Lawrence for the largely ineffective Norman Campbell, to play five in defence in order to try to prevent another defeat. And despite his defensive notions, the Boyz surprisingly went ahead on 64 minutes through East.
End-to-end action within the space of a minute followed, with Bailey trying his luck with an ambitious 40-yarder and then Knight equal to busy Bahebri’s shot that seemed destined for the bottom left corner.
Following their shock goal, Whitmore wisely shored up his midfield by replacing the quiet Bobby Decordova-Reid with Tyreek Magee.
Magee was swift to get involved, setting up Morrison. Then Al-Yam denied Bailey and East in quick succession with 20 minutes remaining.
The final goalmouth action saw Bahebri unable to convert Abdulelah Almalki’s pass just seconds after Turki Al-Ammar should have bagged an equaliser, when he sent his shot high and wide of the target.
During the final quarter-of-an-hour the contest petered out into a game of attrition and determination, with neither side showing much imagination with the ball except in terms of keeping possession.
At the final whistle it was master tactician Whitmore who registered his 52nd victory from his milestone of 100 matches with this unexpected victory.
At least Whitmore will have gleaned that he has the right ingredients when next year’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers are on the menu. He has brilliantly proved that he can overcome such adverse problems in western Asia, despite one dire display, by bouncing back with a promising performance and more importantly a proficient success that will have lifted the spirits of the battling Boyz.
Jamaica: Dwayne Miller (Amal Knight 45)- Gregory Leigh, Damion Lowe, Kevon Lambert, Michael Hector – Daniel Johnson, Ravel Morrison (Jashaun Anglin 90) – Norman Campbell (Kemar Lawrence 62), Bobby Decordova-Reid (Tyreek Magee 68), Leon Bailey – Javon East. Subs: Kaheem Parris, Lamar Walker, Chavany Willis
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