Despite his extensive experience and success coaching female teams, Xavier Gilbert’s introduction to the Jamaica Premier League (JPL) was expected to be tough, especially guiding a team such as Arnett Gardens.

Well aware of how most felt about his chances in the nation’s top-flight, Gilbert was determined to overcome the challenges of gaining experience at that level, and also prove his doubters wrong, and he did just that, for the most part. Though he didn’t lead Arnett Gardens to a long-awaited title –dating to the 2016-17 triumph –Gilbert, who is an assistant to senior Reggae Girlz Head coach Hubert Busby, believes a third-place finish was an achievement of sorts.

This, as it not only follows a similar outcome from last season but, more importantly, earned them a spot in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Caribbean Shield where they will challenge for one of two spots to the more prestigious Concacaf Caribbean Cup.

The “Junglists”, who placed fifth in the preliminary round on 49 points, hammered Waterhouse 5-1 in the third-place encounter to finish behind Champions Cavalier FC and beaten finalist Mount Pleasant FA.

“Pressure is natural, and it helps us focus on meeting our objectives. So, I saw that pressure as a positive motivator for us to attain our goals. We didn't win the title or make it to the finals, but finishing third and getting a spot in the CFU Caribbean Shield is definitely an achievement.

“The season was very competitive, especially between the teams in the top six, and then there were those teams that improved throughout the season. We prepared for all our opponents and gave our best each time we touched the field and it is just unfortunate that we couldn’t go all the way,” Gilbert told SportsMax.TV.

“I want to applaud the players, my support staff, management, and everybody, who played a part in ensuring the players were healthy and fed, the community and the fans. I want to thank them for their support and commitment, and as we look forward to the CFU Caribbean Shield, we just want to do well to ensure that we make it to the CONCACAF level to join Mount Pleasant and Cavalier,” he added.

Gilbert knew his decision to take the reins at Arnett Gardens would prove a sound one, as he made astute changes to their tactical approach along the way that contributed to his fairly successful debut season.  Still, the tactician credited the players led by veteran Fabian Reid and rising star Keheim Dixon for delivering at very high standards, so that he could realise his ambitions of keeping the team competitive.

“Every team offers a different level of competition and you have to adjust accordingly based on what is happening on the day. Sometimes you plan to play a particular way, but based on how things are unfolding on the day, you just have to change and make that adjustment and adapt as quickly as possible. That is among some of the things that I learned through the season,” Gilbert revealed.

 “Also working with the players was a major high point, the level of respect and professionalism that they showed throughout the campaign was great and that was a rewarding experience. Technically we played well, but the results didn’t always match our performances. So going forward we’re trying to learn from the mistakes of the season and hope to perform better in the CFU Shield and hopefully, the Concacaf Club Championships,” he shared.

Every coach has a unique philosophy, and for Gilbert dedication to hard work and giving people what they deserve are crucial factors for success. In fact, he was quick to point out that belief in teamwork and harnessing individual potential for the collective good are just as important and that is the inspiration they are taking into the Caribbean Shield set to unfold from July 25 to August 4, at a venue to be announced.

“Our expectation is to build on what we have achieved so far and finish in the top two and advance. We know it is not going to be easy, but the players are excited, they are looking forward to it and it is just for them to go out and make themselves, the club and the community proud. It is also a good way for them to market themselves, so I know they want to make the most of it,” Gilbert ended.

Cavalier SC secured their third Jamaica Premier League title in thrilling fashion on Sunday night, defeating defending champions Mount Pleasant FA 4-3 on penalties at the National Stadium in Kingston.

After a hard-fought 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time, the match was decided by a tense penalty shootout. Cavalier SC goalkeeper Vino Barclett emerged as the hero, making two crucial saves during the shootout. Nicholas Hamilton, who entered the game late in extra time, sealed the victory with the decisive penalty.

Mount Pleasant had taken the lead in the 65th minute through Devonte Campbell, whose well-placed shot found the net. However, Cavalier SC quickly responded just two minutes later when Richard King leveled the score from close range.

Despite both teams pushing for a winner in extra time, neither could break the deadlock, leading to the drama of penalties. Initially trailing 0-2 in the shootout, Cavalier SC staged a remarkable comeback, holding their nerve to prevail 4-3.

 In the playoff for third place earlier in the day, Arnett Gardens secured a convincing 4-1 victory over Waterhouse.

 Cavalier SC's triumph marks a significant achievement for the club, avenging last year's final defeat to Mount Pleasant and showcasing their resilience and determination throughout the season.

As the famous English proverbs states “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.”

That’s the mindset of Arnett Gardens’s Head coach Xavier Gilbert, who is backing his team to not only overcome the Cavalier hurdle in the semi-final, but also to possibly go all the way in this season’s Wray and Nephew Jamaica Premier League.

Gilbert’s thoughts followed their 1-0 win over Portmore United in second-leg quarterfinal action, as Arnett Gardens wrapped up a 2-1 aggregate scoreline at Sabina Park on Monday.

Captain fantastic, Fabian Reid, was again the saviour, as he got the all-important strike in the 90th minute to break Portmore United’s heart and ensure the five-time champions remain on course for the final.

With the “Junglists” last title coming back in the 2016/17 season, Gilbert is optimistic about breaking the drought, but first they will have to get by last season’s beaten finalist, Cavalier in the semi-final, which kicks off on Sunday.

Arnett Gardens, who fell at the semi-final stage to eventual champions Mount Pleasant FA last year, lost 0-3 and drew 2-2 with Cavalier earlier this season.

“We knew it would only get tougher as we go on, and that's a given. But when the situation becomes difficult, that’s when we need to show our strength and stand up to it. So, yes, it will be another tough encounter against Cavalier, but we have to prepare mentally and physically for it, and then analyse how we're going to approach that game tactically,” Gilbert said in a post-game interview.

“But I'm happy that we got the win tonight. I thought we created some good opportunities, and we just didn't finish. We knew that it was just a matter of time, and we finally got it (the goal) in the end. I am happy for the players, I think they really deserve it, and it's a huge boost heading into, into the semi-final. They should be confident for that (semi-final) game, and we're just going to go back, recover and get ready for it,” he added.

It was a fairly decent, but goalless first half, as both teams evenly matched strides and had their fair share of chances to break the deadlock. Arnett Gardens initially looked more threatening in open play, but the best chance of the half fell to Portmore United in the 39th minute, when Alex Marshall’s glancing header sent Chevaughn Walsh through on goal, but the striker sporting the number nine jersey, couldn’t beat Eric Edwards, who left his line well to block the effort.

Prior to that, Chevany Willis’s seventh-minute freekick for Arnett Gardens, came back off the crossbar, while Keheim Dixon went on a break in the 10th minute, but was taken out by Portmore United’s custodian Benjamin Williams, who strayed well outside his area. Fortunately, the resulting freekick didn’t inflict any damage on the St Catherine team.

Portmore United started more purposeful on the resumption, and enjoyed a decent passage of play, but failed to create any meaningful chance to hurt Arnett Gardens.