North East Stars rebounded from recent disappointments of First Citizens Cup and FA Trophy exits to maintain a three-point lead at the top of the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League 2017 standings with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Morvant Caledonia United.
The Stars, who were edged out in the quarter-finals of the First Citizens Cup on Oct. 14 at Larry Gomes Stadium against Point Fortin Civic then knocked out of the FA Trophy in the Round-of-16 last Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium main field on penalties by Morvant Caledonia, were in no mood to let up their league lead, though they were made to work their socks off for every point on Tuesday’s return to Port-of-Spain.
Sheldon Holder scored twice in the first half to lift Morvant Caledonia in front before the break after former teammate Jameel “Shooter” Neptune had put the visitors in ahead at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training field.
But veteran poacher Kerry Baptiste equalised for the Stars (40 points) early in the second half and Rundell Winchester’s eighth league goal of the season provided the winner well before the end to earn Derek King’s side a fourth consecutive league win and three important points with five PL games left and second-positioned W Connection (27 points) hot on their heels.
Connection, earlier at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium, had stretched their unbeaten run to ten games in all competitions with a 2-1 comeback win over Police FC ahead of Friday’s crucial visit against North East Stars at the Arima Velodrome.
Police, third-from-bottom on the ten-team table with only 11 points, went ahead on 12 minutes through defender Jibri Mc David. But Connection hit back in the second half with two goals four minutes with Dimitri Apai and this season’s leading league scorer Neil Benjamin Jr. (10 goals) scoring in the 60th and 64th minutes respectively.
Third-placed Club Sando (22 points), still hopeful of a CONCACAF Champions League qualifying spot -- top two -- finish this season, were also in winners row, defeating cellar-positioned Point Fortin Civic (9 points) 4-2 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium main field.
Akim Armstrong opened the scoring from the penalty spot and Jayson Joseph made it two-nil before the break for the Angus Eve-coached side that had further goals from Keron Cornwall and Josiah Trimmingham before Civic, though unable to avoid a fourth consecutive league loss, reduced the score-line with a late goal each from Stephen Campbell and Shaquille Dublin.
Meanwhile, Central FC, the three-time Pro League holders, suffered a fourth league loss of their last five PL outings, going under 4-0 against 10-men Defence Force FC at Larry Gomes Stadium.
Reon Moore (8th minute), Hashim Arcia (16th minute) and Devorn Jorsling (64th minute) were all on target for Defence Force. The Army/Coast Guard combination also celebrated an own-goal credited to Couva Sharks’ defender Sean Bateau on 51 minutes.
Head coach Marvin Gordon, however, must make do without the services of Justin Garcia for Saturday’s league clash with Morvant Caledonia at the Hasely Crawford Stadium after the full back was ejected with 13 minutes left against Central on a second yellow card.
Defence Force (18 points) and San Juan Jabloteh (17 points), 2-0 winners over bottom-placed MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers in St. Augustine, moved up a spot into fourth and fifth positions respectively, while Morvant Caledonia (16 points), with their loss, slipped two spots into sixth but three points ahead of Central.
Morvant Caledonia fell behind 1-0 on the half-hour mark when Stars winger Neptune pounced on a rebound at the goalmouth after Julius James directed a Densill Theobald free kick onto goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel’s cross bar.
The Eastern Stallions stormed back with a double from Guyana international forward Holder, who first towered in the box on 35 minutes to level the scores at 1-1 after heading a Kareem Joseph corner past fellow countryman and Stars’ goalkeeper Akel Clarke, who had seconds earlier matched a brilliant effort from Kelsy Benjamin but couldn’t save his side on the resulting corner.
Holder then completed his double three minutes from the half, hitting into the back of the net on a second bite following a neat improvised pass over the top by strike partner Benjamin.
But Baptiste, allowed to move free towards the back post, levelled the Stars 2-2 when he stabbed home a perfectly-placed Keston George cross four minutes into the second half.
Samuel, who produced a number of saves on the afternoon, was hung out to dry again on 63 minutes when Winchester, set free behind the Morvant Caledonia defence thanks to wise-thinking from Baptiste and Theobald, curled his shot beyond the reach of shot-stopper and into the back of the net for the 3-2 score.
Trinidad and Tobago Pro League 2017
Round Two Match Day Four results
(Tuesday 24 October 2017)
W Connection 2 (Dimitri Apai 60’, Neil Benjamin Jr. 64’) vs Police FC 1 (Jibri Mc David 12’), at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
Club Sando 4 (Akim Armstrong 41’ pen., Jayson Joseph 44’, Keron Cornwall 48’, Josiah Trimmingham 62’) vs Point Fortin Civic 2 (Stephen Campbell 83’, Shaquille Dublin 89’), at Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Central FC 0 vs Defence Force FC 4 (Reon Moore 8’, Hashim Arcia 16’, Own Goal Sean Bateau 51’, Devorn Jorsling 64’), at Larry Gomes Stadium;
MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers 0 vs San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Jairo Lombardo 52’, Nathan Lewis 85’), at St. Augustine Secondary School Ground;
Morvant Caledonia United 2 (Sheldon Holder 35’, 42’) vs North East Stars 3 (Jameel Neptune 30’, Kerry Baptiste 49’, Rundell Winchester 63’), at Hasely Crawford Stadium training field.
Upcoming Trinidad and Tobago Pro League fixtures
Round Two Match Day Five
(Friday 27 October 2017)
North East Stars vs W Connection, 6pm, Arima Velodrome;
Police FC vs Point Fortin Civic (venue and time TBD).
(Saturday 28 October 2017)
Morvant Caledonia United vs Defence Force FC, 3:30pm, Hasely Crawford Stadium main field.
(Sunday 29 October 2017)
Club Sando vs San Juan Jabloteh, 3:30pm, Mannie Ramjohn Stadium;
St. Ann’s Rangers vs Central FC, 3:30pm, St. Augustine Senior Secondary Ground.
Teams at the Hasely Crawford Stadium training field on Tuesday
Morvant Caledonia United: 1.Glenroy Samuel (GK); 5.Joshua Sylvester, 6.Taje Commissiong, 8.Anthony Charles (17.Kerry Daniel 65th minute), 10.Sheldon Holder, 11.Quincy Ballah (23.Lester Joseph 75th minute), 12.Kareem Joseph (Capt.), 15.Otev Lawrence, 20.Kareem Freitas, 22.Joshua Alexander, 29.Kelsy Benjamin (28.Renaldo Francois 65th minute).
Unused substitutes: 31.De Journ Charles (GK); 3.Richard Williams, 9.Sedale Mc Lean, 14.Simeon Bailey, 31.De Journ Charles.
Coach: Abdallah Phillips
North East Stars: 30.Akel Clarke (GK); 2.Keston George, 3.Kevon Villaroel, 4.Kerry Baptiste (19.Jalani Felix 75th minute), 5.Julius James, 11.Rundell Winchester (17.Kordell Samuel 80th minute), 12.Elton John (Capt.), 18.Densill Theobald, 20.Yohance Marshall, 21.Kevon Goddard, 22.Jameel Neptune (23.Akeem Garcia 88th minute).
Unused substitutes: 1.Darren Wilson (GK); 10.Duane Muckette, 14.Jomoul Francois, 16.Giovani Abraham.
Coach: Derek King