North East Stars moved to the top of the Pro League standings for the first time this season last night and had with it a live performance from Carenage-born reggae artiste JaMelody to celebrate following a hard-fought 3-2 win over visitors Police FC at the Arima Velodrome.
Akeem Garcia, an Arima resident and former Trinidad and Tobago youth winger, ended with an assist and his first goal for his new club after Police—a side desperately trying to steady a rollercoaster ride this season—had twice equalised in the first half through Elijah Belgrave and Jameel Perry following the hosts’ opening item from Rundell Winchester then an Elton John converted penalty.
The win saw Derek King’s side on 16 points, and with a game in hand against three-time defending champions Central FC, hurdle previous leaders W Connection (13 points) at the summit after stretching their unbeaten record this term to six in as many matches, five of them ending in wins.
Connection, though, will look to restore the lead today (Saturday) when they host Defence Force from 4pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium, following which Central FC and Club Sando will battle from 6pm at the Couva venue.
Also today, St. Ann’s Rangers will take on Morvant Caledonia United from 4pm at the Larry Gomes Stadium.
North East Stars were brilliant and after just nine minutes took the lead through the lightening-paced Tobago-born winger Winchester, who fired past a hapless Police custodian Adrian Foncette from the right for his third goal this season after neat pass from Garcia on a counterattack had left the Lawmen backline beaten.
Police were no rollovers despite a L-D-D-W-L-D record prior to kick-off, and utility player Belgrave levelled the scores 1-1 when he beat goalkeeper Akel Clarke off a Kadeem Boyce corner from the right ten minutes later.
That see-saw effect would continue till the break.
Elton John, wearing the North East Stars armband, wrong-sided Foncette on 38 minutes from the penalty spot to restore his side’s advantage after Police defender Jibri Mc David was adjudged to have brought down winger Kishun Seecharan in the box.
Then Police, who earlier had a goal ruled out for an infringement, levelled again, putting the score at 2-2 on the stroke of half-time when Jameel Perry pounced on a rebound to fire into an open net after Clarke had initially gotten glove to chipped attempt from Kareem Freitas.
Jameel’s brother and late Police substitute Kareem Perry went close in stoppage time but the attacker’s effort skidded off the bar to the relief of the home fans, many of whom stayed back for the live-performance of JaMelody, whose songs include “Never Let You Down”, “Be Prepared”, “Beautiful” and “I Wanna Love You”.
But North East Stars were in front after taking the lead a third time three minutes into the second half.
Garcia, a former San Juan Jabloteh and W Connection attacker who was side-lined through injury for the past two years, completed another counterattack by the Stars with a cool finish beyond Foncette, who was hung out to dry again.
Winchester had led the attack before finding Kyle Bartholomew on the left, and the former Morvant Caledonia and Rangers winger whipped in a low cross towards Garcia, who capitalised.
Foncette denied Garcia twice late while substitute Adrian Noel wasted overbar after replacing midfielder Duane Muckette, who returned for the first time this season and in time as a replacement for Trinidad and Tobago international Leston Paul, who is expected to move to El Salvador.
North East Stars 3 (Rundell Winchester 9', Elton John 38' pen., Akeem Garcia 48') vs Police FC 2 (Elijah Belgrave 19', Jameel Perry 45'), at Arima Velodrome.
North East Stars: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 7.Kishun Seecharan (3.Kevon Villaroel 90th minute), 10.Duane Muckette (8.Adrian Noel 78th minute), 11.Rundell Winchester (17.Kordell Samuel 75th minute), 12.Elton John (Capt.), 13.Kyle Bartholomew, 15.Seon Thomas, 19.Jalani Felix, 22.Jameel Neptune, 23.Akeem Garcia, 20.Yohance Marshall.
Unused substitutes: 1.Jabari Bryce (GK), 4.Kerry Baptiste, 9.Dwight Quintero, 14.Jomoul Francois.
Coach: Derek King
Police FC: 18.Adrian Foncette (GK), 3.Ryan O'Neil (Yellow Card), 4.Kadeem Boyce, 6.Jibri Mc David (Yellow Card), 9.Jameel Perry, 10.Kareem Freitas, 19.Christon Thomas (7.Kareem Perry 62nd minute) (Yellow Card), 20.Elijah Belgrave, 21.Todd Ryan (Capt.) (32.Keion Wilson 71st minute), 40.Xavier Wheeler.
Unused substitutes: 22.Theon Browne (GK), 5.Kenaz Williams, 8.Kurdell Brathwaite, 23.Shaquille Williams, 38.Kevin Lewis.
Coach: Richard Hood
Referee: Crystal Sobers