By the closing minutes of last night’s Digicel Pro League fixture between Defence Force and North East Stars, the two football coaches were reduced to the role of helpless spectators at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Defence Force coach Ross Russell jumped up and down while waving his arms as though signalling to the last rescue plane. Stars coach Angus Eve stood still with a pained expression like he had just ingested something unpalatable and was waiting for nature to run its course.
If Friday’s 1-1 draw between DirecTV W Connection and Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA epitomised control and tactical discipline, then yesterday’s 3-3 tie featuring Defence Force and Stars was a beautiful chaos.
At the final whistle, the two clubs remained locked at the summit of the Pro League table with four points each as roughly 200 spectators clapped them off and tried to make sense of it all.
North East Stars were three goals ahead after 54 minutes and looked favoured to get a fourth too.
But 26-year-old soldier Josimar Belgrave had other plans.
It was not the best representation of the sport, in tactical and technical terms, but it sure was exciting.
Stars owner Darryl Mahabir changes coaches almost as frequently as a model swaps outfits. His latest recruit, the 39-year-old Eve, is arguably one of the country’s brightest young coaches and he raised expectations with a 3-1 win over the Caribbean champions, Caledonia, in Stars’ first League game this season.
Photo: North East Stars coach Angus Eve
Yesterday was just Stars’ second League fixture and, after 10 minutes, the Sangre Grande-based team was already ahead as star striker Cornell Glen threaded a pass for winger Micah Lewis who produced a composed finish.
Glen, 32, was one of Trinidad and Tobago’s bright lights at the senior Germany 2006 World Cup. The 21-year-old Lewis represented T&T at the Korea 2007 Under-17 World Cup.
It is an indication of the talent that Eve has at his disposal.
In contrast, Russell chose to omit his four best players—strikers Devorn Jorsling and Richard Roy, winger Kevon Carter and utility player Curtis Gonzales—who were late returning from Caribbean Cup duty in St Kitts and Nevis.
And, as Defence Force’s reserve left back Michael Edwards ran around willingly but aimlessly at centre forward, Russell’s selection looked anything but justified.
Six minutes into the second half, Glen created another telling contribution with a well weighted cross from the left flank, in open play, which Stars defender Seon Power met with a smart half volley to double their lead. Incidentally, Power and his defensive teammate Kareem Moses both represented Trinidad and Tobago in St Kitts.
Glen produced a hattrick of assists with a clever through ball in the 54th minute, on the break, for Kerry Baptiste who ended a 40-yard sprint by tucking his shot past the advancing Defence Force custodian Sheldon Clarke.
And it should have been 4-0 with a deserved goal for Glen, two minutes later, but for an extraordinary defensive clearance by Devin Jordan.
Photo: Defence Force defender Devin Jordan (left) takes down St Ann’s Rangers attacker Hector Sam in an earlier Pro League encounter.
Glen got on the end of a Baptiste pass and clipped his effort over Clarke but watched bemused as a sprinting Jordan lunged to hack the ball off the Defence Force goal line, against the upright and away to safety.
It seemed a fruitless use of energy at the time but time provided otherwise.
Defence Force coach Ross Russell perked up on the substitutes’ bench as Belgrave pulled a goal back in the 63rd minute with a sweet individual effort. The former St Ann’s Rangers striker saw his initial left foot effort hit the post but reacted quickly to claim the rebound and neatly sidestep Stars custodian Cleon John before converting.
Eight minutes later, Russell was on his feet and shaking his fists as Belgrave struck again. This time, the deep-lying striker somehow fought off Jayson Joseph and Devon Jamerson before driving home from the edge of the box.
Photo: Defence Force coach Ross Russell.
Stars was further handicapped as Glen went down clutching his hamstring in the 75th minute and was replaced by Kaydon Gabriel.
Gabriel is lively but lacks Glen’s upper body strength and often drifted closer to the touchlines instead of charging start at the opposing defence like his predecessor.
Russell was hopping about by now as if offering his own version of “Gangnam Style.”
Eve tried to fend off Defence Force’s resurgence by replacing substitute midfielder, Jamerson, with an additional central defender in the form of Glenton Wolfe. But Stars lost composure when it mattered most.
In the 85th minute, Power barged through the back of substitute Defence Force striker Jemel Sebro and the army/ coast guard servicemen were exchanging high-fives even before Belgrave had lined up behind the dead ball.
What followed was arguably testament to the power of positive thinking.
Belgrave’s free kick clipped the top of the wall, changed direction and headed straight to John.
Photo: North East Stars goalkeeper Cleon John
The Stars goalkeeper looked petrified. Just like Sebro and company, who began congratulating each other early, John’s body language suggested that the game was up. And the ball flew right between his legs before he could close them.
Belgrave whipped off his shirt and celebrated bare-chested on the running track. Keston Williams, pulled out a corner flag and christened his kneeling teammate “Sir Belgrave” by solemnly tapping the stick on each shoulder.
Referee Gordon Maloney booked Williams but, oddly, not Belgrave. Presumably, the knighted striker had just received diplomatic immunity and was outside the match official’s jurisdiction.
The Defence Force and North East Stars technical areas were awash with emotions for differing reasons.
In the end, it was one point each for the joint League leaders. Surely neither Russell nor Eve would want to experience another game like that in a hurry.
If Friday night in Marabella belonged to the coaches, the Hasely Crawford Stadium certainly served up a threat for the fans on Saturday.
Defence Force: 25.Sheldon Clarke; 14.Cory Rivers (Capt), 5.Devin Jordan, 20.Rodell Elcock, 23.Christian Baptiste; 3.Keston Williams; 16.Kerry Joseph, 12.Josimar Belgrave (22.Ronald St Louis 61), 15.Jerwyn Balthazar, 17.Ross Russell Jr; 6.Michael Edwards (29.Jemel Sebro 88).
Unused substitutes: 1.Kevin Graham, 2.Glynn Franklyn, 13.Anton Joseph, 18.Sean Narcis, 19.Dexter Pacheco.
Coach Ross Russell
North East Stars: 22.Cleon John; 25.Keryn Navarro, 2.Kareem Moses, 20.Seon Power (Capt), 5.Kevon Villaroel; 6.Jeromie Williams (14.Devon Jamerson 46 [19.Glenton Wolfe 85]); 8.Micah Lewis, 17.Jayson Joseph, 4.Kerry Baptiste, 7.Elijah Manners; 13.Cornell Glen (15.Kaydon Gabriel 75).
Unused Substitutes: 1.Adrian Foncette, 12.Gary Glasgow, 18.Kaashif Thomas, 23.Kennedy Hinkson.
Coach Angus Eve
Digicel Pro League
(Fri Oct 19)
Central FC 1 (Anthony Wolfe 66 pen), Police FC 0 at Marabella
Caledonia AIA 1 (Nathan Lewis 48), W Connection 1 (Andrei Pacheco 16) at Marabella
(Sat 20 October 2012)
T&TEC 3 (Bevon Bass 5, 29, 42), St Ann’s Rangers 2 (Jason Marcano 13, Devon Modeste 19 pen) at Port of Spain
North East Stars 3 (Micah Lewis 10, Seon Power 52, Kerry Baptiste 54), Defence Force 3 (Josimar Belgrave 63, 71, 87) at Port of Spain