New Pro League head coach Angus Eve and his North East Stars squad threw out a challenge to Trinidad and Tobago’s established football order last night as the Sangre Grande stunned Caribbean champions, Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA, en route to a 3-1 win at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.
There was something about the manner in which Caledonia was hassled off the ball and the impertinent way that 2006 World Cup striker Cornell Glen converted the opening goal in the 51st minute that suggested it might be a pivotal moment.
Eve had seen it before—in his head.
“The game played out exactly how I thought it would,” Eve told Wired868. “I have played against Jamaal (Shabazz) and I have seen his Caledonia and Guyana play. He likes to play from the back, he likes 4-4-2; he tends to be a bit predictable.
“They would have thought they saw me play (in the pre-season) and I saw Jamaal did an interview saying they expected us to play 4-5-1. I think we surprised them.”
Caledonia AIA, which has played three CONCACAF Champions League games already, lined up in a 4-4-2 system that, as always, aimed to attack the flanks. Stars responded with a 3-5-2 formation that used three central defenders to condense space for the opposing centre forwards while its full backs pressed high against the Caledonia wingers.
Caledonia, with playmaner Densill Theobald back from a successful season with Indian team Dempo SC, looked to pull Stars asunder with clever ball movement. Stars, led by combative midfielder Jean-Luc Rochford, aimed to turn the contest into a battle of wills.
The first half ended goalless with Caledonia marginally better but neither team able to make much inroads behind its opponent. Towering striker Jamal Gay was just wide with a powerful header from 16 yards, off a Theobald cross, but it was a rare moment of adventure.
“Caledonia is already in its season, so I expected (Caledonia) to be better on the ball and more match fit,” said Eve. “We were solid defensively and tried to restrict their chances…
“We thought we would wait and then press as a team and try to win the ball high up the pitch.”
The critical moment came as scripted. Caledonia and Guyana international left back Walter Moore, under pressure, opted to pass into traffic to teenaged compatriot Trayon Bobb rather than play back to his central defender.
The Stars duo of Jayson Joseph and Elijah Manners sprung the trap and quickly relayed possession to Glen who strode at the retreating Caledonia defenders before placing into the far corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Shabazz responded by replacing orthodox centre forward Kerlan Ferguson with the more artful Conrod Smith in an attempt to fashion more opportunities. The powerful 23-year-old Jamal Gay stung the palms of Stars goalkeeper Cleon John in the 65th minute yet the Sangre Grande team maintained its poise and scored almost immediately after.
Glen’s replacement, Kaydion Gabriel, wiggled free from Caledonia defender Nuru Muhammad and squared to Kerry Baptiste who neatly tucked home from inside the penalty area.
Caledonia did finally muster a response from what is becoming a familiar route for the “Eastern Stallions.”
Joseph nudged Moore in the box as he tried to meet a teasing Gay cross and Kareem “Tiny” Joseph converted from the spot in the 74th minute. All three Caledonia goals this season have been successful penalties from Tiny.
Shabazz admitted that Caledonia lacks penetration at the moment and is counting down the days until the return of injured midfielders Ataullah Guerra and Akim Armstrong. Guerra should be fit by month end while Armstrong is expected to return in late October.
At the back, Caledonia was also without central defender Radanfah Abu Bakr who is on trial in France.
But that is not to make light of a committed performance from Stars that got its due reward.
“I think some crucial defensive errors was our downfall,” said Shabazz. “I think it was more about poor defensive structure at times than anything else. But I was impressed with the team that Angus put together.”
Caledonia were gung-ho for the final 15 minutes but only went further behind as goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel unconvincingly handled a speculative Baptiste effort and Gabriel capped a fine individual performance with a simple tap-in in injury time.
It completed a dream debut for Eve who is enjoying his first stint as a Pro League head coach after assistant positions under Terry Fenwick at San Juan Jabloteh and Michael McComie at Ma Pau.
“I am definitely happy with the win because Jamaal is someone I have a lot of respect for,” said Eve. “This is just one game and there are 21 more to go. But I think it augers well for the future.”
Eve said Stars’ target this season is to win two Cup competitions and qualify for the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championships. An opening day triumph over the reigning Caribbean champion is certainly a step in the right direction.
The Stars’ exaggerated celebrations after Gabriel’s late item revealed what the result meant to the Sangre Grande side.
“For so long, we have been a second place, playing-well-trophy-less team,” said Shabazz, with a chuckle. “I think it hasn’t sunk in for some of the players that we are now the defending champion in a lot of competitions. We are a team to beat now.”
From Friday, Pro League action pauses for the First Citizens Cup and Caledonia will attempt to defend its first crown.
Eve’s Stars are sure to be lying in ambush again.
North East Stars:
22.Cleon John; 19.Seon Power (capt), 6.Kareem Moses, 17.Glenton Wolfe; 10.Jayson Joseph, 7.Jeromie Williams, 3.Kevon Villaroel; 8.Elijah Manners (18.Kennedy Hinkson), 14.Jean-Luc Rochford (15.Devon Jamerson 74); 4.Kerry Baptiste, 13.Cornell Glen (16.Kaydion Gabriel 62).
Unused Subs: 1.Adrian Foncette, 9.Johan Peltier, 11.Kaashif Thomas, 12.Gary Glasgow.
33.Glenroy Samuel; 2.Aubrey David (9.Keyon Edwards 82), 3.Nuru Muhammad, 5.Aquil Selby, 15.Walter Moore; 12.Kareem Joseph, 7.Stephan David (Capt), 21.Densill Theobald, 13.Trayon Bobb (8.Cornelius Stewart); 19.Kerlan Ferguson (10.Conrod Smith 64), 23.Jamal Gay.
Digicel Pro League Results
(Fri Sep 14)
Defence Force 2 (Devorn Jorsling 32, Richard Roy 34 pen), St Ann’s Rangers 1 (Hector Sam 73) at PoS
NE Stars 3 (Cornell Glen 51, Kerry Baptiste 66, Kaydion Gabriel 90), Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA 1 (Kareem Joseph 74 pen)
(Sat Sep 15)
Police FC 2 (Todd Ryan 46 pen, Jameel Perry 86), T&TEC 0 at PoS
Synopsis: A clumsy challenge by T&TEC defender Marc Hunte on Police flanker Dexter Alleyne, straight after the resumption, allowed captain Todd Ryan to put the “Lawmen” ahead from the penalty spot. And substitute Jameel Perry closed the score summary with a fine finish on the break.
33.Emmanuel Nurse; 18.Jevon Morris, 4.Karlon Murray, 35.Weslie John, 8.Akiba Peters; 5.Anton Hutchinson; 37.Vernell Ramirez (12.Ricardo Peltier 77), 10.Trent Noel, 21.Todd Ryan (Capt), 17.Dexter Alleyne (11.Kareem Perry 61); 15.Jameel Perry (9.Keon Quow 71).
Unused Subs: 16.Adisa Alleyne, 1.Errol Charles, 14.Kareem Young, 38.Rodney Young.
1.Akini Adams; 88.Marc Hunte, 7.Cebastian Bailey, 4.Angus John, 8.Eustace Darius; 20.Brent Garcia; 27.Desta Francis (23.Brent Beam 65), 6.Willan Garcia (19.Simeon Augustus 33), 14.Keeron Benito (Capt), 5.Javed Mohammed; 15.Tigana Sparks (10.Daniel Garcia 71).