A remarkable second half performance from Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Cleon John saved the day for a depleted North East Stars team tonight as a late Kennedy Hinkson winner helped the Sangre Grande-based outfit escape with a 1-0 win over San Juan Jabloteh at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
The result saw Stars jump from fifth to second place in the Digicel Pro League although Point Fortin Civic or Central FC can overtake them with wins tomorrow.
Point Fortin hosts Defence Force from 3.30 pm tomorrow at Mahaica Oval while Central faces League leader DIRECTV W Connection from 5 pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Fourth place Caledonia AIA is on a bye for this round.
Police FC enjoyed today’s work as well as the “Lawmen” cruised into third spot with a comfortable 2-0 win over a fresh faced St Ann’s Rangers team at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
The average age of the Rangers starting team this evening was just 21-years-old and it comprised of three teenagers including 16-year-old schoolboys Jair Edwards (Fatima College) and Josh Toussaint (Diego Martin North Secondary). By the final whistle, coach Gilbert Bateau had six teenagers on the field.
“Our intention is to go with youth this year,” Rangers chairman Richard Fakoory told Wired868. “These are some of the players who won the national under-17 league with me last year.
“We might get beat this year but next year will be better.”
The Lawmen certainly did mind as they made light work of Rangers.
Joel Lewis skilfully rounded Rangers custodian to open the scoring in the 28th minute after an assist from Police captain Todd Ryan. And defender Karlon Murray doubled his team’s advantage, seven minutes later, as he fired into the far corner after a low Christon Thomas cross.
Police winger Akiba Peters struck the bar twice in the second half without adding to the score summary as the Lawmen, who have played at least one more game than the League’s other eight clubs, ended with a similar 10-point tally as Stars but behind on goal difference.
Stars coach Angus Eve must have settled for a solitary point tonight. Somehow, he got all three.
Both Pro League games today started with a minute’s silence in tribute to the iconic former South Africa president and Nobel peace prize winner Nelson Mandela who passed away yesterday.
One reporter cheekily pointed out that the Pro League had given Mandela much more than two minutes of courtesy. There were barely two dozen spectators in the Hasely Crawford Stadium and, arguably, there were 180 minutes of silence today.
There was little of note in the first half apart from recklessly lenient officiating by referee Garfield Weekes and the further thinning of the Stars’ roster of available players.
The Stars team was already without striker Anthony Wolfe, who is on trial in India, while Micah Lewis has allegedly failed to report for duty after being penalised for his involvement in a minor league competition and Marcus Gomez has also gone missing. There were only five players on the Stars bench and three of them, Aquil Selby, Kevon Villaroel and Hinkson, were carrying knocks.
Eve must have winced at some of the tackling that Weekes permitted to go without an official caution, although his players were just as guilty. In fact, Jabloteh suffered most from the officiating as, midway through the first half, Weekes failed to penalise Stars’ makeshift right back Keithy Simpson for a glaring tug at Shaquille Bertand in the 18-yard box.
Jeromie Williams might have seen red for a kick at the legs, six minutes later, but got off with just a verbal warning instead.
Jabloteh was faster to the ball throughout as the rigour of Stars’ TTFA FA Trophy might be catching up to Eve’s small squad. By the second half, it seemed a matter of when and not if Jabloteh would score.
Kareem Moses failed to cut out a right side Alfie James cross in the 58th minute and Kerry Baptiste fired first time towards the top right hand corner, only to be denied by the flying John.
A minute later, Jabloteh finally got its deserved penalty as Keryn Navarro tripped Bertrand as the attacker chased his own rebound following another fine John save. But the Stars captain pulled off an even better blocked as he went full stretch to his left to palm away a low, firm Baptiste kick.
The John versus Baptiste rivalry continued in the 68th minute. This time, the League’s leading marksman fired to the left corner. Again, an agile John was waiting for him with another superb reflex save.
And, just as the game seemed to be heading for a goalless draw, Simpson sent a speculative cross towards the far post and Hinkson, the shortest man on the field, snuck ahead of his marker to bundle the ball over the goal line in the 89th minute.
It was a game of lengthy stoppages as players, including John, were often treated by their physios on the field while there were four changes in total. Fourth official Gordon Maloney allowed just four minutes of added time.
Eve might feel Stars deserved some good luck.
San Juan Jabloteh (3-4-3): 1.Kevin Dodds (GK); 26.Keino Goodridge, 18.Jevon Morris, 12.Jamal Spencer; 25.Alfie James, 19.Dillon Kirton, 17.Kerry Daniel (9.Jelani Felix 89), 16.Nyron Jones; 7.Rennie Britto (vice-captain), 10.Kerry Baptiste (captain) (21.Lemuel Lyons 86),14.Shaquille Bertrand.
Unused substitutes: 11.Akel James, 22.Shane Hospedales, 13.Savion Kirton, 6.Dario Holmes, 20.Kevon Piper.
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
North East Stars (4-2-2): 22.Cleon John (captain); 4.Keithy Simpson, 2.Kareem Moses, 19.Glenton Wolfe, 25.Keryn Navarro; 12.Jayson Joseph, 9.Akiel Guevara; 18.Kaashif Thomas, 37.Andrew Smith (23.Kennedy Hinkson 56); 7.Elijah Manners, 20.Trevin Caesar (6.Jeromie Williams 26).
Unused substitutes: 1.Stefan Berkeley (GK), 3.Kevon Villaroel, 5.Aquil Selby.
Coach: Angus Eve
Referee: Garfield Weekes
Pro League results
(Fri Dec 6)
Police FC 2 (Joel Lewis 28, Karlon Murray 35), St Ann’s Rangers 0 at Hasely Crawford
North East Stars 1 (Kennedy Hinkson 89), San Juan Jabloteh 0 at Hasely Crawford
(Sat Dec 7)
Point Fortin Civic v Defence Force, 3.30 pm, Mahaica Oval;
Central FC v DIRECTV W Connection, 5 pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.