Mickaeel Jem Gordon spoiled North East Stars’ first return to the Arima Velodrome -- after six weeks -- on Friday night to earn rivals and three-time reigning Pro League champions Central FC a late 1-1 draw in a highly anticipated rescheduled fixture on the 2017 resumption.
Duane Muckette had broken the deadlock twelve minutes into the second period for the hosts but the 23-year-old Tobago-born Gordon levelled the game with a minute left for Stern John’s side.
John, Trinidad and Tobago national team assistant coach, held the same position at Central, but was elevated for his head coach debut in absence of the Couva Sharks’ Pro League and Caribbean Club Championship-winning coach Dale Saunders who decided to step away due unpaid wages.
Central (10 points) meanwhile, continue to occupy fifth on the standings after fourth-placed San Juan Jabloteh (13 points) edged Point Fortin Civic 2-1 earlier on the day at Mahaica Oval in another rescheduled fixture to now sit within four points of frontrunners W Connection, Club Sando and North East Stars who, in descending order, are all tied on 17 points.
Jesus Perez grabbed the Jabloteh winner in the 75th minute after Civic defender Glenn Sutton had levelled Nathan Lewis’s 49th-minute opening item in the 69th minute.
The result snapped Jabloteh’s four-game losing spell in all competitions while ending the seventh-placed Civic’s five game undefeated stretch.
Both sides, however, were reduced to 10 men with goalscorer Sutton and Jabloteh’s Kennedy Hinkson shown direct red cards in virtually the final play of the game for violent conduct.
There were no such heated moments at the Arima Velodrome although North East Stars are a side equipped with almost a dozen former Central players.
But with goalkeeper Akel Clarke absent; Rundell Winchester unavailable through card suspension, and regular team captain Elton John on the injury list with Cordell Samuel, head coach Derek King’s starting line-up included just four – Kevon Villaroel, Kishun Seecharan, Jomoul Francois and Yohance Marshall – former Central players.
King handed debuts to mid-season signings in 2006 World Cup midfielder Densill Theobald, central midfielder Kevon Goddard from W Connection, and former Jabloteh, Morvant Caledonia United and St. Ann’s Rangers goalie Jesse Peters, while ex-Central defender Julius James, who spent nearly all of his professional life in the United States, had to look on from the spectators area due to pending international clearance.
Central meanwhile depended on stalwarts Jason Marcano, Sean De Silva, Kaydion Gabriel and Gordon with season signings Taryk Sampson, Sean Bateau and goalkeeper Stephon Seepersad among the first eleven that also included rising talents Jesse Joseph, Jules Lee and Taryk John.
North East Stars were closest to opening the scoring after just seven minutes through Muckette but Seepersad was equal to the ball, putting the strike behind off the crossbar.
Seepersad made another save on the half-hour mark to keep out a strike at his near post from Seecharan, after the Stars’ winger dribbled past four Central shirts before entering the left of the area.
Muckette had a much better opening in the 56th minute and disappointed when by spilling overbar on a low cross from Akeem Garcia. But the former Trinidad and Tobago youth player redeemed himself a minute later with a powerful strike past Seepersad before being immediately replaced injured by Kerry Baptiste.
Moments earlier Gordon left his coach John screaming at the touchline after failing to capitalise on two opportunities on the opposite end.
But a devastating breakdown at the back by North East Stars with a minute left, resulted in a free Gordon heading into an open net off a Gabriel cross after an overlapping run on the right in support of Marcano.
North East Stars had themselves to blame including a point-blank headed miss by substitute Kerry Baptiste off a Theobald free kick on the hour mark. Baptiste, the evergreen poacher, also put an equalising opportunity off target in stoppage-time and leaving the rivalry to be settled when both teams meet again on September 19.
North East Stars and Central will return to play on Tuesday in two other rescheduled fixtures when they visit Jabloteh and Police FC, respectively, at the Barataria Recreation Ground (5pm) and Police Barracks (6pm).
Action in the Pro League however continues on Sunday when Morvant Caledonia United visit a new-look St. Ann’s Rangers from 4pm at the St. Augustine Senior Secondary School Ground in another rescheduled fixture.
Point Fortin Civic 1 (Glenn Sutton 69’) vs San Juan Jabloteh 2 (Nathan Lewis 49’, Jesus Perez 75’), at Mahaica Oval;
North East Stars 1 (Duane Muckette 57’) vs Central FC (Mickaeel Jem Gordon 89’), at Arima Velodrome.
North East Stars: 1.Jesse Peters (GK), 3.Kevon Villaroel, 7.Kishun Seecharan, 10.Duane Muckette (4.Kerry Baptiste 60th minute), 13.Kyle Bartholomew (16.Giovani Abraham 71st minute), 14.Jomoul Francois (9.Dwight Quintero 46th minute), Kevon Goddard, 20.Yohance Marshall (Capt.), 21.Densill Theobald, 22.Jameel Neptune, 23.Akeem Garcia.
Unused substitutes: 8.Adrian Noel, 15.Seon Thomas, 19.Jelani Felix, 91.Darren Wilson.
Coach: Derek King
Central FC: 1.Stephon Seepersad (GK), 7.Jason Marcano (Capt.), 8.Sean De Silva, 12.Taryk Sampson, 13.Rondell Gibson (11.Jabari Carasquero 75th minute), 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 17.Jesse Joseph, 18.Taryk John, 24.Jules Lee (29.Ross Dowden 90th minute), 26.Mickaeel Jem Gordon, 40.Sean Bateau.
Unused substitute: 44.Kerville Jeremiah
Coach: Stern John.