North East Stars’ quest for a first Pro League crown since 2004 slowed again with a second consecutive draw after escaping San Juan Jabloteh 1-1 in a rescheduled clash on Tuesday afternoon at the Barataria Oval.
But thanks to a brilliant headed equaliser from veteran attacker Kerry Baptiste, reaching his 150th Pro League goal mark against his ex-employers, North East Stars (18 points) now occupy top spot on the 2017 Pro League standings—pulling one point away from W Connection and Club Sando.
Jabloteh (14 points) remain fourth while the title defence of last season’s historic three-peat champions Central FC took another dive after the Couva Sharks were clobbered 3-0 by Police FC in another rescheduled clash at the St. James Barracks on the same day.
The result put the Lawmen up three spots into sixth and level on 10 points with fifth-placed Central, who are only ahead by goal-difference but have a game in hand against Jabloteh.
Baptiste, 35, showed why he is still one of the most dangerous poachers of the Pro League, producing a clinical diving header in the six-yard area to beat Jabloteh goalkeeper Javon Sample off a perfectly placed Akeem Garcia right side cross in the 26th minute to level the Stars after Julio Noel had put Jabloteh ahead five minutes earlier.
Stars’ winger Kishun Seecharan then wasted wide with the goal at his mercy on the half hour after controlling the ball ahead of Jabloteh’s Sean Bonval in the box.
Baptiste now stands three goals adrift of Defence Force frontman and Pro League’s all-time leading scorer Devorn Jorsling (153), and his goal on Tuesday—his third of the season—salvaged a point for a star-studded North East Stars side that included the debut of former US-based defender Julius James, 2006 World Cup midfielder Densill Theobald, Trinidad and Tobago internationals Rundell Winchester and Yohance Marshall and former T&T youth stars Duane Muckette, Akeem Garcia, Kevon Goddard and Seecharan.
Noel, who sent a low drive past the Stars’ goalie Jesse Peters for the lead, had redeemed himself after putting overbar a Nathan Lewis cross with Peters at his mercy less than ten minutes into the game.
The energetic Jabloteh forward had two other attempts which he also failed to keep down before finally finding the back of the visitors net.
Kadeem Hutchinson had a chance to restore Jabloteh’s lead before the break but the winger’s tame header of a Jesus Perez free kick made for an easy tip overbar by Peters five minutes from the half.
Peters, only on his second appearance for North East Stars, also made a brilliant save off his legs to deny Nathan Lewis midway through the second half, while the shot-stopper’s teammate Muckette failed to capitalise at the goalmouth on the other end at the death after the midfielder was picked out by a low Winchester cross.
Further north of the island, Kurdell Brathwaite, ten years Baptiste’s junior, celebrated his first top flight goal for Police in spectacular fashion.
The 25-year-old lanky midfielder found the back of the Central net from near the half line in the 32nd minute before a late quick-fire double from Joshua Leach, who netted in the 86th and 88th minutes, ended a four-game winless spell for Police.
San Juan Jabloteh 1 (Julio Noel 21’) vs North East Stars 1 (Kerry Baptiste 26’), at Barataria (Oval) Recreation Ground.
Police FC 3 (Kurdell Brathwaite 32’, Joshua Leach 86’, 88’) vs Central FC 0, at St. James Barracks.
San Juan Jabloteh: 1.Javon Sample (GK); 6.Neil Benjamin (Yellow Card), 7.Elijah Manners, 9.Keithy Simpson, 11.Damian Williams (Capt.) (Yellow Card) (21.Dominique Douglas 82nd minute), 13.Julio Noel, 15.Jesus Perez, 16.Jairo Lombardo, 17.Sean Bonval, 22.Kadeem Hutchinson, 27.Nathan Lewis.
Unused substitutes: 29.Andrew Durant (GK), 30.Shemel Louison (GK);
Coach: Keith Jeffrey
North East Stars: 1.Jesse Peters (GK); 4.Kerry Baptiste (14.Jomoul Francois 65th minute), 5.Julius James, 7.Kishun Seecharan (19.Jalani Felix 54th minute), 10.Duane Muckette, 11.Rundell Winchester, 18.Densill Theobald (12.Elton John 72nd minute), 20.Yohance Marshall (Capt.), 21.Kevon Goddard, 22.Jameel Neptune, 23.Akeem Garcia (Yellow Card).
Unused substitutes: 91.Darren Wilson (GK); 9.Dwight Quintero, 15.Seon Thomas, 17.Kordell Samuel.
Coach: Derek King
Referee: Kwinsi Williams
(Friday 15 September 2017)
St. Ann’s Rangers vs Defence Force, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Tuesday 19 September 2017)
Club Sando vs North East Stars, 6pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
W Connection vs Central FC, 8pm, Ato Boldon Stadium;
Point Fortin Civic vs Morvant Caledonia United, 6pm, Mahaica Oval;
Police FC vs San Juan Jabloteh, 6pm, St. James Barracks.