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16
Mon, May

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On a rainy Friday night in Marabella, when very few dared to venture outside, a little team from Sangre Grande fought and brought down giants.

Sounds like fairy-tale? Well, for North East Stars it must have been after the Sangre Grande village team ended W Connection's 26-match unbeaten sequence by booting the 2005 winners and first-ever champions of the Toyota Classic out at the quarter-final stage of the 2008 competition two nights ago.

Stars built a comfortable early lead, and doggedly held a slender 2-1 advantage to the end, even after the expulsion of their Guyanese striker Randolph Jerome left them a player short for 48 minutes. They now face St Ann's Rangers in next Friday's semi final round, while last year's defeated finalists CLICO San Juan Jabloteh will take on Neal and Massy Caledonia AIA - who also beat United Petrotrin 2-0 at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium on Friday.

Jerome's aggression was typical of the commitment which the "Sangre Grande" Stars brought into their game against W Connection. And after throwing himself around a couple times, he picked up a second yellow card from referee Russell Cassamir and was ejected. Obviously dejected, Jerome only reluctantly left the field. But his comrades fought on.

Stars survived a testing opening period in which W Connection's Colombian Oscar Torijano looked like opening them up on a couple of occasions. Like, when the Colombian blew by defender Brent Sancho, but unfortunately ran out of turf before getting a shot on goal. And keeper Andrew Durant was sharp to the danger and intercepted a cross at his near post when after a similar drive, Torijano looked to pick out lively St Kitts & Nevis midfielder George Issac in a central position.

But through Jerome and on-loan Rochester Rhinos midfielder Leslie "Tiger" Fitzpatrick, NE Stars began attacking as well, and soon shocked the home fans when taking a comfortable 2-0 lead before the half ended.

First, John Stewart stunned the Southerners who have become unaccustomed to losing this season. Stewart, had Stars ahead at 1-0 when putting a rebound in the back of the W Connection net in the 27th minute after keeper Miguel Lloyd had made the initial block from Sean Cooper's shot. And in the 39th, W Connection were in further trouble when the nervous keeper tipped Marc Leslie's corner kick onto the head of veteran T&T defender Sancho who nodded the ball into the net.

Shock reverberated around the stadium, since almost no one could recall W Connection ever trailing by two goals so early in a match. Between goals, they might have been level just two minutes after conceding had keeper Durant not turned Torijano's shot around the post, after the Colombian raced onto Houghon Hector's through ball. And Durant, a tireless worker, especially in the second half, also had to bring off a double save soon after to preserve his team's lead.

Coming out minus Jerome at the start of the second half, Stars must have known they were about to face a character examination. As expected, Connection took the game to them. But Durant always seemed there to get his body in the way of shots, and on one occasion, made gathering a 30-metre shot by Brazilian Ronaldo Viana look like child's play. However, Connection brought on the added firepower of Brazilian attacker Igor Santos. It finally did the trick when, with almost his first touch, the substitute ghosted into the penalty area and beat Durant with a low shot to the back of the net in the 65rd to make the score 2-1.

Issac had the chance to pull the home team level five minutes later but did not have the power to beat the NE Stars custodian.

And within the final 10 minutes, Christian Viveros, the outstanding, young Colombian utility player, missed the best chance to pull W Connection even when he headed Issac's cross onto the woodwork before it went out. Stars also generated one good chance from Akeil Guevera's header but Lloyd made the save. And even though they faced plenty pressure down the stretch, N E Stars held firm to pick up a well-won semi-final spot next Friday at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium. Even fairy-tales come through sometimes.

FRIDAY'S TOYOTA CLASSIC QUARTER-FINAL RESULTS:
North East Stars 2 (John Stewart, 27th; Brent Sancho, 39th) W Connection 1 (Igor Santos, 65th) (Manny Ramjohn Stadium)
Caledonia AIA 2 (Densil Theobald, 51st; Kareem Joseph, 80th) United Petrotrin 0 (Larry Gomes Stadium)
San Juan Jabloteh 5 (Jerol Forbes, 30th, 43rd, 50th), Willis Plaza 22nd, , Jason Marcano, 88th) Tobago United 0
St Ann's Rangers 2 (Devon Modeste, 49th, Marvin James, 52th) Joe Public 1 (Gregory Richardson, 45th)