UNITED PETROTRIN took full advantage of ineffectiveness and disorganisation of North East Stars, on and off the field to clinch the Lucozade Sport-sponsored "Big Six" title, on the final day of the 2005 T&T Pro League season.
On Saturday, Petrotrin edged North East 1-0 in the second match of a double-header at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Arima to take their first piece of silverware since the club was revived earlier this year.
Needing full points to complete their successful title run — North East only required a draw — and Jamal Ayres netted an 82nd minute winner to ensure that the trophy would be heading south.
The match featured few goal-scoring chances, but Petrotrin’s goalkeeper Ken Francis was forced to save a left-footed blast from North East’s midfielder Walter Moore in the 28th.
Petrotrin missed a fantastic opportunity to break the deadlock in the 47th when Stars’ goalie Trevor Nottingham held a feeble penalty from Brent Garcia, on the goal-line, after North East’s Charles Pollard was adjudged to have fouled veteran striker Peter Prosper.
But the handful of supporters, who turned out for the match, would witness a comical chain of events in the 54th.
A long throw from the left-flank by Petrotrin’s Felix Seales was met by Garcia who, unmarked in the six-yard box, inexplicably shot wide of the mark. From the resulting drop-kick, Nottingham fell in agony with a pulled left hamstring.
With no ambulance at the venue, the veteran goalie was forced to lie on the ground for over five minutes until two of his teammates, armed with a stretcher, carried him off the field. To make matters worse North East, with no reserve keeper on the bench, was forced to use the recently-signed Arnold Dwarika between the uprights.
That sequence summed up North East’s season — a year after winning the Pro League crown, they lost their coach and a number of their top players during a turbulent 2005 campaign.
The 32-year-old Dwarika, whose career was blighted by a number of indiscretions (locally and abroad), was mockingly cheered every time he touched the ball, and when he repeatedly came out of the goal-box to challenge a Petrotrin attacker.
It seemed only a matter of time before Petrotrin scored, and they did, when substitute Jerol Forbes found an advancing Ayres who, under pressure from Moore, drilled his right-footer past a stunned Dwarika.
Petrotrin’s coach Brian Williams described Saturday’s match as "a really hard-fought victory." "The team has been working hard," Williams said, "we’ve been (improving) in our matches. Obviously we picked up in the latter part of the season."
The former Strike Squad defender admitted that the team struggled for the majority of the 2005 season due to a lack of pre-season preparation.
"This victory is a great achievement for the team and we’re just looking forward for the coming year," he said.
Williams was high in praise of ex-Trinidad and Tobago players Anthony Rougier and Peter Prosper, who joined the squad in September, for the turnaround in Petrotrin’s fortunes.
"Before we were working hard but lacked the experience and leadership in the squad," admitted Williams.
"I have to give a lot of kudos to Tony Rougier who brought that leadership to the team.
"After that victory against W Connection (on November 6) the guys (got) that sense of confidence and that drive to go on. It was a great achievement for the club," he said.
In the day’s other fixtures, Caledonia AIA/Fire edged Defence Force 1-0 at Arima, with Shawn Bishop on target in the fifth minute.
And Kerry Noray scored in the 40th as CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh squeezed past Pro League champs W Connection by a similar 1-0 margin at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.