Ex-England Premier League forward Stern John came out of retirement on Tuesday but the 40-year-old legendary Trinidad and Tobago striker could not help his Central FC side avoid defeat against bitter Couva rivals W Connection.
Second-placed Connection finished 2-0 winners in the second game of a double-header at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva to keep one point adrift of leaders North East Stars who maintained their stay at the summit with a 2-0 win over 10-men Club Sando, ending the Oranges’ eight-game unbeaten streak in all competitions.
John’s World Cup 2006 teammate Densill Theobald and former Central forward Rundell Winchester scored on either side of the break for a star-studded North East side against hosts Sando, who had midfielder Jay-son Joseph sent off with 14 minutes left. In the second game of the double-header, Neil Benjamin snatched his eighth league goal of the 2017 season and, Marcus Joseph, his sixth, on either side of the break and the Connection duo continue to lead the league scoring chart this term.
But matches previously scheduled for Tuesday in Point Fortin and Mucurapo were not played due to the untimely death of rising referee Kyle Carabon who was murdered in Tableland on Monday. The Pro League cancelled the Point Fortin Civic-Morvant Caledonia United fixture at the Mahaica Oval in which Carabon, an assistant referee, was set to officiate at, while refereeing officials assigned to the Police FC-San Juan Jabloteh fixture at the Hasely Crawford Stadium Training Field didn’t show up in solidarity of their murdered comrade.
Play, however, was not stopped at the Couva venue with the assistance of central zone referees and Theobald celebrated his debut goal in Stars colours on the half-hour mark.
The ex-Morvant Caledonia star smashed a free kick beyond Sando goalkeeper Kelvin Henry from the top of the box after referee Michael Mohammed spotted a tug on the midfielder by defender Trevin Latapy.
Henry brilliantly avoided another three minutes into the second half, pulling off a one-handed save to his right to put behind a low effort from Winchester who glided across the Sando penalty area with ease before letting off the solo attempt.
But another blistering run and powerful finish into the roof of the net by Winchester, finally put the Trinidad and Tobago international on the score sheet on the hour mark for a 2-0 North East Stars cushion.
With his side down two goals, Sando coach Angus Eve responded by tossing in centre-back Josiah Trimmingham, who scored on debut in a 2-1 win over NFA side Cultural Roots in the FA Trophy Round of 64 last weekend, and attacker Adan Noel at the expense of defensive midfielder Jarod London and forward Keron Cornwall.
But Stars coach Derek King countered the move with the introduction of wingers Anslem “Worm” Jackson and Qian Grosvenor who both scored on their North East debut over the weekend in a 5-1 FA Trophy First Round win over Super League side Siparia Spurs.
Sando, who saw efforts from Cornwall and Nicholas Thomas, on the rebound, cleared off the line by Winchester and defender Yohance Marshall respectively early in the game, were reduced to 10 men when Jay-son Joseph, who went into Mohammed’s book midway in the first half for a challenge on Elton John, was shown his second yellow for a sliding challenge on Winchester in the 76th.
In the second game of the night Benjamin gave Connection the lead on 34 minutes against the three-time defending champions Central after running onto a low cross from the left by Jameel Antoine to beat the Couva Sharks’ goalie Kern Caesar.
Central, a shadow of their historic three-peat League-winning side of last season, had an excellent chance to level the scores in the 56th minute but Jason Marcano struck the crossbar from the goalmouth off a right side Kaydion Gabriel cross.
Central were made to pay less than a minute later when Marcus Joseph, fresh off a hat-trick in a 12-0 win over Tamana United in the FA Trophy last weekend, drilled a left-footed shot past Caesar and into the far right bottom corner.
Stern John also exercised his recently upgraded role as player/coach, coming out of retirement for the first in almost two years. After almost 12 years in England, John represented North East Stars in the 2011/12 Pro League season then lower league sides WASA and Saddle Hill Hotspur before hanging up his boots in 2015.
Two weeks ago John, TT’s record international top scorer with 70 international goals, suddenly found himself moving from assistant coach to coach after League and Caribbean Club Championship-winning coach Dale Saunders joined the exodus of players and staff to depart Couva Sharks this season.
But John, the ex-Sunderland, Birmingham and MLS’s Columbus Crew star, who is also the Trinidad and Tobago men’s team assistant coach, had no touch of the ball in his cameo of the final 10 minutes after replacing Shem Clauzel, a midfielder 22 years his junior. Central will return to action against North East Stars from 8 pm tomorrow in another mouth-watering double-header at the Ato Boldon Stadium with Defence Force taking on San Juan Jabloteh from 6pm.
On Saturday, W Connection will host Point Fortin Civic from 4 pm at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella and simultaneously, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Morvant Caledonia United are against Police FC.
The weekend fixtures will conclude on Sunday when MIC-IT St Ann’s Rangers welcome Club Sando from 4 pm at St. Augustine Senior Secondary School Ground.