Hailing the hero: North East Stars players embrace goalkeeper Cleon John as they celebrate their Toyota Classic victory over Defence Force in the tournament final at Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on Friday night. North East Stars won 4-2 on kicks from the penalty mark after the scores were tied 2-2 after 90 minutes. John saved two of the kicks to help his team clinch the trophy for the first time. — Photo: ALLAN V. CRANE

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Victory by shootout

North East Stars win 1st Toyota Classic

By Roger Seepersad

North East Stars clinched their first Toyota Classic title in dramatic style at Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday night, defeating Defence Force 4-2 on kicks from the penalty mark after both sides were locked at 2-2 at the end of regulation time.

It was a victory the "Stars" and their fans will not soon forget, especially with the way the match played out.

North East went ahead in the 17th minute through Glenton Wolfe's effort. Defence Force regrouped in the second half to take the lead with Rodell Elcock using his head to score from set pieces in the 58th and 85th minutes before Keryn Navarro got the equaliser in the 90th minute to force a penalty shootout.

And riding the momentum from their last minute comeback, North East Stars scored all of their spot kicks with Cornell Glen, Gary Glasgow, Kerry Baptiste and Jayson Joseph all beating Defence Force goalkeeper Kevin Graham.

Defence Force on the other hand, started off well with Josimar Belgrave converting his kick before tournament MVP Cleon John came up big, saving Elcock's effort.

John almost kept out the third kick from Kerry Joseph but eventually won the game for his side when he saved Aklie Edwards' low left-footer to appease the North East fans who were kept at the edge of their seats for much of the second half.

But for the first 45 minutes, the "Stars' " fans would have enjoyed the show, watching their side outplay Defence Force to take a 1-0 lead.

They opened the scoring after a short corner from Elijah Manners. The ball eventually fell to Micah Lewis, who drew the keeper Graham off his line before passing off to Wolfe whose shot sailed into an open goal.

Glen had a golden opportunity to double the lead right before half time but "Army" keeper Graham was up to the task, making a good save to keep his side in the match.

That served as a wake-up call for Defence Force who were more aggressive in the second half and eventually evened up the game 13 minutes into the half.

It was skipper Cory Rivers' corner that found the head of Elcock who out-jumped his marker to put the ball in the back of the net, beating John at the far post.

With five minutes left, Defence Force went ahead from another set piece. This time, it was Kerry Joseph sending in a free kick from about 35 yards out and Elcock again rose higher than the rest to head the ball past John for the second time in the match.

Defence Force would have thought they had the game won, taking the lead with just five minutes left. One Defence Force fan even started parading up and down the main stand proclaiming his team's superiority.

But North East Stars never gave up and eventually pulled off an amazing comeback in stoppage time. With all the Stars players in the penalty box, for a corner--including keeper John--Defence Force saw the opportunity for a quick break but instead gave away a free kick in midfield and that was all Stars needed to tie up the match.

It was Belgrave from Defence Force who gave away the spot kick close to the centre of the field, fouling Kennedy Hinkson.

Hinkson took the kick which landed in the crowded Defence Force penalty area and after a failed clearance, and an overhead effort by a North East Stars player which went straight up in the air, the ball eventually fell to the feat of former national striker Glasgow whose shot rebounded off a defender to Navarro who buried it past Graham to send the small crowd into a frenzy.

Then North East pulled off something special. It was their second penalty shootout win in the tournament after they defeated Stokely Vale 4-1 on penalties, following a 1-1 tie in the semi-final.

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