It was an upstairs, downstairs affair as Group C leaders Antigua & Barbuda squared off against a St Martin team that had already conceded 10 goals in their previous two games, and were still without their first goal of the Digicel Caribbean Championships.
St Martin’s newly installed replacement in goal, David Saintil, was almost exposed when a ricocheted clearance cannoned off attacker Jamie Thomas and hit the post in the third minute.
Obviously hopeful to further damage St Martin’s woeful defensive record, Antigua & Barbuda attacked with reckless abandon from the outset.
St Martin did manage to weather the early storm even when a catapult throw-in freed Roy Gregory from his marker, before a pass then released Jamie Thomas one-on-one with Saintil, who did well to save at the feet of Antigua & Barbuda’s top scorer.
Saintil had to be taken off on a stretcher with an eye injury, even as the referee brandished a yellow card in his direction for feigning injury.
Having conceded seven goals in St Martin’s previous fixture, Jean-luc Marconnet was called into action almost immediately, making a body block after their opponents had once again powered their way through the central defence.
St Martin had their best chance to open their account for the tournament, after a shaky call from Antiguan goalkeeper Javid Joseph allowed Francis Peterson to steal in. They were denied by a goal-saving sliding tackle from Garfield ‘Speedy’ Gonsales.
Antigua & Barbuda seemed over-confident in attack with players actually tackling one another in an attempt to score.
Their confidence appeared well placed, in the 31st minute when Rackley Thomas was brought down just inside the box by a mistimed Stanislas Adams tackle from behind.
Top scorer Thomas stepped up to the spot and struck; only to see the ball rebound off Marconnet’s legs.
Thomas would make up for his mishap when he collected on the edge of the 18 yard box, poked it around the advancing Marconnet, recollected it, before scoring into a vacant net to open the scoring for Antigua & Barbuda.
With pride on the line for St Martin, and prestige for Antigua & Barbuda, the neutrals in the crowd started to get behind the much maligned St Martin, practically willing them to score in the second half.
A minor miracle from half time substitute Markenson Pierre drew parity to the affair, when after a long goal kick Stanislas Adams played it in to Pierre who finished from close range to score and send the crowd into raptures, as an unlikely upset looked possible.
Those hopes seemed dashed when in the 57th minute Elvis Fleming left the building, after he was booked for a second offence with a two-footed, studs-up challenge, reduced St Martin to 10 men.
Having just lost Fleming, St Martin would gain something potentially more valuable; a brilliant individual aerial effort from substitute Pierre gained him possession.
He then made some shooting space for himself before lacing a low drive across goal to beat Joseph at his far post and give St Martin what they could only dream of before, a 2-1 lead despite being down to 10 men.
They would almost make it 3-1 when a high swirling ball into the box was almost chested in by Joseph who nervously snatched at the catch.
But with Antigua & Barbuda’s place atop the standings at stake, they redoubled their efforts to draw level, and with some excellent wing play were able to do just that when a cross from Thomas was redirected into his own net by Charles Emile to draw the score level.
The turning point of the game came with three minutes remaining, when Marconnet who had come on as a substitute for an injury was himself concussed by a high boot at the edge of the box.
The restart would catch the St Martin team off guard, when Ken Pennyfeather’s weaving run into the box went unchecked, and a dazed and confused Marconnet was unable to offer a dive in the cluster of defenders.
That allowed substitute Okeem Challenger to go unchallenged as he slotted home a goal to take the score to 3-2 and grant Antigua & Barbuda safe passage as winners of Group C.
For the Antiguans it is on to the next round of the Digicel Caribbean Championships set for Trinidad in November.