Just like in their first round matchup, Ateneo scored early to dictate the pace of the game. However, it only took Mikko Mabanag’s first half goal to lift Ateneo over a determined UE squad en route to a 1-0 win on Wednesday afternoon at the FEU-Diliman Football Field.
The Red Warriors created two chances in the first three minutes but were starved of possession for most of the half. Emmanuel Paredes fired wide at the fifth minute to start the Ateneo attacking barrage. As usual, Blue Booters’ captain Mabanag drilled in a couple of balls off free kicks but lacked precision to find a man in blue. The Red Warriors were starved of chances to move forward and were forced to defend a patient Ateneo offense. Unfortunately for UE, their resistance lasted only for 19 minutes. Mabanag launched an excellently struck volley from outside the box to put Ateneo in front.
Alarmed after conceding, the UE defense tightened to prevent a costly second goal for Ateneo. Six minutes after the score change, UE goalkeeper Clores kept out Paredes’ attempt. It was followed by Stephane Dagaraga who headed away a dangerous Mabanag cross from the right wing just a minute before the half hour mark. Ateneo’s advantage was almost cushioned but Clores recovered just in time to prevent the ball from slipping into the goal.
More opportunities for both teams came approaching halftime. Mabanag and Emilio Acosta had their shots saved by Clores while Jo Mallen’s wide range effort was safely collected by Ateneo’s custodian JP Oracion. The best chance in the last 10 minutes of the first half fell to Julian Roxas. With only a minute before halftime, the rookie kept hold of the ball despite an immense UE pressure inside their box. When Roxas found space to shoot, Dagaraga urgently blocked to keep the score at 1-0 going into the interval.
Down by a solitary goal, UE knew the game was far from settled. Mallen, Jeffrey Lacsamana, and Alberto Echin Jr. had a chance each inside the second half’s opening 20 minutes, but the score remained the same after their attempts were not enough to breach Oracion’s goal.
Despite UE’s resurgence, Ateneo still managed to produce a few attempts care of Michael Castillo and Paredes. Clores easily gathered Castillo’s shot from distance while Paredes blasted a shot over the bar, failing to net a goal that may have sealed the game for Ateneo.
Entering the last 10 minutes, UE piled on the pressure with hopes of bagging an equalizer. Alert defending by Wilson Marcelino prevented two chances for Regil Galaura to shoot from inside the box. Ateneo’s solid defense paved way for a counter attack with only five minutes plus injury time left. Roxas’ through ball found Ken Colet who was robbed by Clores when the full back was about to fire from 12 yards out.
UE fell short in nabbing a goal to salvage a point after Mallen’s free kick was just a bit too high for Ramil Feliciano to head it towards the goal. The game ended with Ateneo hanging on to a 1-0 lead to put them on top of the standings for at least two hours or so.
“We have to work on our finishing because we had so many chances and there could have been more [goals],” assessed Mabanag whose goal separated the two sides at the end of the 90. He believes that the team has enough time to address this issue as they bid to book a place in the Final Four. On his part, UE skipper Clores was pleased with the way he and his teammates fought against Ateneo. “Kulang lang kami sa tao,” he cited, as the Red Warriors only had 16 men available for this game due to injuries and suspensions.
Momentarily, Ateneo leapfrogs UP and La Salle to take the top spot in the standings. Another loss for UE, on the other hand, grounds them in seventh.