For the third straight game in two days, another team climbed into pole position following an ugly win. On Saturday afternoon, it was UP’s turn to seize league leadership after edging NU, 1-0, at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field. Jinggoy Valmayor notched the lone goal of the match which booked UP’s sixth win of the season. No team has more wins than last season’s runners-up.
Scorer of the only goal in their last meeting, Valmayor was certainly on NU’s radar. Still, it did not stop the veteran striker from creating chances for his team. Seven minutes into the contest, the LSGH alum barged into NU’s penalty area but his chip attempt was too high for anyone else to get a touch on. Six minutes after that, the Maroons forward was halted by full back Nico Macapal to avoid any opportunities for UP. Moments later, Michael Simms sent a fine cross from the left to Valmayor who met it with his head. His attempt, however, was stopped by the well-positioned NU goalkeeper Hayeson Pepito.
Wary that UP may take command of the watch’s rhythm, the Bulldogs began to launch attacks themselves. Albeit against the run of play, NU’s Mark Jojo Marcaida was open to shoot inside UP’s box but slipped on the build up of his strike, which went wide.
Both sides had chances to score off set pieces but the respective defenses were able to deal well with danger. Instead, it took a rapidly orchestrated UP attack to threaten the Bulldogs. With five minutes left in the first half, Carlos Monfort linked well with Daniel Gadia to create space inside the box. He had a clear sight on goal but chose to send the ball to Valmayor who was heavily marked and was not able to do much with it. Another close chance came right at the end of the first half, this time for NU. A defensive lapse saw Paolo Salenga almost making the Maroons pay. Fortunately for UP, Albert Yatco was alert enough to keep track of NU’s star striker.
The game’s back-and-forth tempo was evident in the opening stages of the second half, with Salenga and Valmayor missing chances in the first three minutes. At the 53rd minute, tension escalated when Darwin Regala brought down Valmayor just outside the box. The defender, who was marking Valmayor together with his center back partner Arnel Casil, was shown a yellow. The ensuing free kick, nonetheless, was wasted. Valmayor continued to pick up his rhythm, firing another shot at the 57th minute only for his attempt to be blocked by Macapal.
With the game still goalless, NU crafted a couple of good chances to put them ahead. Francis Abalunan’s corner was cleared by the stiff UP defense a minute after the hour mark and Salenga’s lowly-struck free kick the following minute just drifted a few inches away from UP’s goal. They were left to rue those chances for the next attacking sequence proved lethal. Valmayor padded his Season 77 goal tally to a league-best nine goals. The UP forward was set up nicely by Gadia’s nifty through ball, enabling Valmayor to break away from Casil and Regala before smartly putting the ball beyond Pepito’s reach and into the onion bag.
The Bulldogs responded well to the goal. They dictated the last 15 minutes of the game and had good goalscoring opportunities. Salenga, Macapal, and Abalunan led the charge for the equalizer but the Maroons’ defense held on to take the narrow win.
The win puts UP on top of the standings anew but it did not please the Iskos’ mentor Anto Gonzales. “I just think they wanted to get the result. They really didn’t want to play football,” he uttered with frustration. He was unhappy with the way his players seemed to settle after grabbing the lead. “That’s not how it’s supposed to be if they really want to be in the finals,” he continued.
“Binigyan namin sila ng magandang laro,” NU coach Wilhelm Laranas said. He found his wards’ performance alright but commented that the team looked to have played more defensively, preventing them from becoming as aggressive as they had been late in the game. As for the result, it is not the best outcome for the Bulldogs but Laranas believes it was a mere break that led to his team’s defeat. “Ok lang sana sa amin mag-draw. [It’s a] break eh. Wala na tayong magagawa doon.”
NU stays in fifth with 14 points, six less than UP who now regains the top spot after fellow contenders Ateneo and La Salle each had a taste of it.
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