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AFC Cup

Late Harun strike leaves Ceres-Negros with work to do against Home United

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Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Late Harun strike leaves Ceres-Negros with work to do against Home United AFC Cup Football News PFL  Roland Muller Risto Vidakovic Martin Steuble Ceres-Negros FC 2017 AFC Cup

The Filipinos’ misery against Home United in Singapore continues, as the Protectors picked up a 2-1 win over Ceres-Negros in the first leg of the 2017 AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Final held on Wednesday evening at the Jalan Besar Stadium in central Singapore.

Luckily for them, the series has just reached the halfway point, giving the Busmen the opportunity strike back in their backyard at the Panaad Stadium in seven days time. Yet the defeat still stings given the circumstances that took place in the first 90 minutes of the ASEAN Zonal Final.

The last time the Negrenses were on the road in the AFC Cup, they were on the other side of the Causeway as they took home two vital away goals in Johor. They lost that game, 3-2, but a corresponding 2-1 win in Bacolod got them to this stage of the competition. Entering the game, they were looking to do something similar in the city state.

Albeit without seriously threatening, Ceres-Negros piled the pressure on the hosts. The visitors aimed to claim an early goal to unsettle their nerves. However, the tactic seemed to backfire when a clumsily conceded corner led to the breakthrough goal on the other side.

Not seeing much of the ball, the Ceres defense haphazardly gave away a corner in the eighth minute. It led to a penalty decision won by Stipe Plazibat, who fell to a challenge inside the area. The Croatian made no mistake from 12 yards to give his team the lead against the run of play.

The visitors grew stronger despite falling behind, continuing to control the tempo of the match. Their swashbuckling approach didn’t do them too much good, however, as they were exposed by the Singaporeans on the counter.

Near the midway point of the opening half, Home registered two good chances to expand their advantage. The first came from Adam Swandi, who was unfortunate to witness his header hit the woodwork. Teammate Khairul Nizam then forced Roland Mülller into a reflex save.

During that spell Ceres-Negros had luck on their side but it looked to have run out in the succeeding minutes. Two goals were disallowed by the officials — the first one for interference in play by Carli de Murga who was in an offside position. The other occasion saw Fernando Rodriguez’s goal ruled out after Iain Ramsay was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up.

In what could be considered an unfortunate first half for the Filipinos, a magical moment altered the mood of the match entirely. Martin Steuble’s ambitious hit from around 30 yards paid off right before the break. Suddenly, frowns on their faces turned upside down and the Jalan Besar Stadium fell silent save for a section of relieved Ceres supporters.

Come the opening stages of the first half, both teams lacked the fluidity they possessed before halftime. Perhaps the two sides were more eager to prevent each other from taking the lead instead of pushing each other to a goalfest. A testament to this stance was the fact that Müller and Home goalkeeper Hassan Sunny only had to save the ball once in the first 20 minutes.

Müller and the Ceres defense dodged a bullet when Nizam’s effort thumped the post instead of bulging the net. The same could be said on the other side or the field as Sunny stretched to keep Ramsay’s close-range effort away from his goal.

Gradually both teams’ desire to nick the third goal grew as time slowly wound down. There would be a third goal in the cagey affair, which went Home’s way six minutes before time. Hariss Harun, on loan from Johor Darul Takzim, did a revenge job of sorts for his parent club. The forward out-muscled Kevin Ingreso to fire from point-blank range before smashing in the rebound to the delight of the home fans.

Unlike fellow PFL team Global-Cebu, who had virtually no chance of changing the score when they fell to the Protectors more than two months ago, the Busmen still had time to have their say in the contest. The closest they got to restoring parity came in the 89th minute when Ingreso’s probing ball located Ramsay. The winger’s effort was deciphered by Sunny, who could have done without it as the former Melbourne City player was ruled offside anyway.

In the end, Ceres-Negros may have felt a little hard done by the result, but will still be relieved to take an away goal back to Bacolod. Come next week, Risto Vidaković’s lads will look to reverse the direction of the tie when they meet again. Having been in this situation before, the Busmen will be hoping that lightning will strike twice as they bank on a strong home support to guide them to the inter-zonal playoffs of the 2017 AFC Cup.

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