The Loyola Meralco Sparks overcame a 2-0 first-half deficit and a last-minute penalty to earn a significant stalemate over Global FC in both teams’ penultimate United Football League (UFL) Division I match at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Loyola sniffed a couple of openings early on thanks to the gritty effort of Bradley Grayson. On both occasions, the Englishman linked up with Phil Younghusband, who managed to fire one harmlessly in the first half-chance. Shortly after that, Phil found himself in a good position inside the box but Grayson’s cross was too strong for him to get to. Unfortunately for the Sparks, two half-chances do not make a full-chance.
During the first eight minutes of the contest, Global rarely got hold of the ball within Loyola’s 18-yard box. However, once they had it there, they made their chances count. At the ninth minute, Global was awarded a free kick along the box. Daisuke Sato delivered the ball which landed in front of Masaki Yanagawa. The defender’s shot was palmed out by Tomas Trigo. Luckily for Global, Izo El Habbib was nicely positioned to head in the rebound, putting Global ahead quickly.
After taking the lead, Global looked comfortable in limiting Loyola’s activity in the attacking third. They did it by pushing more forward whenever they could, despite them also playing quite unproductively on the offensive. Misagh Bahadoran smartly exposed James Younghusband, who has been playing as a right back in the past two games of Loyola. Before the half-hour mark, he initially dispossessed his national team colleague before the elder Younghusband brother recovered with a nicely-timed tackle. Not long afterwards, Bahadoran got the better of James again. This time around, the Global captain made no mistake. Seeing acres of space, Bahadoran marched swiftly into the box before tucking the ball in from a tight angle which left Trigo and the Sparks’ defense helpless anew.
Down by two goals, Loyola persevered to get their way back into the game. A fine attacking spell at the 39th minute ended with Phil shooting the ball on target but instead of changing the score, he won his team a valuable corner as it was deflected by Masaki Yanagawa. What they were aiming for came as a result of such play when James’ cross from the corner reached Joaco Cañas. The Spanish defender’s header did not find the back of the net but Grayson tipped the ball in anyway to make it 2-1. It stayed that way after the break.
After the restart, Loyola played dominantly with the ball. Throughout the second half, they appeared to score each time they got to advance the ball into Global’s defensive third. Patiently building up their offense, the Sparks were rewarded once more ten minutes into the closing period of the match. From another corner, this time taken by Phil, Cañas got to shoot with his head. It was deemed on target but Grayson’s clever intervention of the ball caught everyone in the Global defense wrong-footed. As a result, the in-form striker netted his second goal of the night to level the score at two apiece.
Numerous set pieces in dangerous areas of the pitch were given to both sides but unlike the four times wherein they scored, nothing produced a genuine threat in the last 35 minutes or so of the heated contest. Instead, Loyola produced dynamic open play sequences which caught Global off guard a couple of times. Three minutes after the hour mark, Phil broke free of his marker with a neat touch to knock the ball forward. After earning a sizeable amount of room, the striker only had Roland Sadia between him and the goal. To Sadia’s relief, Phil’s attempt drifted away from the net. Problems did not end there for Sadia and Global’s back line as five minutes after that, Phil teamed up with Grayson who nearly rounded up a glorious hattrick. The Loyola striker timed his run well to meet Phil’s delicate through ball inside the box. However, his effort went a couple of inches to the left of the goal post.
Football is not called a cruel game for nothing. Loyola nearly felt robbed despite bossing the action towards the end. At the last minute of the match, Eddie Mallari wrongfully impeded OJ Clarino inside the box, conceding a penalty to Global. Sato bravely stepped up, but was denied by fellow Azkal Trigo, who effectively saved the day for McMenemy’s end.
Both managers believed their respective squads played well at certain periods of the match, which sums up the bipolar nature of the meeting. Reflected by Global’s 2-1 lead at halftime, Leigh Manson claimed that his team should have not needed the penalty to win the match. Quite disappointed, he said, “we dominated the first half but we let them back in.” He attributed his team’s downhill performance to what he described as atrocious marking which led to Loyola’s two goals in the match.
On the other side of the pitch, Simon McMenemy exclaimed, “We didn’t deserve to lose today.” Noting the team’s previous misfortunes, he felt that his team deserved to get some of it with Trigo figuring out Sato’s spot kick late in the game. A draw was flattering after such circumstance but the Loyola boss reckoned that the exemplary performance of the team in the second half should have gained them more than what they got at the end of the day. “We dominated the game in the second half. It was us causing problems. The way we came back from two goals were very pleasing. I thought we were the better team in this game,” he declared.
Still tied on points, Global and Loyola need to get maximum points on Saturday. Loyola have the chance to put pressure on Global if they beat a pesky Green Archers United team. After that match, Manson’s men will aim for a win against Fabian Lewis’ Kaya on the night cap to seal second place. McMenemy and the rest of the Loyola crew may turn Kaya fans for a mere 90 minutes of football as they hope to finish above last season’s champions.
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