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Loyola Meralco Sparks vanquish JP Voltes to seize Group C leadership

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Loyola Meralco Sparks FC conquered JP Voltes FC with the score of 5-2 thanks to a Tahj Minniecon brace and a Phil Younghusband hattrick that overpowered a brace netted by Yugo Kobayashi, in Group C play of the UFL Cup 2015 held Tuesday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. The result now puts Loyola ahead on goal difference over Stallion FC, as both teams have seven points each.

The game started defensively with no teams willing to lose ground early in such a pivotal match. That approach almost cost both sides who committed errors nearly allowing the other side to concede. As early as the second minute, miscommunication between defender Joaco Cañas and goalkeeper Tomas Trigo resulted in a corner for JP Voltes. Fortunately for them, the Division II leaders were not able to test Trigo in goal. Five minutes later, JP Voltes lousily conceded a corner which was easily cleared. Not long after, Bradley Grayson managed to register a shot on goal but Mark Sorongon gathered the ball safely.

At the 25th minute, JP Voltes took advantage of a set piece near the byline. Chihiro Noda placed his delivery near the first post where three teammates were stationed. Among those three, it was leading scorer Kobayashi who got the vital touch by sliding the ball past the vulnerable Trigo.

Determined to avoid going down by halftime, Loyola powered their back in the game. At the half hour mark, Minniecon’s free kick located the heads of Cañas and Grayson but neither was able to guide the ball into the net. At the 34th minute, Grayson had the opportunity of making it 1-1 but his shot was handled by Sorongon. With nine minutes left in the half, A fine attacking sequence concluded with Curt Dizon’s pass finding Minniecon. Given enough space in the middle of the box, Minniecon did not waste the chance of levelling the score at one each.

After knotting the match, Loyola produced more opportunities to effectively mount a comeback before the break. Their persistence was rewarded at the 41st minute. JP Voltes’ Takashi Odawara was wrong-footed in his challenge on Dizon, meriting the Sparks a go-ahead penalty. Minniecon thought he had given his team the lead at the 40th minute but referee Steve Supresencia deeming an encroachment inside the box a reason for a retake. His second try was saved by Sorongon, but once again, Supresencia ruled a retake for the same reason as the first one. On his third attempt, Minniecon altered his shot to breach past the JP Voltes’ goalie and make it 2-1 for Loyola. It stayed that way until the halftime whistle sounded.

After the restart, Loyola continued to dictate the tempo of the match but it was JP Voltes who recorded the first chance. Against the run of play, John Celiz’s cross almost tricked anyone as it appeared to have spun towards the goal. Unfortunately for the Filipino winger, his attempt went wide. Thirteen minutes into the half, Loyola was awarded a free kick within range of Phil Younghusband, who came on for two-goal man Minniecon moments earlier. The ex-Chelsea man made the most out of the opportunity, looping the dead ball over everyone and into the bottom corner. A couple of minutes later, the Philippine international tapped home Anton del Rosario’s low cross from the right wing to instantly make it 4-1 at the hour mark.

Three minutes after going down 4-1, JP Voltes attempted to respond but Celiz’s strike from the edge of the box was headed away by Alvin Sarmiento. The Filipino-Japanese club labored to get the second goal, which they obtained 16 minutes before time. Trigo’s pass was intercepted by Odawara inside the box and then he found his teammate Kobayashi wide open to cut the deficit to two goals. Alarmed with the unexpected second of JP Voltes, Loyola used offense as their best defense to prevent any chances for their opponents to come back. Their aggression up front led to a penalty conceded by Tatsuya Nakamura who fouled Grayson in the penalty area. In wonderful fashion, Phil cheekily scored his third from the spot to seal a three-goal win for the Sparks.

Loyola coach Simon McMenemy expressed delight with the way his players performed on the night. “Comfortable for us. [It was] another professional performance. All in all, I’m quite happy with the performance,” he proclaimed. Admitting that he was surprised his squad had fallen behind against JP Voltes, McMenemy kept the trust he had in his players. “We knew we’d be able to come from that. We knew we have the quality over the space of time but a goal like that is a setback,” McMenemy expounded. Even though they lost, JP Voltes coach Kyo Nagami still praised his team for putting up a fight against one of Division I’s powerhouse squads. “Of course, individually the opponents play much better than us, but we did our best. They [JP Voltes’ players] did well. Good enough,” the Japanese mentor uttered.

Loyola Meralco Sparks have all but guaranteed their spot in the quarterfinals. They will face UST, who earned a draw against Division II side Mendiola FC 1991, on Sunday, May 24, at 8:15 in the evening. Before that match will be JP Voltes’ game against Stallion FC, a decider on who will progress into the knockout rounds.

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