Loyola Meralco Sparks FC broke all the stops and staged a bounce-back win from Stallion FC, 3-1, Saturday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
With both teams’ chance for the title on the line, they tried to attack early. Loyola was able to bring the ball into their attacking third, anchored by Phil Younghusband’s pinpoint distribution. A corner kick from Younghusband found Max Williams, only for the header to go wide. Stallion retaliated on the other end, as Ruben Doctora drove inside the box. The former Azkal, however, suffered a foul in the sixth minute from Anthony Putrus-Schnell. Moreover, the white-shirts wasted no time and slotted the goal for the lead in the ensuing free kick. U23 mainstay, Nathan Alquiros tucked the ball off a pass from David Basa for the go-ahead point.
Loyola, on their part, pushed the ball into the scoring zone. Not bearing the aggression of the Sparks, Stallion’s left back David Basa was called for a foul at the ninth minute. Younghusband powered his free kick towards the box, and, this time, Bradley Grayson could not be denied of the header goal to level the match at 1 apiece. The away side tried to increase the lead eight minutes after, but a free kick from Simon Greatwich went straight to the wall. The complexion of the match changed as the home side dominated the last minutes of the first half. Stallion controlled possession and the opportunities to score. Nonetheless, Doctora, Alquiros, and Jordan Mintah was unable to meet the back of the net as the halftime whistle was sounded with both teams knotted at 1.
In the second half, Loyola tried to gamble by using the flanks, and it paid off minutes after the restart. Anton del Rosario sent a timely through ball inside the box, where the British striker, Grayson, fired it into the net to grab the lead for the black shirts. A brilliant insertion of returning player Jake Morallo at the hour mark was what spelled the difference in the match. Grayson attempted for his third goal, but Stallion Keeper, Johann Noetzel, parried the ball, but only as far as Morallo, who found himself unmarked and put his side well ahead, 3-1.
Stallion tried to stay in the match, but the shot of Fitch Arboleda at the 65th minute sailed pass the goal. The second place squad had a golden opportunity a couple of minutes after, only for Doctora’s attempt to hit the crossbar and the follow up header from Mintah to fly out. From then on, Loyola took control of the match and denied their opponents any chance to steal the victory.
In an interview, Loyola’s Coach, Simon McMenemy, was pleased with how his boys played during the match. He started, “Finally, exactly we deserve.” The long-time mentor shared they worked hard over the last two weeks following their loss against Kaya. “We don’t deserve to lose it, we gave it away,” he said. The former national team tactician praised his wards Grayson and Morallo on their performance. When asked about Grayson, McMenemy exclaimed, “He came in and he’s looking a little bit rusty. For 20 minutes every practice session, whether it’s the first of the double or the second of the double, he’s taking 20 minutes to do shoot.” On the team’s prodigal son Morallo, coach was happy that he was able to score as soon as he entered the match. “And it was not just any goal, it was a calm and collected finish,” he ended.
Loyola Meralco Sparks will try to keep their momentum when they face Pachanga-Diliman FC on July 22. Stallion will battle the league’s hottest team Green Archers United next Saturday, July 18.