Sometimes a mixture of a resolute defense and some luck is what a team needs to show signs of recovery and improvement.
After two losses against the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers and the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the National University Bulldogs showed they had the fighting spirit in them to clinch a goalless draw against a very wasteful University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in their UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament clash, held at the McKinley Hill Stadium in Taguig.
The Fighting Maroons easily controlled the first half but impotence in front of goal struck them once again. They should have led by at least a goal before halftime. UP striker Daniel Gadia continued his run as the main target man for the Fighting Maroons and he set the tone early in the match with his attempt on goal, although it went over.
The Diliman booters could have scored as early as the 12th minute with some clever play from their rookie wingers. Jeremiah Borlongan’s shot led to a save by opposing goalkeeper Chris Perocho, who was only able to parry it away towards Rapahel Resuma. Resuma, though, lacked the composure and the chance was left begging.
Chance after chance came, and it felt that National U were about to breakdown, but the Bulldogs somehow didn’t concede. Center-back Ian Clarino added to the UP bombardment but his shot from a corner was easily caught by Perocho.
The NU keeper again saved his team and pulled off what could arguably have been the save of the season. Captain Patxi Santos’ free kick was goal-bound but Perocho somehow deflected the ball towards the crossbar. Perocho was called to action soon when he thwarted Resuma and Clarino. Perhaps because of frustration, Patxi tried his luck from far outside the NU box, but Perocho wasn’t even tested.
NU, however, sat deep once the game kicked off. With Francis Abalunan on the bench, the Bulldogs lacked the intricate play of their attackers; it was as if Paolo Salenga, Nico Macapal, and Marvin Viray had no chemistry. The UP backline held them at bay not only because of their solidity, but also because the trio themselves failed to combine to search for an opening. Lem Laranas’ squad’s only chance in the first half came from Lawrence Colina’s free kick but he directed it well over the UP goal.
The scores were level at halftime and the Bulldogs were relieved they had made it through unscathed, while the Fighting Maroons must have wondered what they needed to do to put the ball at the back of that net.
It was a different tale in the second half, as the Bulldogs successfully started to counterattack the Fighting Maroons. Salenga led his team with renewed vigor, and his free kick early in the second half was just the UP wall away from hitting the goal. Macapal also improved and later had a shot saved by Villanueva.
That’s not to say, though, that the Fighting Maroons let their guard down. They were still the ones who retained most of the possession in the match. Roland Saavedra and Borlongan continued their good form and penetrated the NU defense, but Perocho held firm.
Borlongan very much dominated the left flank the second half and his performance was epitomized when he eluded NU right-back Simplicio Mantal Jr and crossed the ball across the NU goal but Resuma headed over. A similar situation happened moments later, when Borlongan was able to cut inside the NU defense and passed to Gadia. His shot was, however, denied by the crossbar.
In the last ten minutes of the match, NU skipper Salenga could have stolen all three points for NU when Villanueva rushed out of his area, but he lashed his shot over the UP goal when a more composed finish would have secured a huge win. The NU staff were forced to substitute Elijah Aban for the injured Perocho, but Aban showed no signs of jitters when he dealt with UP’s late search for a winner. Clarino could have won it late but NU cleared the ball off the line and snatched a priceless point.
The Bulldogs were understandably pleased with the result at the end of the match. On the other hand, the Fighting Maroons were left to rue the fact that Jinggoy Valmayor had already finished his playing years.
The result left NU level on 8 points with the Far Eastern University in 4th place, while UP had 11 points to tie with the University of Santo Tomas for third.
For NU coach Lem Laranas, the result was all about heart. “Kailangan ng puso parati. Though dominated by UP, we were able to hold them and then may chances din kami,” he said. “The instruction naman talaga is to play defensively and then wait for the opportunity. With the result, I’m good already.”
UP coach Anto Gonzales, though, was understandably pained with the dropped point. “Again, goal. Goal lang ang kailangan. I though we played well in the first half coming off a very uninspiring performance against Adamson. They responded very well.” Gonzales added that it was back on the training ground to remedy the Fighting Maroons’ lack of a killer instinct. He added, “I don’t think we’re unlucky if we probably had better shooting, papasok siya. Hindi siya tatama sa crossbar. Now nakikita ko na kulang ang shooting at finishing exercises namin.”
Both teams’ next games will be on March 10, 2016 at the Moro Lorenzo Field in the Ateneo de Manila University. NU will face the De La Salle University at 1:00PM, while UP shall play against the University of Santo Tomas at 3:00PM.