It was a busy Sunday in the Philippines Football League as six teams were scheduled to duel for points in the last day before the final international break of the calendar year.
Two Luzon teams flew south with Meralco-Manila visiting Ceres-Negros and Stallion-Laguna getting to play at Davao against the Aguilas. Global-Cebu, meanwhile, headed north to Vigan where Ilocos United were due to host them once again.
Unfortunately, three matches turned into two as an announcement prior to kickoff was made regarding the postponement of the Ilocos-Global encounter. As a result, only four teams saw action.
Fernando Rodriguez leads Ceres in vengeful thrashing of Meralco
Led by Fernando Rodriguez, Ceres-Negros reminded everyone of their strength Sunday evening at the Panaad Stadium where they demolished Meralco-Manila, 6-0, to boost their chances of securing top spot in the finals series.
The win also appeared to be a revenge job of sorts as Ceres suffered their only loss at home in all competitions this season against the Sparks. Not keen to allow that to happen again, the Busmen set their sights in opening the scoring this time around. Meralco, however, proved early on that they were not there to give their opponents the easy three points.
As a matter of fact, the visitors threatened to replicate their feat back in late August. Two decent attempts from Curt Dizon and Milan Nikolić got Ceres keeper Roland Müller on his toes but with neither going in, his team stays in course to strike first.
And so they did, beginning midway through the first half. Bienve Marañon hammered a long range strike darting towards the back of the net, rendering young Meralco goalkeeper Ace Villanueva helpless in the situation. Not long after, Carli de Murga extended the hosts’ advantage when he instinctively guided the ball off a loose OJ Porteria attempt.
Conceding two quick goals in the first half, the Sparks knew they needed to conjure up a response before halftime. Unfortunately for them, not only did they remain goalless come the interval as they fell deeper into a hole dug by Ceres’ star man Rodriguez. The Spaniard doubled the then-already two-goal lead with two smart finishes by the striker. Both of his first half efforts came from the visiting team’s inability to deal with crosses from both Porteria and Iain Ramsay.
At 4-0 down with 45 minutes remaining, Meralco looked down and out. They did all they could to halt the drubbing at four but were eventually powerless in denying the home side of scoring more. Usual suspects Rodriguez and Marañon completed their respective hattrick and brace to decorate an emphatic win against the league leaders.
For Risto Vidakovic, intensity is key as his boys displayed vast amounts of it in their latest assignment. “We played with high intensity and if we play with high intensity, the result is usually very good,” the former Real Betis defender reckoned.
Approaching the business end of the season, results usually mean much more than the performance. For a team that can pretty much get big results while playing their best football on a regular basis, Ceres is surely tagged by many as the firm favorites for the PFL title. They are mathematically 10 points away from clinching top spot with 15 points still up for grabs. At this rate, the Busmen will really take some stopping.
Late Stallion surge breaks profligate Davao Aguilas’ hearts
As both Davao Aguilas and Stallion-Laguna looked for consolation points in their inaugural PFL campaigns, fans were treated to a thrilling battle between two of the league’s dangerous teams come next season. Stallion went on to take the contest, 2-0, through brilliant strikes from two of their most lethal finishers in the Saturday afternoon encounter at the Davao del Norte Sports Complex.
It marked the 13th time the Mindanao club lost a league game despite their sensational signings coming on board late in the season. This one stung more than the others though as it was a game Davao could have actually won. Led by the talented Harrison Sawyer and the experienced Phil Younghusband, the hosts continuously tested their opponents’ sturdy defense. Having conceded four against Global, the Laguna-based team hoped to do better this time around and so they did as Benito Rosalia Jr. and his mates at the back row held firm.
Their strength in defense proved to be key as it looked to put the burden of winning to the hosts. After a dominant first half, the Aguilas suddenly faded. This is when the away team capitalized. Failing to start an attack, the home team clumsily gave away possession just inside their half. This ultimately set up Gabriele Mascazzini to finish cleanly past Nick O’Donnell.
Ahead by a goal, Stallion once again weathered an expected Davao attacking spree. As time nearly ran out, the visitors secured the result with a Fitch Arboleda strike. A fitting end to what has been a memorable season for Stallion, the first team to complete all their league games.
Provided that JPV won’t pick up more than six points in their last four matches, Ernie Nierras’ men will have a fifth place finish to make do with their strong second half showings in the league. The result also condemned Davao to finishing no better than seventh.
Photo by Stephen Tan/Ceres-Negros FC