If you’re having an inconsistent season, the best way to prove doubters wrong is to win big against those higher than you in the league table. And a come-from-behind win speaks volumes of the result. That’s just what happened today, April 2, 2016, at the McKinley Hill Stadium in Taguig.
The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles defeated the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers, 4-2, despite having been two goals down in the first twenty minutes. Xavier Alcuaz (26′), Jarvee Ocampo Gayoso (57′), Emilio Acosta (72′ & 83′) were the goalscorers for Ateneo, while Aj Pasion (4′) and Renz Gumban (15′) had given UST the early lead.
In all earnest, the first half summed up what both teams were about. Ateneo were proactive in possession, yet lacked the solidity at the back, which has been their downfall throughout the season. On the other hand, UST still played with their underdog mentality, displaying resilience from the defensive end while being clinical at the other.
Ateneo started the match stronger, though, and only the post denied Javier Ocampo Gayoso from giving the Blue and White the lead early in the match. Gayoso was situated at the left flank, and it allowed him to get the ball from deep and race through the UST half. Some better shooting, however, could have come in handy, after he had a shot routinely caught by UST goalie Rey Catalino and had another attempt directed wide.
But then UST have shown enough confidence in themselves to absorb constant bombardment at the hands of other teams, only for them to land a sucker punch. That came in the 4th minut,e when a Growling Tigers’ defense launched a counterattack with Pasion in acres of space. Pasion was played through one-on-one against Ateneo goalkeeper Jose Oracion, and the latter finished calmly to give the España squad the, 1-0, lead.
That isn’t to say, however, that Ateneo had been playing badly. Quite the contrary, as the Blue Eagles were more incisive in attack compared to their previous games. Mashu Yoshioka and Michael Castillo had attempts on goal, but both failed to score. UST, though, doubled their lead out of the blue, when a cross entered the Ateneo box and a mistake from the Blue Eagle back four allowed Gumban to creep in at the far post to slot the ball home in the 15th minute.
Yoshioka and Gayoso could have pulled one back afterwards, but a mixture of poor finishing and some routine stops from Catalino prevented them from doing so. It was in the 26th minute when that inevitable goal arrived for the Blue Eagles. Ateneo captain Mikko Mabanag delivered a low free kick towards the UST box, and Alcuaz found himself unmarked to slide the ball at the back of the net.
Blood dripped from UST and Ateneo were eager to pounce. The post, again, denied full-back Alfredo Mathay a sure goal, then Cataino parried away Gayoso’s free kick. Yoshioka had a header before halftime which went wide. At the break, it was UST 2-1 Ateneo.
It was a similar pattern in the second half. Ateneo had more possession, while UST sat back and waited to go on the counter. Gumban could have restored UST’s two-goal lead when he capitalized on an Ateneo defensive mix up, only for him to shoot wide. Aside from a Pasion long shot, it was all Ateneo for much of the second half.
Castillo gave UST a warning sign when his good touch in the Growling Tigers’ box allowed him some room to shoot, yet hesitation struck him and Catalino performed an easy save. Come the 57th minute, however, the Blue Eagles got the equalizer they deserved courtesy of Ocampo Gayoso’s free kick. It was a long time coming and that goal was the least Ateneo’s rookie forward deserved.
Gayoso could have delivered Ateneo’s fourth goal, but then the post denied him a second time. He had two consecutive attempts on the UST goal, however, he shot over the bar and his next attempt forced a good save from Catalino. Still, Ateneo had all the momentum and they finally broke through with twenty to go from the match.
Blue Eagles head coach JP Merida brought on striker Acosta in search of a goal, and boy did he find it. Twice. Mabanag delivered a quality ball from a corner kick, and Acosta converted it in the 72rd minute. UST were stunned. The Growling Tigers were supposed to be the comeback team, yet here they were facing one against them.
UST pushed for an equalizer with a quarter of the game left. This time, though, Ateneo’s defense held firm. They were able to spring a counterattack from the back, and after some good passing between their forwards, Acosta found himself free and he killed the contest in the 83rd minute with a fantastic finish inside the Growling Tigers’ box.
The full time whistle blew and Ateneo celebrated like it was a cup final. UST, however, looked forlorn as they lost for the second straight time. Final score was 4-2 in favor of the Katipunan squad. The result gave Ateneo three valuable points, and they are now level with UST at 18. The University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons are up next for Ateneo on April 7, 2016 (Thursday; 4:00PM) at the Moro Lorenzo Field in the latter’s campus. In contrast, UST will face Adamson University on April 9, 2016 (Saturday; 3:00PM) at the McKinley Hill Stadium.
For Merida, the win was a satisfying conclusion after being two goals down. “Ang pinakamaganda lang siguro nangyari ngayon ay nakita ko sa players yung spirit nila na kahit leading ang UST, 0-2, talagang hindi sila nag-give up. Talagang ginawa pa nila yung best nila”, Merida said.