Photo by: Jojo Lirio Jr. / Smile-Eight Photography
Loyola Meralco Sparks FC and Stallion FC posted contrasting wins over Manila Nomads SC and Pasargad FC, respectively, to solidify their places at the top half of the ongoing 2016 United Football League, Sunday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
In the first game, Loyola Meralco managed to blow out Nomads, despite what Head Coach Simon McMenemy’ described as a “frustrating” performance, 9-2, to reach provisional lead at the League table.
The Sparks stamped their class early on and did not last long for them to register the first goal of the afternoon. The goal, however, was due to a defensive error on Nomads’ part. At the fourth minute, Fidelis Nnabuife headed the ball for his keeper Joshua Cruz, but instead the ball went into the goal.
The pressure from Loyola was just too much and Curt Dizon doubled the lead five minutes later. Dizon received a long ball and guided the ball past Cruz for his first goal. After being denied twice, the former Azkal followed it up at the 14th minute after getting a pass from Phil Younghusband.
Forward Alvaro Castiella then pushed the lead to 4-0 at the 26th minute. The Spaniard found some room to operate at the edge of the box and blasted the ball into the goal mouth. The Sparks’ lead could have been bigger, if not for the stubborn defense of Nomads in this game.
After getting measly chances in the first period, the black-and-green-shirts pulled one back at the 57th minute. Stephen Appiah was rewarded with the goal after a great strike of a free kick from the top of the penalty area.
The Sparks continued to unlock doors in the Nomaads defense and Castiella restored the four-goal cushion at exactly the hour-mark. The striker finished a good build up play at the attacking third for his second of the afternoon. Six minutes after the lead ballooned to five, 6-1, as Dizon completed his hat trick with another powerful strike from inside the box.
Nnabuife made amends on his own goal at the 71st minute. Appiah darted forward on a counter attack and connected to Nnabuife, who caught Loyola’s keeper Guillerme Hasegawa off guard to cut the deficit to four once more, 2-6.
What happened after that was just dominance from the Sparks. Patiently the Sparks did not let up on their offensive build up and plucked three more goals in the eleventh hour. At the 75th minute, Castiella found himself one-on-one with Cruz and smartly kicked the ball past the opposing goalie to complete his own hat trick.
Birthday boy Daniel Gadia, who came in as a substitute, gave his squad a treat in the last two minutes of the game. With acres of space, the UP Fighting Maroons captain launched a vicious shot that found the back of the net. Just seconds after, Phil Younghusband continued his comeback party of “at least one goal per game” with a shot inside the 6-yard box.
Despite the win, Coach McMenemy felt that his wards could have done better, especially on defense. Nomads had only seven shots on goal, but converted the mere two shots on target. He said, “[I am] a little bit frustrated we didn’t keep a clean sheet. Especially when we give them two goals; both goals coming from our passes and their strikers breaking us down, which is annoying to me.” The mentor, nevertheless, praised how his wards build up their offense with crisp passing.
Later in the afternoon, Stallion FC nosed out resilient Pasargad FC, 2-0, thanks to the heroics of Carlo Polli.
The blue-shirts had a dominant first half over the away side, but lacked that finishing at the goal. Former UE Red Warrior Fitch Arboleda was the most aggressive on the pitch for Stallion; nonetheless, the forward did not bother UST Golden Booter alumnus Albert Llevares. It did not help that Pasargad’s swarming defense worked well against the opponent, as the game was still scoreless at the break.
Aside from fresh legs fielded into the match, nothing has changed in the complexion of the game. Finally, Stallion’s patience and confidence broke the deadlock at 68th minute. Polli broke free from the defense and fired a shot on Llevares’ goal for the 1-0 lead.
Three minutes after, the Swiss almost doubled his output and the advantage, but Llevares gathered the ball this time. The pressure was not yet over; however, as the goal scorer subsequently won the ball and lobbed it over a cutting Simone Rota. The former national team defender met the ball with a side volley that went straight to the goal.
That turned out to enough as the time expired and Stallion breathed a sigh of relief with the victory.
Winners Loyola Meralco Sparks FC and Stallion FC will face Pasargad FC and Agila MSA FC, respectively, for their next assignments. The Sparks will take on Pasargad on Thursday, July 7 at 1:45pm. On the other hand, Stallion will battle Agila on Sunday, July 10 at 7:30am.
Manila Nomads SC will try to halt their slump against fellow struggling Laos FC on Saturday, July 9 at 7:30am.