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Sparks wake up in second half to hammer stubborn Tigers

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The Loyola Meralco Sparks ended the United Football League (UFL) Cup 2015 Group C action by claiming an emphatic 7-0 victory over University of Santo Tomas (UST) FC Sunday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. It was not as easy as it looks, however, as UST frustrated the Sparks in the opening half of the match.

Early in the match, UST goalkeeper Jose Zaldy Abraham faced a lot of unsuccessful chances coming from the Loyola players, the first would be coming from Curt Dixon five minutes into the game. Not given a chance by many prior to the start of the match, UST nearly seized the lead against the run of play when Steven Anotado left Loyola goalkeeper Saba Sadeghi frozen in front of goal. Unfortunately for Anotado and UST, the ball smacked the crossbar before allowing the Sparks to clear the ball from danger. It was the only time UST got to test the Loyola defense as the Division I title contenders dictated the tempo of the game. After an array of opportunities to put away was wasted by Loyola, time in the first half ran out with the score still at 0-0.

It was an unhealthy first half for Loyola although Abraham anchored the UST backline well to preserve the clean sheet going into the break. The Tomasinos were unwavering in the first half but they seemed to have fallen flat in the next period. As early as the first minute of the second half, Dizon placed a good pass towards Graham Caygill to open the scoring for Loyola. The Sparks were relentless after taking the lead, seeking to score in every chance that was bound to come. For the most part, the Tigers were determined to keep the deficit slim as they continued to resolutely defend against the far more experienced and skilled Loyola squad.

The introduction of Phil Younghusband, however, changed the complexion of the match. Just two minutes after he came in, the Philippine international teed up Charlie Beaton whose shot was tapped in by Napoleon Bustillo just on the line to extend Loyola’s lead to two. Bustillo scored his second six minutes later with Tahj Minniecon providing the assist. Joining the scoring party was Younghusband who dinked the ball from just inside the UST half into an empty net, catching Abraham off his line at the 84th minute. Less than 60 seconds after, Minniecon got into the score sheet after he was set up by Beaton in a quick attacking play. Two minutes later, Loyola’s advantage ballooned to six when Beaton capped his night with a brace from the spot. Putting the cherry on top was Younghusband whose shot was too much for the fatigued UST goalie to handle with two minutes left on the clock.

We needed to run up the goals. One thing we’ve been guilty of in the past is not running up the goals against teams who give us opportunities to [do so], and to be fair to these guys, they didn’t give us an opportunity until twenty minutes from the end,” Loyola coach Simon McMenemy commented after the match. He also shared that he addressed finishing woes in the dressing room when they were still in a deadlock with UST.

To be fair to Loyola, they did not play to their full strength, opting to rest a handful of key guys in what is a game that had little meaning to them. In doing so, McMenemy showcased his squad’s depth by fielding players who he thought needed playing time at the start of the match before tossing in quality players who totally altered the direction of the match. “Fortunately for us we were able to do that because of the squad we have. I feel the score has been tough on these [UST] guys. I don’t think they deserved [losing in] a 7-0 scoreline,” he concluded.

UST coach Marjo Allado pointed out Younghusband’s presence to have totally “Noong pumasok na si Phil, bumilis ‘yung laro ng Loyola tapos nakakaset-up ng pasa si Phil. Noong wala si Phil kanina, ‘yung laro nila iba eh. It’s more on passing lang but noong nandoon na si Phil, nag-iba na na ‘yung game. Dahil doon, naka-penetrate na sila. Kaya ang daming goal kaagad,” he elaborated. “The boys tried eh. They will learn from this game,” he stressed as he is in the process of rebuilding a powerhouse UST team filled with relatively young players and a battalion of returning veterans.

Loyola sealed the fourth seed in the round of 16, with only three teams claiming better records on points while Stallion finish a place below them due to the Sparks’ superior goal difference. On the other hand, UST’s hopes of reaching the knockout phase hangs by a thread. They are currently placed 16th as three teams have zero points but one of those, Nomads, will have the chance to change that on the final day of the UFL Cup group stage. Philippine Army was forced to withdraw, making the one-point Tigers the holders of the last playoff slot as of the moment.

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