A goal in second half added time scored by Jose Montelibano saved DLSU Green Archers’ blushes as they picked up a crucial 2-2 draw against the UST Golden Booters, Sunday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Heading into four stoppage minutes, the Growling Tigers looked destined to take all three points after Jayson Rafol put them ahead twice in the game with a strike in each half culminating euphoria on his 19th birthday. Yet a lapse in defending allowed the elder Montelibano to rescue a point for the Green Archers, who earlier found the back of the net through rookie Marcus Garcia.
As a result, the gap between fourth place UST and fifth place DLSU remained two points. A Growling Tigers win would have allowed them to stretch shortbread to five points, a luxury heading into the second round.
It was breathtaking affair in the first half, as end-to-end action gave fans in attendance plenty to look forward to. Initially, UST played sharper as they managed to create chances to test DLSU goalkeeper Paeng de Guzman.
AJ Pasion had two opportunities to give UST the lead but last year’s breakout striker lacked composure in front of goal. The best one happened in the 9th minute when the striker got on the rebound only to blast his attempt over the bar.
The way the game had been played in the first 25 minutes of the game suggested that goals were in store for last year’s fourth placed team. Indeed, a scramble inside the box invited the Education major to convert the loose ball into a goal.
Falling behind, DLSU nearly equalizer through Matthew Custodio. The first year player was set up by Inigo Gonzales just inside the box but the effort went frustratingly high and wide.
Sustained pressure from the Green Archers eventually led to a goal controversially notched by Garcia. The rookie smashed the ball into the bottom corner to cap off a build up UST believed should have not continued as Custodio, who assisted Garcia, appeared to have come from an offside position. Abraham protested the call which fell to deaf ears and instead merited him a booking for dissent.
Abraham’s teammate Dexter Benecio almost did UST justice when a quick counter attack ended with the winger’s header hitting the post. Another chance came begging for UST as Pasion once more was invited to shoot from close range. It was on target but de Guzman positioned himself well to catch the ball. Thus, it stayed 1-1 at halftime.
Just like in the second half, UST started on the front foot once again and their energetic approach to the game led to the third goal of the game. Lurking in the box, Rafol made the DLSU defense pay as miscommunication between goalscorer Montelibano and De Guzman resulted in the 19 year-old midfielder to tuck in his third goal of the season.
Facing another deficit, La Salle rallied to claim another equalizer with still 40 minutes on the clock. They had to deal with a stubborn UST defense, meaning a chance to shoot from a good position came rarely.
That rare chance did come in the 73rd minute through substitute Mauro Acot. The rookie was left unarmed in the right side of the box and looked poised to breach UST’s goal. Denying him was Abraham, whose reaction save was enough to clear it out for what turned out to be a wasted corner.
A heated clash just got more tensed in the 82nd minute as a commotion between UST’s Regala and DLSU’s Acot led to the former to headbutt the latter. The officials then got on top of things to make sure the fracas does not escalate.
The referee, Oliver Moreno, showed Regala a yellow card for his actions; a move that agitated the La Salle players, coaching staff and fans who thought it was worthy of a red card.
“Fourth straight game and the referee f*ing screws the game. I don’t like saying that but you can quote me on this now. I’m not going to be a nice guy. If I’ll be a nice guy they’ll commit the same mistakes. Headbutt [and they say] no contact, no intention. Come on. The guy slipped? The whole stadium saw it,” Smit lamented, befotr proceeding to cite a few more calls that he believed shortchanged the players of both sides. “I’m not saying the calls were all bad against La Salle. UST also had so many calls,” he elaborated.
With another defeat looming, La Salle mustered enough determination to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat. The men in white managed to send a crucial attacking play in the second minute of added time. Rigo Joseph made room for himself in the left side of the box before hitting a blocked shot.
The ball then landed in front of Montelibano whose initial effort was blocked as well. Fortunately for him, the ball returned on his feet, allowing him to make no mistake the second time around.
There was a still a bit of time for each for both teams to grab all points but neither bid materialized as Moreno whistled to signal the end of the game soon after.
As far as UST Coach Marjo Allado is concerned, the result is not what his players truly deserved. “Almost three points pero regarding the game sa mga players walang problema. They played well,” he stated.
Unfortunately, it was not enough for UST to give them more points than their fellow Final Four contenders. “Iyong gusto namin mangyari dito e maiwan na sila. Three points [sana] para malayo na kami,” UST Coach Marjo Allado said.
Talking about his players’ effort, Smit noted more determined team than in previous games. “At least now the boys showed a little heart. There’s only one player there who I can say has given his whole heart all the time and I’m proud to say he was my boy since grassroots. The others are not giving everything,” he disclosed.
The Green Archers are set for their last assignment of the first round against NU this Thursday in a 2PM kickoff. As for UST, they will also end their first round against the Bulldogs in a match to be played the week after DLSU-NU. Both of those games will be played in Ateneo.