Yesterday, the Loyola Meralco Sparks snatched a win from JP Voltes to retake second spot in the 2016 UFL League. Down 2-1 at the break, the Sparks needed to dig deep in order to claim maximum points against the first round tormentor.
The match started in favor of the Sparks after a very early goal by Tahj Minniecon. Within two minutes, the striker found an opening and swiftly sent a low ball past Voltes keeper Nelson Gasic, burying it in the left side of the net. Loyola threatened to quickly double the lead on two separate occasions, but the finish was elusive. That opened the door for JP Voltes to turn the tide.
Ten minutes after Minniecon’s opener, Yu Hoshide’s free kick found Alen Angeles, who took advantage of the scramble inside the box to head the ball over Guilherme Hasegawa for an equalizer.
Phil Younghusband looked to regain the advantage after a foul by Camelo Tacusalme allowed the forward a free kick in dangerous territory. He came close with his effort, but Gasic was prepared for the striker’s shot. The goalkeeper’s impressive save initiated JP Voltes’ counter. Yuta Nakagaito dribbled past Loyola’s backline and although Hasegawa was there to block the initial effort, the ball bounced to Jay Baguioro, who took the chance to score for JP Voltes.
Trailing after the opening period, the Sparks came out determined to turn things around in the second half. Minniecon signaled the intent early, firing from the outside with an effort that Gasic sent to the crossbar. Less than ten minutes after the restart, the perfect opportunity arrived, with Joaquin Cañas fouled by Gasic inside the box, resulting in a penalty. Phil made no mistake from the spot, securing the equalizer with a powerful shot towards the upper left corner of the goal.
Motivated by the deadlock, Meralco turned it up even further, with a flurry of attacks soon to follow.
Simon Greatwich set up Jake Morallo but his header went straight to Gasic. Six minutes after Loyola’s last attack, Greatwich’s skills were put on display. The midfielder went past Voltes’ guard and took the opposition defense off guard with a sudden pass towards Belgira. The young defender responded with a quick shot to the lower left of the net to complete the thrilling comeback.
But the result was far from secure, and in the dying moments of the game, it was Hasegawa who stepped up for the Sparks. The keeper managed to divert every attack of Nakagaito, Odawara and Hoshide. His crucial late game saves secured Loyola’s 3-2 win.
With Belgira sealing the victory, head coach, Simon McMenemy, was impressed with the youngster’s performance.
“I think in the first half he was a little bit quiet. He was not trying to get on the ball. He was a little bit behind it and then he was coming forward at the wrong time and coming back at the wrong time. But the second half, something clicked — I think his shape and his pace,” said McMenemy.
McMenemy added, “For a 19-year old kid, I’m amazed. He’s come out with a game winning goal like that and a really well-worked goal.”
JP Voltes gave Loyola a very challenging match and McMenemy commended the opposition.
“This is a really good team. They’ve come from nowhere and played really good football and it’s no surprise that they are amongst the top guys cause they make it really difficult for you,” the head coach said.
Loyola regained the second spot with 34 points, two ahead of the nearest rivals for the position. On Saturday, the Sparks face Ceres-La Salle FC, last year’s champions and the team seen as the biggest threat to club’s hunt for AFC Cup qualification. The crucial encounter will start at 4:00pm at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.