FC Meralco Manila edged out Davao Aguilas FC, 3-2, in an emotional match to regain the top spot in the Philippines Football League (PFL) on Saturday at the Davao del Norte Sports Complex in Tagum City.
Milan Nikolic notched a brace through headers as Meralco Manila hiked its total to 27 points with its eighth win in the last game of Phil and James Younghusband for the club.
Hours before the kickoff, Meralco announced the impending departure of the Younghusband brothers, who opted not to sign a two-year contract extension and instead go for a five-year deal with Davao Aguilas in the ongoing transfer window.
But the Filipino-British national team standouts, who acted as main men of the Sparks for six years, continued to play superbly as James netted a goal while Phil came up with two assists.
“Phil and James showed that they were professional and committed to the team until their last match,” said Meralco head coach Aris Caslib.
Newly-acquired Australian striker Harrison Sawyer opened up the scoring for Davao after capitalizing on a defensive error by Meralco in the 33rd minute.
Nikolic nodded the ball off a Phil setpiece to equalize for the visiting side four minutes before the halftime but Matthew Hartmann, another new signing, quickly restored the lead for the home squad as the midfielder fired a low shot from a tight angle.
The capital powerhouse once again drew level when forward Phil dribbled past the Davao defenders on the right flank before dishing out a pass to his elder brother James, who beat goalkeeper Marko Trkulja in the 64th.
Two minutes later, defender Nikolic pushed the Manileños ahead as he headed home a cross by Curt Dizon and the Sparks held on to the win.
Davao remained winless as it absorbed its seventh loss in 12 matches and got stuck on No. 7 with five points.
The announcement of the Younghusbands’ looming farewell was made through a post in Meralco Manila’s Facebook page.
“It is with great sadness that FC Meralco Manila announces today that James Younghusband and Phil Younghusband will be leaving the club and transferring to Davao Aguilas FC during the current PFL transfer window,” the club said in the announcement.