Substitute forward Jinggoy Valmayor delivered the match-winner at the death as FC Meralco Manila edged out Kaya FC-Makati, 1-0, to keep its hold of the top spot in the Philippines Football League (PFL) on Saturday at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Valmayor slotted home a header off a cross by Daniel Gadia deep in injury time, powering the Sparks to their 15th win against six draws and three losses for 51 points.
“It was a tough match but then the players stepped up. We were fortunate to have good substitutions in the end,” said Meralco head coach Aris Caslib, whose squad was already bound to the Finals Series.
“For Jinggoy, it’s been a long process. He’s been through a lot but he has strived to help the team,” said Gadia of his longtime teammate, whose camaraderie dates back to their collegiate days in University of the Philippines.
Meralco Manila denied Kaya Makati from getting even in their rivalry dubbed as the Metro Manila Derby, winning three of their four preliminary round encounters.
The second-running Lions failed to snatch away the pole position as they absorbed their eighth loss though they were already assured of a semifinals slot with 47 points on 14 wins and five draws.
Kaya mentor Noel Marcaida said fatigue took its toll on his players, resulting to their subpar performance.
“It was a really tough game for my boys. Coming from two games in five days, it’s really difficult,” lamented Marcaida.
Kaya’s Miguel Tanton was punished with a straight red card as the midfielder got frustrated after getting dispossessed from behind by Gadia while Meralco’s Milan Nikolic incurred his second yellow card for a late challenge on Jordan Mintah.
With both squads reduced to ten men in the final minutes, the match appeared to be ending up on a goalless stalemate.
But Valmayor, who replaced Connor Tacagni in the 82nd minute, towered over Masanari Omura to head home the well-placed cross by Gadia from the left flank.
Meralco centerback Joaco Cañas came up with an acrobatic goal line clearance on a goal-bound long ball by Mintah to seal the dramatic victory.
Meanwhile, Ceres Negros FC grabbed a playoff berth after hacking out a 5-0 rout of JPV Marikina FC at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City.
The Yellow Busmen raced to a searing start en route to nailing their 14th win against three draws and four defeats for 45 points, enough for them to secure a seat in the postseason.
Ceres Negros also snapped its two-game winless campaign against JPV Marikina, which forced a 2-2 standoff following a 2-1 win over the former.
The Voltes’ semifinal hopes got threatened as they suffered their 11th defeat and remained on No. 6 with 28 points on eight wins and four draws.