Loyola Meralco Sparks FC improved its chances of clinching the important No. 2 spot after escaping Kaya FC, 2-1, on Saturday in the United Football League at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The victory intensified the race towards sealing the coveted second place as Meralco clinched a provisional two-point lead against Ceres La Salle FC and JP Voltes FC.
Meralco has 13 wins, a loss and four draws for a total of 40 points to move a place forward into securing the remaining ticket for next year’s Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup.
On the other hand, Kaya has been booted out of contention after being handed their sixth defeat together with their 11 wins and a draw with one game left on its slate.
During the game, Philippine National Football Team skipper Phil Younghusband headlined for the Sparks with a goal and an assist to propel their side into the win.
Loyola was aggressive from the start of the initial half of action with Jason De Jong teasing with a strike that grazed the posts in the 19th minute.
A few minutes after, the silence was finally broken as Younghusband found the back of the net off a looping cross by Kou Ichi Belgira to give the Sparks a 1-0 lead at the break.
Play continued for the second half with Loyola still pushing forward to enhance their advantage against Kaya and was rewarded by the goal of Spanish defender Joaquin Canas in the 53rd.
However, Kaya took one back just four minutes after as Eric Giganto connected with a rebound shot in the 57th minute to cut the deficit down to just a solitary goal.
Loyola’s defense went to work against the surging offense of Kaya in the remaining minutes of regulation with center back Andres Gonzales keeping their foes’ offense at bay.
Action brewed in injury time due to Kaya’s relentless assaults on the Loyola defense in hopes of salvaging a stalemate but substitute goalie Ace Villanueva stepped up with two timely saves before the final whistle.
“I’m just very pleased today that the boys held on and deserved everything they got today,” said Meralco head coach Simon Mcmenemy during the post-match interview.
He commended his wards on stepping up to the challenge.
“We put ourselves a chance at AFC Cup action. This is a horrible game to take something from. It’s always tight and to have the three points today is very, very satisfying,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, Japanese-boosted club JP Voltes FC cruised to an easy 3-0 triumph over the struggling Laos FC via a default during the first game of the double-header.