James Younghusband scored the match-winner to carry the undermanned FC Meralco Manila past JPV Marikina FC, 2-1, and stay atop the Philippines Football League (PFL) standings on Saturday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Returning from an injury since the international break last month, the Meralco skipper headed home a Tyler Matas throw-in halfway the second half as Meralco Manila tallied its seventh win and solidified its grip of the top spot with 23 points.
Head coach Aris Caslib lauded the Sparks’ effort of playing as a team especially when Daniel Gadia was sent off late in the game.
“They (players) wanted to go to the next level. And that next level is developing the team spirit and being competitive in all matches,” said Caslib, whose squad remained unbeaten after nine games.
JPV Marikina played minus its key players Takumi Uesato and Camelo Tacusalme due to injuries as it failed on its bid to snatch the No. 1 position once again with its third loss of the season.
Defender Masaki Yanagawa and goalkeeper Nelson Gasic miscommunicated as the Japanese veteran nodded the ball into their own goal, putting the opposing Manileños ahead in the 23rd minute.
But the Marikeños quickly equalized as John Celiz sprung on Gadia’s mistake and passed the ball to Satoshi Otomo, who clinically beat goalkeeper Junjun Badelic.
Younghusband subbed in for Simon Greatwich at the hour mark and immediately made his presence felt seven minutes later.
Off a strong Matas throw from the left side into the penalty box, the unmarked Azkal mainstay headed the ball that lobbed past Gasic.
The capital powerhouse went shorthanded in the 76th minute as Gadia incurred his second yellow card but the Sparks survived the Voltes’ attack.
“They (Meralco) kept their defense compact,” said JPV coach Dan Padernal, who also paid attention to his team’s height disadvantage.
Meanwhile, Ceres Negros FC bounced back in a convincing manner as it thrashed Ilocos United FC, 7-0, at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City.
Patrick Reichelt and OJ Porteria each struck a brace in the final half while three other Busmen notched one goal apiece as Ceres Negros rebounded from a 0-1 loss to Visayan rival Global Cebu FC.
The Negrenses also nailed their fifth win and hiked their total to 16 points for No. 4 spot for the moment.
Still winless in nine games, Ilocos United remained at the bottom of the leaderboard with only two points to show.