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MANILA, Philippines – In a faceoff between the reigning League champs and the newly-installed Cup titlists, the Loyola Meralco Sparks came out on top as they scraped past Stallion FC, 3-1, in the United Football League, February 4, at the Emperador Stadium in Taguig City.
Phil Younghusband finished with a brace while Lee Joo Young added a goal of his own as the Sparks did just enough to weather a tough challenge from 2013 League champions Stallion.
Matt Hartmann flirted with opening the books in the 28th when Lee Joo Young’s cross found him on the counter but Stallion keeper Pedro Marenco was up to the task to keep the scoreline at 0-0.
With Stallion pressing them on defense, Robert Cañedo found himself open on a counter-attack but his header hit the crossbar and ricocheted back into play.
The UFL leading scorer Younghusband was at the right place at the right time, though, as he drilled in the rebound to give Loyola a 1-nil edge in the 30th minute.
Younghusband, wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of his brother James, then came close to scoring his second one just before halftime, going one-on-one with the keeper but David Basa came up with an excellent last minute tackle to stop Loyola from entering the dugouts with a 2-goal lead.
The match got physical after the break with Samuel Bonney getting slapped with a yellow card after a high-booted challenge on Hamed Hajimhedi just on the edge of the box.
Stallion’s newly acquired Hajimhedi, however, wasted the opportunity to tie the game as he missed the resulting free kick, 54 minutes into the match.
Hajimhedi then earned another dangerous free kick five minutes later but Baba Sampana – who was superb in between the sticks for Loyola this season – made a spectacular fingertip save to keep his squad on top amidst a Stallion second half rally.
Playing impressive defense right from the get-go, Alex Elnar then almost cost Loyola the game when he fouled Nazer Dourudian inside the box. Hamed got his hardwork rewarded when he punched in the equalizing penalty one hour into the match.
With their 12-game winning streak in at stake, Lee took matters into his own hands as he drove the ball from the halfway line and fired a 67th minute rocket from just outside the box that stunned Marenco on goal and restored order for Loyola.
Younghusband then nailed the assurance goal – his eighth goal for the Sparks in five games – completing his brace against a tough and physicial Stallion side.
The win propels Loyola to its fifth straight win this year to tighten their grip of the top spot with 15 points.
Stallion, meanwhile, stays in the relegation zone after falling to 1-2-2, good for five points so far this season. – Rappler.com