Second half binge keys Stallion win over Loyola

MANILA, Philippines - The race at the top of league table of the country's premier football league remains a tight one as Stallion Sta. Lucia FC grabbed the provisional lead after beating the Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, 4-2, in a thrilling match on Tuesday, April 9.

Lethal Spanish striker Rufo Sanchez scored a brace while teammates Lee Joo Young and substitute Nathaniel Alquiros contributed one each for the 4-goal haul of Stallion despite the absence of skipper and prolific striker Ruben Doctora.

Dubbed as one of the most exciting matches in the league this season, Stallion and Loyola lived up to the hype and played toe-to-toe from the starting whistle to the final horn.

Brilliant youngster and U-23 standout Mark Hartmann dazzled early for the Sparks after curling a free kick in the 3rd minute at the top of the box but Stallion substitute keeper Asagawa caught the leather.

Rufo answered back 2 minutes later for the Ernie Nierras-led squad with a beautiful header but was just caught offside. Defender Bervic Italia made an early impression to the match official, getting in the books with a yellow card in the 7th minute.

Loyola Meralco Sparks started igniting in the 28th minute after David Cortina delivered a perfect through ball to Jeong Byong Yeol who ran into the box, defeating a Sparks defender. His shot, however, hit the sidenetting. 

Younghusband opens floodgates

As things escalated quickly, Azkals ace Phil Younghusband finally opened the floodgates in the 30th minute after a Stallion defensive error allowed the younger Younghusband to dribble the ball in the box, unmarked, and beat Asagawa for the opening goal.

The reigning UFL Cup champions answered back in the 37th minute after a Lee Joo Young freekick yards outside the box hit the post and rebounded. The ball landed in Sanchez's foot and the Spaniard finished with great composure for the equalizer.

With both teams showing enterprise with end-to-end action in the pitch, Loyola quickly erased the elation of the Stallion equalizer with a quick goal from Matthew Hartmann in the 38th minute from a one-two combination with Jeong.

The last chance in the first half came from Stallion with Lee Joo Young unleashing a bullet of a shot just outside the box with Cuaresma saving for the Sparks. 

All Stallion in the 2nd half

The second half proved to be as explosive as the first with both teams itching to send fireworks into each others' nets.  

The first chance came from the Sparks with a great interplay from Matthew to Jeong to Mark Hartmann who took an attempt at goal but the shot lacked power. 

Stallion claimed its second equalizer in the 51st minute when Lee JY took a long run from the half of the pitch, evaded 3 Sparks defenders then unleashed a long-range strike at the top of the box. Ref Cuaresma was caught flat-footed and failed to make the save at the lower-right spot of the goal.

Rufo garnered his second of the game 5 minutes after to lift his squad, 3-2, after converting a Hector Zaghi pass inside the box and beating Cuaresma with a tight angle shot.

Stallion secured the win, scoring their 4th goal of the match, in the 96th minute when substitute Nathaniel Alquiros beautifully volleyed a Lee JY cross past Cuaresma who misread the play.

Stallion took the temporary lead in the league table with 24 points, 2 points ahead of reigning league champions, Global FC, who will face Kaya FC in an equally anticipated match on Thursday, April 11.

The Loyola Meralco Sparks, on the other hand, remained at the 3rd spot with 20 points. -