|Airmen dent Sparks' title hopes
In a stunning twist to the United Football League title race, Air Force nipped Loyola Meralco, 2-1, Wednesday night, putting a dent on the Sparks’ championship hopes at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Substitute Reymark Palmes struck from close range deep into stoppage time to lift the Airmen, who frustrated the Sparks with their quick counter-attacking style in the second half.
Yanti Barsales opened the scoring in the 35th minute, volleying past Ref Cuaresma, but Korean defender Kim Hyo-il restored parity with a composed finish three minutes into the second half.
The Airmen soaked up the pressure for long period and took their chances very well, leaving the Sparks undone.
And although Loyola remained in the title race, the Sparks’ fate are no longer in their hands. With 35 points and two matches remaining, the Sparks are hoping Kaya and Global drop points in their remaining matches.
Kaya still has to play Pasargad and Stallion on Tuesday, while Global still has to play Air Force on Saturday. Loyola will play Global on Tuesday in a potential winner-take-all clash.
Up until the final whistle, it was Loyola’s title to lose. But Air Force, which also held the Sparks to a 3-3 draw in the first round, had other plans.
With the Loyola defense tiring, Palmes found space on the left, only for his shot to rattle the post in the 85th minute.
Given another chance – albeit easier, Palmes made no mistake slotting it home after Jaylor Soriano’s cross took a deflection.
As it stands, Loyola needs to win its last two matches against Nomads tonight and leader Global on Tuesday and hope that Global and Kaya drop points in their remaining matches.
Had they won all their matches before the clash against Global, the Sparks would have needed only a draw on the last day of the season to capture the title.
Global, with 38 points, still needs to win their last two matches to claim the crown, while Kaya still has an outside chance although they would still need to beat Stallion and Pasargad and hope that Global drops points in their remaining matches to snatch the title.
The Sparks, who missed influential midfielder Anto Gonzales, were guilty of wasting a series of chances as they dominated possession in the opening 30 minutes.
Phil Younghusband had a couple of shots going wide, James Younghusband sent a header over and Jake Morallo failed to get a shot from close range on target off a teasing cross from Mark Hartmann.