By Karlo Sacamos
As the final whistle was blown, it was Stallion-Sta. Lucia coach Ernie Nierras who was spotted flashing a smirk from the sidelines.
Loyola Meralco dealt a massive blow to Global's title-retention bid while boosting the Stallions’ own aspirations in the United Football League following a 2-0 victory over the defending champion on Thursday night at the Emperador Stadium in Taguig.
Mark Hartmann and Phil Younghusband provided the goals for the third-running Sparks, who lived up to their role as spoilers and emerged as the only team did not lose to Global this season. The two sides drew their first-round match, 1-1.
“Having beaten them now, if they go on to win the championship, at least we can go with pride and say, ‘We didn’t win the UFL, but the champion UFL team never beat us,'” Sparks coach Vince Santos said. “That was our motivation.”
“It’s our way of calling ourselves champions,” the former national team player added.
With the loss, Global, running second in the standings, needs to win its last two games and hope front-running Stallion fails to win its last game of the season, coincidentally against Loyola, to retain the league title.
Finally showing motivation that was lacking in the past few games the led to them fading from the title picture, the Sparks drew first blood 11 minutes into the game when Hartmann found the back of the net.
Younghusband, who came in as substitute in the second half following his national team duty on Tuesday, doubled the lead in the 72nd minute when he fired a missile that slipped past the hands of Global goalkeeper Roland Sadia in a sequence that started from a rare Global miscue caused by Juani Guirado.
“It doesn’t mean anything for us in terms of league position, but we go into every game trying to win,” Younghusband said. “It was the same when we lost to Kaya and when we drew against Nomads and Archers.”
“Today, I think we showed heart and passion,” the Filipino-British forward continued. “There was a lot of pressure off us. I think that was the difference. We were more relaxed.”
Global’s play left much to be desired, especially in the second half when the defending champion made uncharacteristic mistakes, including two in the endgame that forced the squad to finish with just nine men.
Nine minutes later, Global, which received a tongue-lashing from coach Brian Reid for 20 minutes after the game, was left to rue Carlos Guisso’s ejection with an automatic red card for his frustration foul on Younghusband after the Sparks star was denied of a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Delon Patrick Yao was the second Global player thrown out after the defender picked up his second yellow card two minutes into stoppage time.