De Murga comes back smoking as Ceres switches off Loyola anew

By Kevin Estrada

MANILA--Ceres leaned on the returning Carli De Murga as the club pulled the plug on undermanned Loyola, 2-1 in the nightcap of UFL Cup's Super Sunday at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

De Murga's brace in the 35th minute and in the second minute of stoppage time proved to be enough for the reigning league champion to win its fourth consecutive match against the Sparks and bolted the club into third place in the Group B, behind Global and Green Archers United as the opening week of the UFL Cup comes to a close.

His performance overshadowed the much anticipated debut of Stephan Schrock, who played the entire match as well for manager Ali Go.

New acquisition Jinggoy Valmayor equalized off the bench in the 65th minute for Loyola, who ended the match with ten men after Adam Mitter had been sent off two minutes from time.

Simon McMenemy's Sparks were a wounded side heading into the match as four of them sat out with injuries with captain Phil Younghusband (knee), Simon Greatwich, and Joaco Canas (both ankle) being the notables.

New signing Arnel Amita is also out with a suspected ACL tear and is feared to miss both the UFL and the UAAP season with reigning champion FEU.

In the backdrop of the Lunar New Year fireworks in the Malate district, the match got off to an explosive start in front of 1,619 loud people inside the Rizal Memorial Stadium as Tommy Trigo was called into action after just three minutes when he palmed away Schrock's bouncing free kick on the left flank near the box.

From then on, it was an even affair with both clubs came inches away from drawing first blood in which both Trigo and Mike Casas and their back line continue to hold firm.

Manny Ott had five shots but did not convert even on of them, with Trigo saving three of the midfielder's shots.

Ceres drew first blood on the 35th minute after the ball fell on De Murga's feet and slotted home for the rebound off an Adrian Gallardo penalty save to the delight of their supporters.

The Busmen did not slowed down after that and shifted into higher gear in the process, but the headers of Adrian and Ott went over the bar.

Alvaro Castiella had the last say at first half stoppage time but he was denied twice as Ceres ended the half with a 1-0 advantage.

Second half was similar to the opening 45 minutes with both teams displaying exciting football to the delight of the Rizal Memorial crowd, but their defense stood firm much to the frustration of both benches.

However, Loyola equalized five minutes past the hour mark a punching save by Casas landed to Castiella, who floated it to the former Fighting Maroon, who would fire a right-footer that was spilled by Casas for the equalizer.

With 25 minutes left in the match, both clubs were desperately searching for the winner with the entry of Orman Okunaiya and Curt Dizon doing little to put a dent to the scoreline.

The match took a nasty turn with three minutes left in the match as Mitter received a straight red on a hard tackle on Reichelt on an obvious scoring chance. But Schrock could not convert on a subsequent free kick.

De Murga, however, saved the day for Ceres as he completed his comeback after a year off from an ACL injury with a header off a Schrock corner in injury time, sending the supporters clad in yellow into a boisterous celebration.

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