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Loyola gets even to jolt Voltes' title hopes on a second-half fightback

Koichi Belgira became the unlikeliest of heroes for the Loyola Meralco Sparks, with the wingback fired home the winner to zoom ahead to second in the table
By Kevin Estrada

MANILA-- An old adage of the game says like this. "The score at the end of ninety minutes is a fact, and the rest is just a matter of opinion."

Early Sunday evening, Loyola proved that adage, as they prevailed over an upstart JP Voltes by 3-2 in a virtual battle royale for second in that day's doubleheader at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Simon McMenemy's Sparks instigated a second-half uprising to overturn a one-goal half-time deficit after drawing first blood early in the match for win number 11 and pushed themselves into second with 34 points. It also gained revenge on the shocking July 10 loss to the same side.

For playing-manager Yu Hoshide, who filled in for Dan Padernal this week, JPV will have to rue their missed opportunities in extending their 2-1 advantage and were made to pay by a more hungrier side tonight and as the loss had their title hopes slipping away in the process with three matches left in their season and dragged them down to fourth on inferior goal difference.

In a match that has serious implications the day after Ceres shockingly lost to Kaya to put the race for second a very wide open affair, it was Loyola who lit the scoreboard first just two minutes in thru Tajh Minniecon who took advantage of a defensive mix-up between Camelo Tacusalme and Nelson Gasic and sends the ball thru to the botton left corner.

However, Voltes took the match into their own hands and were rewarded ten minutes later, as Alen Angeles headed home from a John Celiz flick.

With the match getting exciting with various end-to-end stuff, the playoff winners of last season suddenly took the lead in the 21st minute, as J Bagiuoro pounced on a botch clearance by Gui Hasegawa and fired the ball to the empty net as Voltes withstand numerous Loyola opportunities go to their changing rooms ahead by the slimmest of margins at the break.

However, second half was a different story and Loyola duly equalized thru their talismanic forward ten minutes into the restart, when he thumped the ensuing penalty after Joaco was fouled by Gasic.

The Sparks kept pushing for the winner after that and were rewarded by Koichi Belgira almost 20 minutes later as he smashes the ball from 12 yards off Simon Greatwitch's feed.

To cap it all off, Hasegawa made a huge stop in the 90th by denying the Japanese veteran's free kick with a diving save to his right as the Sparks held their nerve to get all three points.

The Scot breathed a sigh of relief after the full time whistle, while stressing the importance of the match. "When it comes to the part where it is the business end of the season, one mistake either way, costs us not just second place, but also our place in the AFC Cup," the former Azkals manager concluded.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada