A gritty Loyola Meralco side slipped past rival Kaya, 2-1, while JP Voltes also claimed an important victory Saturday night to pile up the pressure on Ceres-La Salle in the United Football League at Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Phil Younghusband scored and also set up Joaco Canas for the Sparks’ second, before Kaya launched a comeback that ultimately fell short in a match played under a drizzle.
Voltes recorded a walkover win over Laos, which forfeited a game for the second time this season.
The results meant the Sparks took the lead in the race for second place with 40 points while Voltes tied Ceres with 38 points. But Ceres still has a match against newly minted champion Global on Sunday, before facing Voltes on Oct. 23 to close out the season.
With Global completing the League and Cup double, the second AFC Cup berth for the Philippines will go to the second placer of the league competition.
Kaya remained in fifth with 34 points, but coach Chris Greatwich’s charges who reached the knockout stage of the AFC Cup early this year bombed out of contention in the race for second place.
“I’m just very pleased today that the boys held on and deserved everything they got today,” said Loyola coach Simon McMenemy.
“It’s always going to be a battle. It’s going to be one of those games where all conventions, tactics are thrown out the window. We put ourselves a chance at AFC Cup action. This is a horrible game to take something from. It’s always tight and to have the three points today is very very satisfying.”
Younghusband gave Sparks the lead in the 25th minute after firing a first time volley past Matthew Acton off a cross from leftback Kouichi Belgira.
Loyola midfielder Jason de Jong also hit the post in the first half where Kaya managed a couple of half chances off set pieces that hardly troubled Ace Villanueva at the Sparks goal.
Canas was at the right place at the right time in the 52nd minute to stab home a cross from Younghusband as the Sparks doubled the advantage.
But Eric Giganto gave Kaya a lifeline by firing into an empty net five minutes later after Joven Bedic’s chip past Villanueva ricocheted off the post.
The Sparks leaned on their defensive solidity to see out the game with Anto Gonzales sparkling as emergency centerback with Loyola’s lineup hit by injuries.
Stepping up after Gui Hasegawa was injured during the warmup, Villanueva was also alert to deny Alfred Osei in stoppage time.
“Obviously we’ve been struggling for centerbacks for quite a while,” said McMenemy. “We are having a discussion through the week how we’ll do it and what Anto lacks in physicality, he makes up for it in the knowledge and know how.”