Overcoming an early two-goal deficit and a late fightback, Ceres Negros FC punched a ticket to the Copa Paulino Alcantara final after defeating Stallion Laguna FC, 4-3 in an entertaining semifinal encounter at the Binan Football Stadium.
Attacking aces Stephan Schrock and Mike Ott scored braces to power the Busmen’s victory while Edris Najm, Abou Sy and Jhan Melliza all chipped a goal each for the losing side.
The match started strongly in favor of the Group B runners-up. Buoyed by a loud home crowd, Stallion went ahead at 8 minutes from a thunderous strike from Najm off a nifty cross from Sy in the right side. The cross initially failed to connect with Melliza but Najm came rushing from midfield and struck it well to the top corner of the goal, leaving Ceres goalkeeper Jun Badelic no chance.
They doubled the lead 8 minutes later when Abou got a goal off converting his rebound from his header that initially saved by Badelic.
After the quickfire start by Stallion, Ceres came to settle in and control the March’s tempo. The comeback began at 19 minutes when Schrock got the ball in left midfield and made a darting run, leaving Stallion defender OJ Clarino in his tracks and striking the ball into the net, partially aided by a deflection from an opposing defender.
The Busmen equalised the match at 30 minutes as Ott converted a close range finish from Junior Munoz’s cross after good interplay with midfielder Dylan de Bruycker.
Coming after the halftime break, Stallion regained control of the match and launched wave of attempts that was repulsed by Ceres’ defense, most notably Melliza’s breakaway shot at 59 minutes and Nate Alquiros at 68 minutes that was saved by Badelic.
Ceres took the lead at 70 minutes as Schrock scored his second goal coming off a loose ball that was released as forward Robert Lopez Mendy and Stallion goalkeeper Nelson Gasic collided. They would build on the lead 6 minutes later as Ott got his second goal as well, getting on the end of Schrock’s pinpoint cross.
The home side set up a tense finish when Melliza pulled a goal back at 85th minute following a two-on-one situation on the counter, calmly slotting in Sy’s pass. However, the Busmen held off Stallion’s late resistance for the win, most notably Fitch Arboleda’s shot from the left side that was well stopped by Badelic in the 92nd minute.