It was expected to be tight and both teams lived up to expectations as they provided us with an intense battle at the top with San Beda University Red Booters winning by just two goals over De La Salle College of St. Benilde Blazers.
Before they went in for an all-out battle, both teams paid their respect to the late Father Lucas Centeno of San Beda University, an avid fan of the sport and a former football player who showed his support not only to the sport but also to the Red Booters.
After they gave their moment of silence, it was time for action and they did not hold back. Tit for tat action in the first 10 minutes saw both clubs gauging each others strengths and weaknesses.
In the 13th minute, John Clyde Vitualla broke free from the left flank before squaring a ball into the middle of the park but the defender was quick to react and cleared the ball out.
He tried the same play four minutes after his first crack on the Red Booters’ defence as he found Daniel Liozo inside the box but the striker’s shot was easily saved by a steady Michael Asong on goal.
After numerous efforts from the Blazers, it was the Red Booters who finally broken the deadlock as Ecemer Payasolan puts the ball past the keeper. It was a rather lucky goal for him as he got the bounce from an earlier effort but nevertheless, something worth celebrating for with the crowd up on their feet.
The next 30 minutes of the match was rather busy for their midfield as they continue to battle for the possession of the ball. There were some chances but not that clear for it to pose some threat for both keepers.
However, inside the added time in the first half, Joseph Ceniza seemed to have pulled his hamstring after plucking the ball from the air after an attempt on goal by San Beda University. He was immediately replaced by Joseph Gatchalian.
Things started to lay-low a bit in the second half as the first 20 minutes served as their testing grounds. In the 68th minute, the Red Booters pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
Keith Edulan was in no position to score a goal from way outside the box but in some way, he curled and looped the ball over Gatchalian to score their insurance goal.
It was also a very physical game between the two teams and it got a bit heated in the 75th minute. Exchange of words between Payosalan and Andre Roa occurred but the referee was quick to step in and calm things down.
“Yung officiating, nandun naman yung lapses pero parehas naman kanina eh. Yung emotion lang talaga is mataas,” said coach Niboy Pedimonte during the post-match interview.
We also got the side of the Blazers and assistant coach Alfred Rey Estacion said, “There were a lot of calls that could’ve gone our way or could even give an advantage to us. I think the referee didn’t have the guts or the courage to make the right call”
Though the Red Booters’ main custodian on goal Asong has been tested a couple of times towards the end of the match, he managed to keep a clean sheet against a worthy opponent and steered his side to stay undefeated and be level on points at the top with the Blazers.
They also have a game on hand and have a chance to finish the group stages on pole position and that sweet twice-to-beat advantage against the leagues number four team.
“We made a very big adjustment dahil nga na-injure si Suba and nagkaroon kami ng problem sa starters. Luckily, yung mga pinalit ‘dun sa mga wala is nag-step up talaga,” said coach Niboy Pedimonte of the Red Booters.
Asong’s presence in between the sticks also proved to be pivotal for San Beda and coach Pedimonte said “I think ang lamang na’min ‘pag nandiyan si Mike is yung kanyang maturity. He can dictate the game and the tempo.”
The joint league leaders will now face Arellano University in their final group stage match to determine if they can seal their twice-to-beat advantage heading into the semifinals.