By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
DEFENDING Philippines Football League champion Ceres-Negros FC stretched its lead at the top of the ongoing league race after beating rival Kaya FC-Iloilo, 2-0, on Wednesday at the Biñan Football Stadium in Laguna.
Gaining the full three points with the win, Ceres, now with 46 points from a record of 15 wins and a draw put itself in even stronger position to repeat as champion with its lead now at nine points over second–running Kaya (12-1-3) at 37 points.
Mike Ott and OJ Porteria provided the goals for the “Busmen” in a match not short in drama with both teams ending the match with just 10 men.
Mr. Ott put Ceres ahead in the 15th minute when he found the bottom of the net off a pass from teammate Porteria.
Mr. Porteria then doubled their lead in the 30th minute with a well-struck solo effort into the far post.
The match saw red cards handed out to Jordan Mintah of Kaya and Super Herrera of Ceres after a rough collision in the middle of the pitch before the break.
Kaya tried to make up for the deficit in the second half but Ceres held tough, not allowing any comeback to happen on its way to the win, which was the third in as many games this season over Kaya.
Should Ceres-Negros win four of its remaining games in the tournament, it will be awarded an unprecedented third straight league title.
While they are happy to be in commanding position, Ceres is not getting ahead of itself and instead is going game by game until it reaches its goal.
“[It’s] Still too early to talk about the title. We’re going game by game so it’s a big win for us. We beat our direct opponent for the title and it’s very, very important but we need to continue. We have seven games more. We have to win four games to be sure that we are champions again,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic postgame.
He went on to give credit to his players for playing the way they did from start to finish.
“I want to congratulate my players. They played really good today and they gave everything. We controlled the game from the first minute until the end,” the Ceres coach said.
For Kaya, the defeat stung because it poured called water on its push to narrow the gap in the standings and make the race tighter with Ceres.
But the team vowed to move on and learn from the defeat even as it tries to make the most of what it has in its control.
“I think my players really tried their best,” a disappointed Kaya coach Noel Marcaida said after the match.
“This game really showed Ceres’ strength in their clinical finishing. I only recall maybe three chances for them in the whole game, and they converted two. You can really see the disappointment in the players. All we can do now is focus on finishing strong in the league, starting with the two games we have in Iloilo coming up,” he added.