By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

SUCCESSFULLY hurdling its first test in AFC Champions League 2020 last week, top local club football team Ceres-Negros FC looks to sustain its push forward when it collides with Port FC of Thailand in an away Preliminary Round 2 match today in Bangkok.

Happening at the PAT Stadium at 8 p.m. (Manila time), the “Busmen” will try to build on their Round 1 victory over Shan United of Myanmar on Jan. 14 to move closer at booking a spot in the group play of Asia’s most prestigious club competition.

Ceres defeated Shan United, 3-2, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in a game that had the former getting a good start but somehow faltered in the end.

Robert Lopez Mendy, Bienvenido Maranon and OJ Porteria provided the goals for Ceres in the win to earn a date with Port FC, which incidentally will feature former Ceres captain Martin Steuble.

Mr. Lopez Mendy broke through for the Busmen in the fifth minute, converting a cross from teammate Pika Minigeshi to make it 1-nil for the home team.

Ceres continued to put the pressure on Shan United’s defense after, with Mr. Maranon and Mike Ott having their chances at a goal.

The Busmen eventually doubled up on their opponents in the 41st minute when Mr. Maranon found the bottom of the net off a pass from Mr. Porteria.

The count remained at 2-0 at halftime.

Ceres sustained its aggressive play at the start of the second half, getting four chances at a goal in the first four minutes of the reboot which unfortunately it could not complete.

Shan United took jabs at a goal as well as the half progressed but Ceres’ defense proved to be up to them.

But the resilience of the visitors paid off in the 73rd minute when Shan United’s Zin Min Tun scored to narrow the gap, 2-1.

The Busmen tried to steady the ship after.

They would create further distance anew in the 79th minute as Mr. Porteria connected to make it a 3-1 lead for them.

Shan United scrambled to get some real estate back and got a goal in the 87th minute care of Djawa M. to close in anew, 3-2.

It continued its charge back all the way to the four-minute added time.

But Ceres would stand its ground to hang on and preserve the win.

Having their troubles closing out the match, the Busmen underscored the need for them to shape up some more against Port FC to see their Champions League push further.

“I don’t know how much percent we are in right now but I think we are still far from the form we want to be in. Three training sessions are not enough. It usually takes six weeks to prepare a team well. Hopefully we get to put in more in training and be better,” said Ceres coach Risto Vidakovic after their win over Shan United as he touched on how they had limited time to prepare in the lead-up to the preliminaries.

Just the same, the team was happy with the win and deemed it as a “good step” towards getting their collective groove back.

“We showed a lot of heart and we did not give up. This is a good step. The game was not easy but we adjusted. We are still working our way to form but we will get there eventually,” said man of the match Porteria.

In the ongoing competition, Bacolod-based Ceres, the three-time Philippines Football League champion, is trying to make another spirited run, looking to better its performance from 2018 where it reached the third round of the preliminaries.