Phnom Penh Crown produced a stunning comeback to beat a dour Preah Khan Reach 4-3 at Olympic Stadium Saturday and reclaim their dominance of the domestic league.
The Metfone C-League final showdown had a grueling air about it, as success-starved PKR imposed themselves from the kick off on their more illustrious opponents. Taunting some rare authority, they pinned Crown down with a 2-1 half-time lead.
Crafty striker Khuonla Boravy's perfect header off a cross three minutes into play was more spectacular than planned. But with too much of pride at stake to let the game wither away, Crown neutralised the lead when a daring dash by Hong Ratana forced a panic stricken PKR defence to concede a penalty. An easy conversion by the ever reliable Keo Sokngorn signaled his arrival, and the best player of the season award was very much his own from that point on.
A rasping drive from the edge of the box by Tum Saray just after the half hour mark changed the equation in favour of PKR, leaving the 2008 champions reeling under renewed pressure. The military police backed side were in such a dominant position that visions of their first ever title triumph were already taking shape. Clueless Crown, clearly back-pedalling at that stage, was a sign of reassurance to PKR coach Rith Dikar.
Crown had carried two main concerns into the fixture. Their top goal-getter Uche Prince Justine was suspended and lively forward Sok Pheng had been ruled out with an injury he picked up during training.
“It is one of the longest 10 minutes or so we spent at the changing room during the break,” said Crown’s Nigerian striker Olisa Onyemerea. “We knew time was up to turn things around, and nothing but all out war would bring us back. We had to change tactics and do it fast and not to let the opposition too far away.”
On resumption, Crown's cold-eyed approach began to stifle PKR's free-flowing style, and some solid defending helped the casino backed club to bide their time. With the wind dropping from the PKR sails, Crown struck a fruitful spell to quickly turn the tide.
Srey Veasna leveled the scores at 2-2 with a timely twist and tuck inside the box eight minutes into the second half. Substitute midfielder Hong Makara, who had replaced Hong Ratana, then had the presence of mind to slot home a rebound that came off Srey Veasna's firm drive. And who else than Keo Sokgnorn could put the icing on the cake, with a screaming drive in the 88th minute that had the title written all over it.
Deep into stoppage time, PKR’s inspirational skipper Sam El Nasa exploited a nervous twitch in the Crown defence, but his goal proved too little too late.
“We wanted to regain our rightful place and we have done it,” said Crown manager Be Makara after the game, adding that the team’s management would now redouble their efforts to host the 2011 AFC President's Cup.
A visibly disappointed Rith Dikar put his team’s defeat down to a lack of quality at the back. “I could not use three of my best defenders for one reason or another, and it’s hard to keep an attacking side like Crown at bay,” he said. The PKR tactician, however, scored a personal triumph when he was adjudged best coach of the season.