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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Crown scale Wat Phnom to reclaim first place in league

Crown scale Wat Phnom to reclaim first place in league

Phnom Penh Crown bolster their Metfone C-League title ambitions with a 3-1 victory over languishing Wat Phnom Wednesday at Olympic Stadium

Phnom Penh Crown’s Sok Pheng (right) unleashes a fierce strike at goal during their match against Wat Phnom Wednesday. Sreng Meng Srun

Phnom Penh Crown’s Uche Prince Justine (left) takes a shot during Wednesday’s Metfone C-League fixture against Wat Phnom at Olympic Stadium. Sreng Meng Srun

Undaunted by the first half red carding of striker Sok Pheng, prime contenders Phnom Penh Crown lived up to their heavyweight reputation to outplay lowly Wat Phnom 3-1 in their Metfone C League encounter Wednesday at Olympic Stadium. Crown have now amassed eight wins and four draws in their campaign so far, including a impressive goal tally of 44, to catapult the side to the top of the leader board ahead of Naga Corp on goal difference.

Wat Phnom, a side barely out of relegation fears being third from the bottom, put up a spirited display, especially in the first half during which they stumbled upon a couple of set pieces. Splendid approach was clear mismatch to their finishing.

Wat Phnom had no worthy answers when Crown’s professed strengths came into play midway through the first half in what was essentially a slow burner. The Crown strike force was led as always by the boundless energy of Uche Prince Justine, whose inspirational wing runs gave the Wat Phnom back four a torrid time. Yet last season’s leading goal-scorer found a goal elusive, a clear case of a bad day in office for the Nigerian hitman who, besides several misses, was often caught flat-footed by offside traps. In all he plundered at least three open chances not far from the goal-mouth, twice finding Wat Phnom goal keeper Sin Pisal annoyingly in the way and the third time a defender’s back deflecting the ball.

The first ominous sign that things may not be easy for Crown came quite early in the game. A stray pass from midfield set the Wat Phnom duo of Ry Phearoeun and Phlong Chanthou on quick rotations with the Crown defence in chase, until Phearouen had the goal within his grasp. His left foot shot, however, was tipped over by Crown goalkeeper Hun Samrith.

Crown then began to control the ball and space as action shifted from the midfield to Wat Phnom territory. With a predatory run on the right, Sok Pheng got on to a splendid feed and latching on to the ball as if his boot had a coat of glue, he darted across to the Wat Phnom area before any of the defenders could confront him. With keeper Sin Pisal at his mercy, the Crown striker had the presence of mind to provide a neat finish.

That 22-minute goal changed the equation on the pitch, even as first signs of an impending clash of egos between Pisal and Pheng began to emerge. Within the next eight minutes, the two were face-to-face on more than one occasion, and when Pisal brought down Pheng at the edge of the six-yard box, referee Kuong Ly gave no hesitation in awarding a penalty to Crown. Oscar Mpoko stepped in and converted with a firm grounder to his right.

As Crown sat pretty on their two-goal cushion, a goal mouth scramble again pitched Pheng against Pisal, with the two ended up colliding before hitting the turf. As they lay on the ground with players from both sides converging, Pheng appreared to have stuck out his leg at Pisal’s face. After a word with the pair, the referee flashed a yellow card at Pheng, but just moments before half time, Pheng drew the referee’s again for an apparent simulation dive inside the box. A second yellow led to his inevitable dismissal, with the marching order almost synchronising with the whistle for the break.

The early part of the second half saw Wat Phnom briefly threaten a comeback of sorts. Within the first four minutes, their efforts were given an unexpected boost when a tackle by Chan Dara on Wat Phnom’s Ry Phearoeun near the six-yard box was deemed dangerous by the referee. The resultant penalty was duly dispatched by Yan Ty.

If the goal infused more assurance into Wat Phnom’s respite it also served as a wake up call for Crown, who clearly upped the ante in the last quarter. With Crown mounting sustained pressure and Wat Phnom unable to force breakaways, the stage was set for a relentless Crown search for another hit.

It came soon enough, an innocuous looking freekick doing the damage to Wat Phnom. With the defence cut off from its flight, Hong Rathana guided the path of the ball with his well controlled header.

There were five substitutions, two by Wat Phnom and three by Crown, but the fresh set of legs hardly altered the balance on the pitch. A few flank runs by Wat Phnom forwards came more out of courage than any degree of confidence, as Uche Prince Justine continued to torment the backline at the other end.

It is a game Justine would like to forget in a hurry. When his last seething run came to an abrupt end at the feet of an onrushing defender, Justine hit the ground and appeared to be in some distress. But the pain of so many near misses apparently weighed more on his mind than the niggle.

As the battle for the Super Four playoffs hots up, Crown and Naga are joint leaders with 28 points apiece. Build Bright United hold third on 26 points and Preah Khan Reach with 25 are slotted in fourth. Kirivong Sok Sen Chey are way off the pace in fifth on 18 points. From the bottom up, Chhma Khmao on 3 points and Prek Pra Keila on 7 points face the plunge, with Wat Phnom’s head just above relegation waters with 10 points.



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