Crown's African players come off the bench to salvage a win against Spark FC on Saturday; last-placed Phouchung Neak lose their army versus navy battle.
Photo by: NICK SELLS nicksellsphotography.com
Phnom Penh Crown's Chan Rithy (centre) makes a headed effort at goal during their Cambodian Premier League match against Spark FC at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
THE bizarre decision by Phnom Penh Crown manager Makara Be not to start any of his available foreign players almost backfired spectacularly Saturday, but the second-half introduction of, and subsequent goals from, Oscar Mpoko and Tunji Ayoyinka allowed Crown to scrape out a victory against Spark FC in a hugely entertaining Cambodian Premier League game at Olympic Stadium.
With neither side really taking the game by the scruff of the neck in the first half, it was often a case of good approach play being let down by a poor final ball.
It was Crown who worked the first opening, however; a good block by Olawaseun Olajide was deflected into the path of Keo Sokngorn, who advanced on goal but shot weakly into the arms of Pouv Raksa.
Defenders were on top during the opening period, and this was the case again in the 26th minute when Spark striker Prince Justine seized on a mistake and bore down on goal. Just as the league's top scorer was about to pull the trigger, Tul Sothearithy got back and made a crucial, wonderfully timed tackle.
Crown could not deny Justine for much longer, though, and three minutes later the Nigerian hotshot gave his side the lead. Kong Kea put in a wonderful, swirling cross from a deep-lying position on the right, and Justine leapt highest to plant a firm header past the keeper before celebrating a la Bebeto circa 1994.
Each side then wasted great opportunities from headers following a dramatic improvement in their crossing, leaving the league's impoverished newcomers in front at the break.
Some much-needed half-time tinkering seemed to revitalise the shell-shocked champions and, after laying siege to the Spark goal, their dominance was finally rewarded in the 75th minute. Crown had already struck the woodwork twice when Chan Rithy put in a cross from the right, and Mpoko nicked the ball past the keeper to watch it roll into the unguarded net.
The game was turned on its head when Crown made it two goals in as many minutes through their other half-time substitute, Ayoyinka. Pouv Raksa should have gathered a cross comfortably but instead managed to pat-a-cake it straight onto the grateful boot of the big forward, who volleyed firmly home.
There was still time in this thrilling encounter for Spark to swing back into the ascendancy, and before the final whistle sounded, Peng Bunchay had saved superbly from a Mak Chhordaravuth header, pushed away a ferocious Phoeun Saorum free-kick and tipped a looping header against the bar to preserve his team's three points
MND 1 Phouchung Neak 0
Bottom-placed navy-affiliated side Phouchung Neak were given no respite in Saturday's second CPL game, despite facing their land-based military rivals, National Defence Ministry (MND), who were missing key players Khim Borey and Samrith Seiha.
The army team bossed much of the first half without really creating many chances, and there were 19 minutes on the clock before Eang Piseth lit up the game with some wonderful individual skill. The diminutive midfielder seized on a loose clearance and bamboozled a defender with a Maradona spin before unleashing a ferocious drive that navy keeper Sor Sophea did well to turn away.
MND were firmly in the driving seat, and the opener duly arrived with half-an-hour gone. Nov Sokseila advanced unopposed towards the Phouchung penalty area and slipped a cute slide-rule pass through to Sin Dalin. The striker had time to measure his shot but went for power.
Su Yaty's fingertip touch was not enough to prevent the ball trickled agonisingly over the line.
Just before the break, Phouchung almost nicked an equaliser when Tith Dina arrowed in a measured cross to the far stick. Sim Dara arrived and powered a header goalwards but, from point blank range, Su Yaty thrust out his left arm and managed to turn it away.
It was scuffed shots, half-chances and midfield drudgery all the way in the second half, with neither side showing the conviction needed to get a stranglehold on the game. On 70 minutes, Soy Viseth decided to brazenly slap the ball while it was in midair and pick himself up a booking for his petulance.
That ludicrous moment was sandwiched between a fierce Pouv Samnang free-kick that whizzed just over the bar, and a Joseph Olatubosn header that went just wide. MND almost added a second in the 75th minute when Neang Sopheakra splayed open the Phouchung defence with a surgical through ball to Um Kompheak, but the midfielder's stabbed shot hit the inside of the post. It didn't matter in the end, though, as MND held out for only their third win of the season.