A missed penalty early in the second half by Mohammad Hamza cost his side Asia Europe University two precious points which in turn was a blessing for league leaders Naga Corp, who escaped with a 1-1 draw in a Metfone C-League tie at the Olympic Stadium yesterday.
Disappointing as their performance was against a side that put up an efficient display, Naga ended the first phase of the league season with 24 points as interim table toppers ahead of Phnom Penh Crown, who are at 23 points with a game against defending champions Svay Rieng in hand.
In their first attempt, AEU had finished ninth among 10 teams at the end of the 2013 league season but found their way back by winning the promotional playoff introduced for the first time for this year’s campaign.
For the University-backed side, it has been a remarkable run so far. They have garnered 16 points from four wins and as many draws and three losses to remain sixth in the standings.
After grabbing the early initiative AEU hit the front when the team’s foreign signing George Kelechi delivered a power-packed punch in the 24th minute.
It took 10 minutes for Naga to level up when Choun Chhum nicely latched on to a Barry Olema pass and polished off the move with a tidy finish.
Moments after the change of ends came that dramatic twist when a serious Naga infraction in the box led to a penalty which Hamza spurned, letting Naga off the hook.
At the Old Stadium on Saturday, Khim Borey whipped in a free-kick 22 minutes into the game from a long way out to perform the winning trick for Phnom Penh Crown against a struggling Western University.
The 1-0 victory kept the four-time champions well on track to end the first phase of the competition on a rosy note though they have a held-over match against defending champions Svay Rieng to complete.
Crown’s superiority was never in question but what came as a mild surprise was the scoreline. Credit for restricting their stronger rivals to just one strike should go to Western’s goalkeeper Am Oudom who came in the way of both George Bisan and Leng Makara cushioning up the lead.
The loss for the University side meant that they have slithered down to the drop zone with Albirex Niigata.
Hun Sen Cup runners-up Build Bright United, who were swept off their feet by Boeung Ket Rubber Field last week, had an easy kill in Saturday’s first fixture against Albirex, who are rambling in the rear of the standings.
Despite keeping the Japanese franchise on the hop for the best part of the first half, BBU failed to break through. But on resumption, it was a different story as Reung Bunheang took BBU to the front in the 48th minute and Rasheed Adeyanju doubled up the lead six minutes later.
With Albirex unable to bridge the divide, BBU added one more through Prum Puthsethy two minutes into injury time to complete an orderly win.
Saturday’s standout game at the Olympic Stadium proved a 2-0 heart-burner for National Police Commissary, who went down on the weight of their own goal after the Ministry of National Defence had scored first in the 28th minute through Phoung Soksana.
Even as the Policemen were battling hard to salvage a modicum of pride from this game came a 66th minute shocker when Thin Sok turned the ball into his own goal to seal the team’s fate.
After taking an unexpected hit from Asia Europe University last week, Tri-Asia made amends by beating Kirivong Sok Sen Chey 1-0, the only goal of the game coming as early as the eighth minute off Soung Virak’s boot.
TriAsia are a creditable fourth on the table this week, though Svay Rieng with two matches in hand could possibly make a lunge for that spot
Takeo-based Kirivong are clearly in distress going into the next phase of the competition, loitering as they are third from last in the standings.