Games between Naga Corp and Preah Khan Reach are always closely-fought affairs and this again proved to be the case.
They drew 2-2 in the same fixture earlier in the season, though Naga were happy to see PKR’s top scorer Khuon Laboravy surprisingly left on the substitute’s bench for this rematch.
It took Naga just 14 minutes to open the scoring on Saturday after a couple of near misses by both teams. Joseph Oyewole slipped a pass to Kop Isa, and his shot was blocked by the body of goalkeeper Ouk Mich only for the ball to rebound off the knee of defender Suon Thuon and creep agonisingly over the goal line for an unfortunate own-goal.
PKR remained in the hunt, and Sam El Nasa gave warning of his intentions with a 25-metre drive that clipped the outside of the upright on 22 minutes. Two minutes later, and El Nasa side-footed the ball the right side of the woodwork to put PKR level, catching the Naga defence flatfooted with his timely run to meet a perfect 30-metre drilled centre by San Narith.
A double goalline clearance by Naga’s Tieng Chandarasokha kept PKR at bay as they went in search of a second goal before the interval. El Nasa again escaped his marker only to see his first goal-bound effort headed away and his follow-up shot cleared by the Naga fullback.
Naga’s top scorer, Teab Vathanak, was a spectator for much of the first half until he burst into life 10 minutes before halftime.
Chhim Sambo’s break down the left flank and cross to the near post was a perfect opportunity for the marksman to score, but he leaned back at the last moment and flashed his shot over the crossbar from eight metres out.
It was still nip and tuck after the interval, though Naga had the best of the goalmouth action only to find PKR goalkeeper Ouk Mich in superb form.
The former national team keeper displayed a strong left hand to save a Teab Vathanak header at the foot of the post and recovered instantly to block a follow-up drive from Jonathan Onyeahiri. Moments earlier, Mich had saved from the same player with a flailing arm to deny the Naga substitute.
Sam El Nasa went close for PKR with a neat lob that spun the wrong side of the upright on 70 minutes.
A minute later and Naga were celebrating their second goal and the game’s decisive moment.
Tum Saray surrendered the ball 25 metres from goal to Jonathan Onyeahiri, and the muscular midfielder struck a low rasping drive that arrowed into the far corner of the net with the keeper rooted to the spot.
Ouk Mich came to Preah Khan Reach’s rescue again eight minutes from full time when his one-handed diving save from a thunderous Teab Vathanak close-range shot left the forward clutching his head in disbelief.
With the last kick of the game, PKR’s Ande Apollo sent a skidding shot just centimetres wide, but it was Naga’s day, and the three points returned them to their perch at the top of the Metfone C-League table.
BBU 4 Prek Pra Keila 1
University-backed Build Bright United were aiming to teach Prek Pra Keila a similar lesson to their encounter earlier in the season, when they won 4-1. The first half of the campaign had shown that BBU are serious title contenders whilst Prek Pra have endured a tough introduction in the top flight and look likely relegation candidates with just a handful of games left.
Prek Pra began purposefully, and after four minutes Dennis Nwaizu tested Sos Proshim in the BBU goal with a low drive which the stopper did well to keep out. Prek Pra, as always boosted by their vociferous supporters in the main stand, gave something to cheer about when they took the lead on 18 minutes. Philip Ali headed down a Sos Sanaphy corner, and Mat Hasan was on hand to squeeze the ball between two defenders.
The celebrations were short-lived however, with BBU netting their equaliser in less than two minutes. Rim Bunhieng’s header from a Chhum Sothearath corner looked to be a safe catch for Prek Pra keeper Yok Ary, but he spooned the ball to Oum Chandara who made no mistake from close in.
Three minutes before the break, BBU got their noses in front. Quick thinking by Prum Putsethy caught the Prek Pra back line asleep and his free kick found Nelson Oladiji in space, which he took full advantage of with a neatly clipped finish.
Oladiji, who spent the first half of the campaign on the sidelines after a spell with Khemara last season, is in red hot form since joining BBU and could be the man to keep them in serious contention for the championship. He netted a second goal five minutes into the second half with a simple close-range side-foot after keeper Yok Ary blocked Oum Chandara’s initial shot.
Oladiji’s hat trick arrived 11 minutes later, when he benefited from an almost identical situation. Oum Chandara’s low drive was kept out by Yok Ary only for Oladiji to poach another from metres out, his seventh goal in four matches.
BBU saw out the rest of the game by retaining possession and passing their way around a bewildered Prek Pra team. Oladiji should’ve registered again, but fizzed his shot wide when scoring seemed easier before Sophat Chansokunthina saw his diving header swept off the goal line by Philip Ali.
The lesson was complete as referee Yien Kivatanak blew for full time and BBU claimed second spot in the league standings, two points behind current leaders Naga Corp. For Prek Pra, it’s back to the classroom to work out how they can save their Metfone C-League status with just five games remaining.