WITH just one point separating Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach (PKR) at the top of the table before Sunday's game began, it was always going to be a close affair, and so it proved to be. Disappointingly for the fans of both teams, goalmouth action in the first half was hard to come by, with both teams giving the ball away too easily on the slippery surface after the match began in a rainstorm.
Opportunities were restricted to long-range efforts apart from one golden chance for each side. On 19 minutes, Crown's lanky striker Ousmanou Mohamadou opened up the PKR defence and laid the perfect ball to Hong Rathana, but as he prepared to give his team the lead, Lay Raksmey appeared from nowhere to block his goal-bound drive. At the other end, on the half-hour mark, PKR skipper Samel Nasa's free kick was headed back across goal by Micheal Ekene to his striking partner, Olisa Onyemerea, who stretched but failed to make a telling contact on the goal line. At the half-time interval honours were even.
PKR began the second period in eager fashion, but the quality you'd expect from the teams in the top two places in the table was still missing. That was until the 70th minute, when Crown's winger Srey Veasna broke into the box, and eluded three players before succumbing to a last-ditch tackle by defender Lay Raksmey. The resulting corner bobbled around the area before Tieng Tiny's shot took a deflection off Sok Rithy and looped into the net. Such a scrappy goal summed up the game thus far.
Then, referee Tuy Vicheka decided to take a hand in the proceedings. On 77 minutes, he dismissed Crown's combative midfielder Phuong Narong for a second bookable offence, though it was the most innocuous challenge of the whole afternoon. Within three minutes, PKR made their one-man advantage pay rich dividends as Sok Rithy sent Khounla Boravy away on the left wing, and his inch-perfect cross was slammed into the roof of the net by a delighted Ekene for a deserved equaliser. And that's how the game ended, a goal and point apiece, with PKR retaining their slender lead over Crown at the top of the CPL table.
Spark FC 3 Kirivong SSC 3
Kirivong Sok Sen Chey had the roles reversed on them following their thrilling 3-3 comeback draw against Post Tel last week. Kirivong will be kicking themselves as they let slip a 3-1 lead Sunday and had to settle for a share of the points with Spark FC in a game that summed up their season to date. Starting well, they bossed the first 25 minutes and nosed in front when Julius Chukwumeka controlled a 40-yard cross-field pass from Him Salam and guided his shot wide of the keeper.
Kirivong then extended the lead on 39 minutes, when a sweet passage of play allowed In Vichika a free header at the far post. The ball hit the goalkeeper's legs and fell nicely for their recent Vietnamese import Win Nhek Troeung, who fired it home. Two minutes later, Spark gave themselves a lifeline when Prince Justine rose above everyone else and planted his header firmly past a static Kirivong defence.
Spark came out gunning for the equaliser after the break but didn't make their superiority count, and it was Kirivong who made them pay dearly when a mistake by Spark keeper Pov Raksa gifted a third goal on a platter after 67 minutes. As Pouv Raksa waited to pick up a hopeful punt forward by Kirivong, Chukwumeka got a telling touch to knock it around and fired into the empty net. Spark refused to lie down, and on 72 minutes they had defender Than Rachanaoudom to thank for his thunderous volley when a poorly cleared corner fell to him.
Spark's comeback was complete when Mak Chhordaravuth was sent clear only for Kirivong's onrushing goalkeeper Kun Thnou to bring him down with the slightest of touches, leaving the referee with no option but to award a penalty. Prince Justine stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way, and his double backward somersault was a fitting celebration for Spark's revival. Kirivong still had time to win it when Him Salam found space in the box but sent his shot wide, leaving his team to ponder on their carelessness.