Build Bright United drew level on points with Naga Corp Saturday by defeating them 3-2, while Khemara Keila took down the Defence Ministry by a sole goal.
SATURDAY'S first Cambodian Premier League (CPL) match saw Samdech Hun Sen Cup finalists Naga Corp fall to a 3-2 loss against aspiring university side Build Bright United (BBU).
This was a game that had a bit of everything. Naga, fourth in the table, were looking to open up a gap between the Super 4 and the rest of the CPL teams, but BBU were in no mood to let them have it all their own way.
After their defeat to Phnom Penh Crown midweek, Naga looked lethargic in the early stages and were made to pay for their apparent uninterest.
On 15 minutes, BBU's Ek Vannak beautifully floated in a free kick that was powerfully headed into the net by Prum Puthsethy to leave Naga defenders blaming each other.
Naga threatened briefly but were rocked by a second goal on the half-hour mark. Ek Vannak supplied another sweet cross, and this time it was Oum Chandara who looped his header over stranded Naga goalkeeper and namesake Oum Chandarda. Naga quickly made three substitutions, and the ploy looked to have worked a treat when Sunday Okonkwo swept home a low cross from substitute Pich Sina on the stroke of half-time.
As Naga pressed at the start of the second period, referee Kuong Ly made a telling contribution to proceedings. First, he disallowed Oum Thavarak's headed goal for handball, unseen by everyone else on the pitch. Then on 70 minutes, he dismissed Naga's substitute goalkeeper Chaom Veasna for scything down In Puthearith outside the box as he raced through.
Defender Sun Somprathana donned the keeper's gloves and jersey but was powerless to stop a thunderous drive by Oum Chandara from 20 yards a few minutes later.
With BBU leading 3-1 it was a tall order for 10-man Naga to recover, but they made a good fight of it. Pich Sina leaned back and fired over from close range before teammate Teab Vathanak twisted and turned in the box and saw his bobbling shot strike the foot of the upright and bounce along the goal line to safety.
With seconds ticking away, Sun Sovannarith sent in a hopeful cross-cum-shot that Oum Chandarda let slip through his fingers to bring Naga closer to a comeback, but time ran out for the casino-backed team, who stayed above BBU only thanks to their superior goal difference.
National Defence 0 Khemara Keila 1
This season, National Defence Ministry (MND) are a shadow of their runners-up selves from last year, while Khemara Keila are pushing the top two in the CPL. So the scene was set for a Khemara success, but it took them a while to get into the game.
MND were the first to threaten when Sin Dalin's 30-yard free kick was pushed onto the bar by Khemara keeper Mak Theara. With much of the play in midfield, it wasn't until the 40th minute that Khemara had their first real chance to open the scoring. The league's leading goalscorer Kuoch Sokumpheak was upended by Pheak Rady, and he stepped up to take the spot-kick, only to see his effort bounce off the legs of a diving Sou Yaty.
The second half was pretty much one-way traffic with Khemara looking to dominate possession and fuel their title aspirations with another win.
Most of the opportunities fell to the usually reliable Kuoch Sokumpheak, but he'd left his scoring boots at home as chance after chance went begging.
Credit must also go to MND keeper Sou Yaty, who produced a string of fine saves and has proved to be one of the CPL's most accomplished goalkeepers of this campaign.
Khemara finally got the breakthrough their domination deserved on 78 minutes. Loch Ratha's corner was neatly flicked on by the diminutive David Adeyinka at the near post, with his touch eluding Sou Yaty and defenders on the goal line. With the ball resting in the net, MND's plucky resistance was over, and Khemara bossed the rest of the game. There was time enough for Kuoch Sokumpheak to race through all on his own and blast another effort over the crossbar to sum up his day's frustration.