HOLDERS Phnom Penh Crown retained the Metfone C League Championship with a round to spare after a nerve-tingling 1-0 victory over Preah Khan Reach in a contest of swiftly changing patterns and some rough play at the Olympic Stadium yesterday.
A powerful header by Nig-erian striker Kingsley Metu during a set-piece play two minutes into the second sess-ion settled the argument in favour of Crown.
The biggest crowd of the season for a domestic fixture turned up for what was touted as “a final before the final” and saw Crown complete a winning sequence of eight matches to extend their reign at the top for another year.
Enjoying a four-point cushion after this victory over their nearest, and fiercest, riv-als Naga Corp, coach David Booth’s men were more than happy to seal the championship deal.
The clash between Crown and Naga on September 4 has now been robbed of its competitive ardour.
With their title hopes dashed and their runner-up status secure, what is at stake for Naga Corp is, in the words of coach Prak Sovanara, “to wrap up the campaign in a blaze of glory next Sunday”.
“The players felt a little bit of pressure going into the game. But they worked hard on the pitch and came up with a good result,’’ Crown coach David Booth told the Post after the match.
“Everyone was talking about our match against Naga next week as the final showdown. Yes, I’m happy to have finished now rather than a week later.
“The team has won eight matches in a row – not all under me, of course – but our aim is not to go for records but to focus on winning our games.
“I would like my boys to finish the season on a winning note. But, as I said, they have been working very hard, and if they want to relax, they may as well.
“It has been a good team effort, and this victory should shore up the players’ confidence when we get down to the next phase of the AFC Challenge Cup in Taiwan.
“Kim Borey has rejoined the team, although for some strange reason he wasn’t allowed to play in this event.
“But he will be available for the AFC Cup, and I’m eagerly looking forward to this next challenge.’’
Although Crown pitched in at full strength, the PKR line-up held several surprises, the biggest being star striker Khuon Laboravy warming the bench for the first time this season and midfielder Chan Raksmey left out of the starting list.
It’s hard to guess how much of a role travel weariness played in the result, but for the record six PKR players who took the pitch had returned only the day before after a long trip to Vietnam for a junior event.
Yet the military-backed side put up a stiff fight, especially in the first half, when the exchanges were even.
Young Sos Sophea, who was preferred over the vastly experienced Ouk Mic, did some splendid work under the PKR bar, twice tipping over rasping drives from Crown winger Sun Sophana.
Ironically, it was another grand save by Sos Sophea that led to the only goal of the match.
The teenager came up with an instinctive interception when a bicycle kick from the top of the box by Kingsley Metu was menacingly heading for the goal.
By fingertipping the ball over the bar, Sos Sophea averted the danger for the loss of a corner, but the set piece brought about PKR’s doom.
A perfectly flighted corner kick by Sun Sophana saw Kingsley Metu, the tallest man in the crowd, head home what turned out to be a match-winner.
A double substitution early in the second half opened up the game for PKR, but Khuon Laboravy and Chan Raksmey, who infused PKR’s counters with greater purpose, couldn’t come up with the right answers.
There were some incidents of over-indulgent play on both sides, leading to bookings.
Prek Pra fight for survival
IN yesterday’s other C League match, a last-gasp goal by defender Kan Chamnan gave Prek Pra Keila a sensational 2-1 victory over Commissariat of National Police – and, with it, a chance to avoid relegation from the premier league.
Prek Pra had been hanging on to their 48th-minute goal by Mat Keilab until the end of regulation time, when Police defender Ly Arifin scored the equaliser.
But into injury time, Prek Pra found a hero in substitute Kan Chamnan, who fired home the winning goal to haul his side out of the drop zone.
Prek Pra, with 14 points, are now one point ahead of Chhalam Samut in this dogfight, and a similar set of results for both sides in their final games would ensure safety for Prek Pra.
Prek Pra will play Ministry of National Defence on Wednesday, while Chhalam Samut will meet Kirivong Soksen Chey on Saturday.