For most of the match Khuon Laboravy remained in the shadows, but when it came to the crunch the Preah Khan Reach striker appeared in the spotlight to settle a nine-goal thriller against a dour as a dodo Prek Pra Keila in their Metfone C-League tie at Old Stadium yesterday.
The Hun Sen Cup winner’s tottering campaign almost suffered another jolt after a frontal attack by table trailing Prek Pra, but in a game of rapidly shifting fortunes two quick-fire goals late on gave Rith Dikar’s men a 5-4 victory.
It had been a rare treat of guts and glory for the faithful Prek Pra followers, who were in high spirits as the side came back with telling strides. But after the Military Police backed outfit weathered the storm and came out of it clutching full set of points, the partisan crowd turned its ire on the officials, accusing them of depriving Prek Pra a penalty during injury time.
The PKR coach patted his talismanic frontman Khuon Laboravy on the back for making the crucial difference, but he was full of praise for Phany Rotha whose fresh legs as a substitute on for Prak Mony Odum midway through the first half galvanised the PKR strike force.
“It is a huge relief that we came out of this tight match, and Rotha’s double was a vital factor,” said Rith Dikar after the match.
Prek Pra coach Jack Tonye Charles was understandably disappointed with the outcome and made little effort to hide his emotions on the sidelines as the gripping encounter reached its climax. Nevertheless, he was more than pleased with the side’s astonishing return to form in attack which saw them end a 455-minute long goal-drought in this year’s campaign.
The first sign that PKR could be heading for trouble came within minutes of the start when Sen Sorkey conceived a goal out of nothing, getting his drive through a crowd, well out of PKR goalkeeper Ouk Mich’s reach.
As if that brazen challenge was not good enough, Prek Pra nearly doubled their advantage when a thundering Mat Hassan volley had a goal written all over it until Ouk Mich stunningly finger tipped the ball away.
With Khuon Laboravy making no real headway on the left, the going was getting tougher for PKR. However, a moment of uncertainty in Prek Pra defence allowed Prak Mony Odum to work his way through uncontested to level the scores.
To the surprise of many, Rith Dikar pulled the goalscorer off to bring on Phany Rotha, but as if by sheer magic the substitute delivered a goal off his very first touch, a confident header from a well-weighted Laboravy cross.
When Tum Saray added his mite to stretch the PKR lead to 3-1 by halftime, it seemed as if the Prek Pra cause was hopelessly lost.
It wasn’t until Mat Hassan earned a penalty with a bold dash that Prek Pra began to claw back into the game. Jamiv Adebayo sent Ouk Mich the wrong way with a deft flick to signal Prek Pra comeback. Amazingly, within minutes substitute Soth Sa Aun produced a delightful long range effort to find the top corner of the net, with the fight all square at 3-3.
Prek Pra supporters were on the edge of their seats and PKR’s morale had visibly dropped. Mat Hassan, who has been finding it hard to get among goals recently, launched a solo run and capped it with a neat finish.
For the second time Prek Pra had nosed ahead of PKR, but in a matter of a few exchanges the equation dramatically changed yet again with Rotha’s trusty right foot finding the mark to make it 4-4.
With the eight-goal epic swaying from one end to the other, an opportunistic Laboravy pounced on a stray ball with ten minutes remaining, picking it up from about 40 yards out to thread his way into the area and let his boot do the rest.
The time was clearly not on Prek Pra’s side for another round of retaliation as Rith Dikar’s men were happy to tick away five minutes of injury time. At the final whistle, the stands erupted with the booing and jeering of the incoming officials.