Phnom Penh Crown's Chan Chaya proved to be both hero and villain for the reigning Metfone C-League champions, as they played out a 2-2 draw in the opening game of the new season at the Olympic Stadium. The eagerly-awaited match-up certainly produced the goals, incidents and action that everyone was hoping for, though ultimately it was a stalemate that neither team will be too happy with. Crown will feel that referee Thong Chankethya had his own agenda with a series of crucial decisions that didn't go their way, while Preah Khan will point to a looping Khuon Laboravy header that struck the post with just three minutes to go that could've won them the points. As for Chan Chaya, the fleet of foot Crown striker, employed as a wideman in his team's 4-4-2 system, he received a caution from the match referee on 57 minutes for simulation when he played the ball through the defender's legs and was body-checked, and then four minutes later rolled his shot agonizingly wide when it looked easier to score and put Crown 2-nil ahead. It cost Crown dearly as Laboravy headed the equaliser exactly a minute later. On 77 minutes, Chaya raced clear onto a Kouch Sokumpheak flick and this time kept his composure to place his shot neatly inside the far corner to restore the Crown advantage at 2-1. With five minutes remaining, a tussle with full-back Moul Daravorn, saw the PKR man barge into Chaya, who fell to the floor sparking a melee of players. Referee Chankethya deemed the incident worthy of a yellow card for both protagonists, which also meant a red card for Chaya who trudged slowly off the pitch, completely nonplussed by the decision, as was everyone else in the stadium.
The match had started well for Crown. They were ahead on six minutes when Kingsley Njoku was left all alone eight yards out to head a debut goal from a San Narith corner kick. The Nigerian import from Singapore celebrated with a triple somersault. I think he was pleased. The crowd were suitably impressed. On 18 minutes, Njoku broke into the penalty area, appeared to be tugged back by Sok Rithy and went down, only for the referee to wave his arms for play to continue. Njoku was left scratching his head. Khuon Laboravy proved to be a thorn in Crown's side and he managed to wriggle free on two occasions, only for his ground shots to be blocked both times by Crown stopper Hong Visokra. Referee Chankethya was again in the thick of it when he appeared to miss a handball by Suon Thuon, with the Crown players screaming for a penalty, only for the match official to give them a consolation corner. Njoku could've made it a double ten minutes before the half-time break, but his snatched shot was blocked by the outstretched legs of PKR keeper Ouk Mic and from the rebound, Chan Chaya's attempted lob from twenty yards just cleared the cross-bar.
An injury to Sun Sovannrithy on 53 minutes forced Crown to change their personnel, Chaya was booked for diving and then missed that sitter of a chance. Laboravy immediately rubbed salt in the wound by getting in front of his marker at the near post to head in a whipped cross from Nen Sothearoth two minutes after the hour mark. A few minutes later and Kouch Sokumpheak's mazy run into the box was halted unceremoniously but referee Chankethya was having none of it and waved play on, again. Though having a quiet game by his standards, Sokumpheak's vision and touch gave Chaya the space to run on and restore Crown's lead on 77 minutes only for Preah Khan to regain parity four minutes later. With Tieng Tiny off the pitch and receiving treatment, Laboravy took advantage of his absence and shunted to the byeline, his low center was pushed out by Visokra and in the resulting confusion, substitute Phanny Y Ratha was on hand to tap the loose ball over the goal-line to make it 2-2. There was still time for Chaya's long walk to the dressing room, for Laboravy to send his looping header against the woodwork and for Hong Ratana to fail to connect to a Sokumpheak header at the far post in stoppage time. Points were shared at the final whistle, as Chankethya left the field with his usual smirk, with steam coming out of the ears of the Crown bench and playing staff. The C-League is up and running again and it looks like goals and controversial decisions will be in plentiful supply again this season.
The Crown line-up: Visokra, Tiny (Dara 81), Sovannrithy (Sopanha 53), Obadin, Sothearith, Narith, Nwafor, Virak (Ratana 63), Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku. Subs not used: Bunchhay, Vanthan, Sophanal, S Pheng, H Pheng, Sophat, Sochivorn. Bookings: Tiny, Chaya, Sothearith.