The Crown starting line-up: Back Row LtoR: Sovannrithy, Dara, Njoku, Bunchhay, Narong, Tiny. Front Row: Nwafor, Sophat, Sokumpheak, Obadin, ChayaWhere do I begin with this afternoon's Phnom Penh Crown Metfone C-League match with Kirivong? It had a bit of everything, which is great for the armchair fans watching on tv but frustrating for Crown supporters, who watched their team go down 4-1 in under an hour, stage a remarkable comeback to restore parity and then fluff a penalty in stoppage time that would've clinched a deserved win. Add to the mix an incompetent referee, six bookings, a red card for Kirivong's Berejo Muhammeda with ten minutes to go and a bunch of near misses and you have a match that will live long in the memory, not necessarily for all the right reasons. Crown kicked off and looked well below par with their rock-solid defender Odion Obadin, who was a colossus in the President's Cup, nearly gifting Kirivong two goals in the first twelve minutes. Twice Sunday Ayodele nearly cashed in but was off-target on both occasions. At the other end, Kingsley Njoku had a shot blocked by keeper Koun Thnou but In Vichheka posted notice of his intentions when Peng Bunchhay dropped the ball at his feet and he toe-poked it against the cross-bar. In the 20th minute, it was Vichheka who got his head to Song Dara's whipped-in free-kick that sailed past Bunchhay for the opening goal. It was one of many free-kicks that Crown conceded in the first-half. Four minutes later Crown were level. Tieng Tiny's free-kick to the far post was headed towards goal by Obadin, it hit a defender and fell nicely for Chan Chaya to whack in from five yards out. Just two minutes on and Kirivong got their noses in front again. Ayodele reacted first to Ouk Thon's right wing cross and his flick eluded the flailing arms of Bunchhay to put them 2-1 ahead. Crown applied some pressure but looked a shadow of the team that did so well in the AFC President's Cup. It was their 4th game in 9 days and it certainly showed in their finishing, with strikers Kouch Sokumpheak and Kingsley Njoku lacking any real power after creating good goalscoring opportunities before the half-time interval.
Just 38 seconds into the 2nd period and Ayodele pulled the trigger only for Chan Dara to block at the last moment. Two minutes later, Ayodele set up In Vichheka for his second goal after Chan Chaya's poor touch had put his own team in trouble, and the Kirivong striker whipped his shot into the roof of the net. Another poor touch, this time from Kenny Nwafor, gifted the ball to Berejo Muhammeda and his long ball sent Ayodele away, beyond the Crown backline. His shot on the run from 20 yards struck the bar, bounced down and was cleared only for the assistant referee to initially wave play on, and then change his mind to raise his flag and award the goal. Despite protestations from the Crown players, referee Lim Bunthoeurn agreed with his fellow official and Kirivong were 4-1 ahead and in dreamland, judging by their celebrations. Around the hour mark, Crown coach Bojan Hodak introduced two fresh faces and legs into the action and it proved the catalyst for what turned out to be a remarkable comeback. On 67 minutes, Suong Virak's short corner to Tieng Tiny was whipped across the face of goal where Sok Pheng got a touch and Kenny Nwafor forced the ball over the goal-line. The same player broke past the last defender a few minutes later, but he too lacked power in his finish, shooting weakly at keeper Thnou. In the 81st minute Kirivong were reduced to ten men when Muhammeda received his second yellow card, for a late tackle on Tiny, and was dismissed with a simultaneous red card by referee Bunthoeurn. Four minutes later and it was game on when another Virak corner was headed on by Chan Chaya and Bryan Edem turned the ball past his own keeper from close in.
Crown were in full flow now, Kirivong couldn't stem the tide and were fortunate when Tiny's header from another Virak corner struck the crossbar with a minute to go. The corner count was weighted heavily in Crown's favour at 14-1. With twenty seconds of normal time remaining, Crown breached the Kirivong defence again to draw level, when Sun Sovannrithy got his head to Sok Pheng's cross and the 4th official held up five minutes of injury time. In the first minute, Crown were gifted the opportunity to earn a memorable victory from the penalty spot. Kouch Sokumpheak took a tumble under the challenge of Mom Sophol and the referee pointed to the spot, even though the tackle appeared just outside the box. As others turned from the responsibility, Odion Obadin stepped up to spot but his placement was too close and too weak to elude Koun Thnou's diving save and the opportunity was lost. There was still time for a Chan Chaya goal-bound header to be cleared from under the bar by Sok Nasiet before the game ended all square. It was a thrilling end to a game in which Crown showed great character, though it was poorly handled by referee Bunthoeurn and the reaction of Crown coach Hodak at the final whistle showed he thought so too. Crown were already without the suspended Thul Sothearith, Sun Sopanha and San Narith for this match and a booking for Chaya will see him sit out the next match, but it was the time-wasting tactics of Kirivong that infuriated most and which the referee repeatedly allowed them to get away with. Crown remain at the top of the table, a point ahead of Naga and are still the only unbeaten team in the C-League.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Sovannrithy, Tiny, Obadin, Narong, Sophat (Virak 59), Nwafor (Ratana 78), Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku (S Pheng 64). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Vanthan, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sochivorn, H Pheng. Bookings: S Pheng, Chaya.