The Crown starting line-up v Naga this afternoon. Back Row LtoR: Narith, Sovannrithy, Njoku, Obadin, Tiny, Bunchhay. Front Row: Sopanha, Virak, Ota, Sokumpheak, Chaya.I'm still seething but you have to take defeats on the chin and come back for round two. Or in our case, a return to the absolutely bloody awful playing surface at the Old Stadium for our final match of the first half of the season against National Police on Saturday. We cannot afford another slip-up. A word on the pitch...the federation are a joke if they believe it's good enough for professional football teams to play on such a crap surface. The lack of grass along the middle spine of the whole pitch including both goalmouths is a disgrace and the federation should be brought to task for changing the venue for Crown's final two matches to this godforsaken hole. Of course it was the same for both teams but for the showpiece match of the Metfone C-League season to go ahead on that surface, was utter contempt for the two teams shown by the federation. It simply is not good enough. That aside, it was the performance of Phnom Penh Crown in the first half, not the pitch, not even the shocking display from referee Kuong Ly, that was responsible for their demise. To go in at the interval, four goals down and a man down, is something the players have to take a long hard look and ask themselves some tough questions. It was understandable to come undone against a team of the quality of Singapore Armed Forces, but to allow ourselves to fall to the same scoreline to Naga Corp is reprehensible. We knew exactly what to expect and we let it happen. Okay the first two goals were a fluke and a comedy of errors but coach Bouy Dary had planned how to keep Naga's hitman Julius Oiboh under wraps and we still let him do damage with two more goals before the interval. And then to lose a player to such a stupid reaction to a booking is almost unforgivable for a player of San Narith's experience. This isn't schoolboy football, every player is a professional and they need to act like it, even under provocation. We let ourselves down badly in the first forty-five minutes today and the players will need to pull their socks up and start again when we meet the Police this coming Saturday.
So here's the game today in more detail. 3pm kick-off at the Old Stadium. The pitch was a disgrace and controlling the ball on the mud patches spread along the middle was a nightmare for both teams. The federation need to ask themselves how they allowed the game to go ahead on such a disgraceful surface. That said, Naga applied the first bit of pressure on 4 minutes and went ahead through their debutant, midfielder Sumaila Momoh. Teab Vathanak's cross past the far post looked innocuous enough until Momoh, standing next to the byeline, whacked in a shot that fizzed into the far top corner from a seemingly impossible angle. A minute later Suong Virak fired Crown's first effort harmlessly wide but they received another body blow on 7 minutes. Julius Oiboh evaded Tieng Tiny out wide and fired in a center which Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay fumbled, then got in a mix-up with San Narith and left Teab Vathanak the easy task of rolling the ball into the empty goal. Tiny volleyed well wide at the other end before Naga extended their lead even further. On 21 minutes, Oiboh showed his pace and power, took on Tiny and left him in his wake before firing a lethal ground shot across Bunchhay and into the far corner for 3-nil. Crown were left shell-shocked, whilst Naga were in seventh heaven. And they weren't finished yet. Kouch Sokumpheak fired a low drive straight into the hands of Naga stopper Phorn Ratana and Sun Sopanha was replaced by Thul Sothearith after picking up a booking. Within a minute, Oiboh was at it again. On 32 minutes, Kingsley Njoku lost the ball in the middle of the park, Sam Minar fed Oiboh and with another example of his strength and speed, he brushed aside Sothearith, side-stepped Bunchhay and rolled the ball into the gaping net. Naga were leading 4-0 with just over half an hour played. Crown's Njoku headed tamely into Ratana's hands soon after and then Odion Obadin collided with Ratana instead of heading the ball in at the far post from a corner. A flash of stupidity on 38 minutes then made Crown's task an insurmountable one. Minar took a quick free-kick against San Narith's leg and referee Kuong Ly reached for his yellow card, at which point Narith whacked the ball with all his might, leaving the referee with no alternative to brandish a 2nd yellow and a red card. Narith had to be manhandled off the pitch sparking the Crown players temporarily losing their composure, with Njoku getting a yellow for arguing. Suong Virak was then booked for dissent and Kouch Sokumpheak displayed the kind of anger towards referee Ly that could've cost him a straight red card. Instead he got a yellow after the referee decided his ball-winning tackle was a foul. Though the referee was awarding Naga most of the decisions, the Crown players should know better. Njoku tried an unsuccessful acrobatic overhead kick in time added on at the end of a 1st half that Crown will want to quickly forget.
The second half was fairly even but of course Naga could afford to bide their time and wait for the whistle. The 10 men of Crown offered a bit more going forward but Virak couldn't get a touch to Takahito Ota's pass, Chan Chaya was denied an opportunity by Sy Longdy's last-gasp tackle and when Virak did find space, his low drive rebounded off the foot of the post. Referee Ly booked three more players after the break including Neang Chenla for handball when he was the last man and denied Crown a run on goal. A red card wouldn't have been out of place in the circumstances. Crown's Japanese signing, Ota, sent a bobbling low drive into the keeper's hands and when Njoku went on a mazy run past four defenders, his low drive from the edge of the box flashed wide. Longdy smacked a 30 yard shot against the Crown crossbar with Naga's only real effort on target after the interval. But they had already done the damage and without managing any reply, the final whistle couldn't come soon enough for Crown. They'll have to do much better when they meet National Police this coming Saturday in the final match of the 1st round of the C-league season.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Narith, Sovannrithy, Tiny, Obadin, Sopanha (Sothearith 31), Ota, Virak (H Pheng 73), Chaya, Njoku (S Pheng 43), Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Dara, Vanthan, Sovan, Narong. Bookings: Sopanha, Narith 2 + red card, Njoku, Virak, Sokumpheak, Sovannrithy.