Crown v Nat Police. Back Row LtoR: Dara, Ratana, Njoku, Obadin, Tiny, Bunchhay. Front Row: Ota, Narong, Sokumpheak, Chaya, SothearithTakahito Ota's goal after seven minutes was a great relief. For his teammates and the Phnom Penh Crown fans watching nervously in the grandstand at the Old Stadium. The first half against Naga Corp just a few days before was a nightmare that no-one wanted to go through again, so Taka's goal, struck with left-foot precision from the edge of the penalty area, calmed the nerves and allowed Crown to stroke the ball about, as well as they could on a surface that limited accurate passing to the flanks. With the pitch not helping either team's cause, there was a distinct lack of flowing football on display though it was Crown who dominated possession and created the better openings throughout the game. They restricted the Police to long-range shooting that never troubled Peng Bunchhay in the Crown goal. Before Taka stepped up to the mark, Kingsley Njoku received a pass out wide from Thul Sothearith and blasted high and wide. In a near identical move on seven minutes, Sothearith fed Chan Chaya on the left flank, he burst between two players to feed Taka twenty yards out and the Japanese recruit picked his spot with a left-foot drive that nestled in the bottom corner. It was a special moment for the newcomer who has already impressed with his non-stop bustling style, neat passing and willingness to push forward. With Kouch Sokumpheak playing in a withdrawn role, Crown were seeing a lot of the ball and Chaya was slow to pull the trigger allowing Touch Pancharong time to get a block in. Just before the half-hour mark, Kingsley Njoku powered his way past three defenders and as he shaped to shoot, he was floored by a tackle from behind by Say Piseth. It was a nailed-on penalty for the world to see, except the match referee Khuon Virak. Incredulously, he stood over Njoku and brandished a yellow card to the striker in what was perhaps the worst refereeing decision of the C-League season so far. It should have been a penalty and red card for Piseth.
Two tackles by Police full-back Ieng Tin, seven minutes apart, saw him depart for an early bath on 36 minutes. First he clattered into the back of Njoku and then scythed down Taka giving referee Virak no alternative but to show him a 2nd yellow and a red card. It merely added to the uphill battle faced by the Police. Just before the half-time break, Taka's corner was met on the volley by Sokumpheak but he was inches wide of the far post with his effort. A minute into the 2nd half and Sokumpheak went on a run down the Police left and fizzed in a wicked cross that Njoku got a touch to but Police keeper Hin Sarith kept out at the near post. Hong Ratana, getting a rare start for Crown, lept high at the far post to send a header across goal and just wide before stinging Sarith's hands with a low drive. On 70 minutes, Crown got the second goal their pressing deserved. Chaya fed Njoku who held the ball up before returning it to Chaya, and the busy striker buried his low drive into the far corner from the edge of the box. Game over. The last action of the match was an unsavory incident that has no place on a football pitch. With 11 minutes left on the clock, Police skipper Sophal Udom barged into the back of Odion Obadin and as the Crown defender led on the ground, he aimed a kick at his face but caught him in the chest, sparking a melee. Udom was in a rage and with fists up, he continued to look for a fight. Referee Virak quickly flashed a red card and Udom was hustled away. The federation must take severe action against Sophal Udom, who was banned about a year ago for attacking a referee. It's clear he hasn't learned his lesson and incidents of this nature in everyday life would usually involve criminal action against the perpetrator. I would not expect a 1-match ban and for the incident to be brushed under the carpet.
With Crown's 2-0 success, they return to the top of the Metfone C-League table, a point better off than 2nd-placed Naga Corp, as the competition enters a two-week mid-season break. Crown are still searching for a new head coach and will want someone in place before too long in readiness for the 2nd half of the league campaign and the final round of the AFC President's Cup in Chinese Taipei in September. Missing from yesterday's game were the suspended Sun Sovannrithy and San Narith. However on Friday, 1 day before the game, the federation advised the club that national team player Sun Sopanha, was also suspended. In their wisdom, they'd decided that as referee Kuong Ly had sent him from the bench during the 2nd half of the Naga match, that the decision merited a red card, and a suspension for yesterday's game. However, they failed to advise the club of their decision until the last minute. It wasn't bad enough that 4 Crown players had taken part in Thursday's meaningless national team game and were tired as a result - even though the coach had said they would not be considered - and then they lose their influential midfielder hours before the game.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Sothearith, Tiny, Obadin, Narong (Sophat 61), Ota, Chaya (H Pheng 86), Ratana (S Pheng 76), Njoku, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Vanthan, Sovan, Virak, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sochivorn. Bookings: Narong, Njoku.