|PPCFC v Naga back row, LtoR: Obadin, Makara, Boris, Bisan, Srin, Yaty. Front: Sothy, Pheng, Suhana, Sokumpheak, Borey - click to enlarge|
This evening's eagerly-awaited top-of-the-table league clash ended all-square as the country's top two teams battled for a 1-1 draw at the Olympic Stadium under floodlights. With injury robbing Crown of Bin Thierry and suspension ruling out Jeongho Kim, coach Sam Schweingruber was pleased to be able to include Odion Obadin and Kok Boris after injury scares. His team did most of the early pressing with Hong Pheng firing harmlessly into the side netting and George Bisan trying his luck from 25 yards out, that cleared the cross-bar by a whisker. Naga's first foray forward saw Barry Lelouma dazzle Pheng with his quick feet and get a shot in on goal which Sou Yaty palmed aside. Bisan and Ouk Sothy combined well but the latter's long range effort sailed a few yards over the top, and another long distance drive by Pheng bounced before it reached Samrith Seiha, forcing the Naga stopper to push it out for a corner. Just after the half hour, Lelouma cut inside and fizzed a shot a few yards wide and in their next attack, Naga took the lead. Crown lost possession cheaply and were made to pay as Choun Chum cut in from the right wing and curled a sweet strike wide of Yaty's fingertips and inside the far post on 39 minutes. Stung into action, Crown's Sos Suhana had the ball taken off his toe at the other end of the pitch moments later and then blasted an effort over the bar from 25 yards, in the last real action of the opening half.
With the half-time talk from their coach ringing in their ears, Crown came out blazing in the second half and almost immediately Kouch Sokumpheak connected with a Khim Borey free-kick but his volley crashed into the body of Om Thavrak and was cleared. A poor Yaty clearance was lobbed well wide by Chum, but in their next move, Crown were right back into the match with the equaliser. A poor challenge by Thavrak on Bisan allowed Borey to send one of his curling free-kicks into the Naga box and with three Crown players converging on the ball, Leng Makara caught it sweetly on the volley and gave Seiha no chance from six yards out. Eight minutes of the second-half played and Crown were level. With the bit between their teeth, Crown pushed on but suffered a blow when Kok Boris twisted his ankle as he saw the ball out of play with Chum challenging and was stretchered off, to be replaced by Touch Sokheng. Moments later captain Sokumpheak was cautioned for a harmless tackle and will miss the next league match. On 64 minutes, Crown boss Schweingruber was left scratching his head on the sidelines as to why his team were not in front. Pheng sent Bisan scampering clear and his low shot was deflected by Seiha's left hand though it looked certain that Makara would tap the ball over the goal-line, but with Sun Sovannrithy leaning on him, he touched it onto the cross-bar and the certain goal failed to materialize. Makara's claims that he was impeded fell on deaf ears. A Sokumpheak cross was turned back into the box by Makara but Sothy's volley was blocked as Naga stood firm. Yaty was at his athletic best to get his fingers to a Chum near post header from a corner, but was deemed to have rashly challenged Teab Vathanak as the striker chased a quick free-kick. Referee Tuy Vichheka pointed to the spot though video replays suggest Yaty made no contact with the striker, whose reputation for impersonating Luis Suarez is well-known. It took two minutes for Vathanak to receive treatment for his imaginary injury and then up stepped Sovannrithy to send the penalty kick into orbit, with 77 minutes on the clock - much to the delight of the noisy Crown supporters in the grandstand. As the ball was played upfield, Thavrak was guilty of a wicked lunge as Sokumpheak broke and will wonder himself how he didn't get shown a straight red card. Referee Vichheka was in a benevolent mood for sure and waited for Thavrak to receive treatment, for more imagined pain, and only flashed a yellow. With neither side able to fashion any more clearcut chances, apart from a Chum header which Yaty gathered cleanly, the match petered out despite the introduction of two Crown substitutes, thrown into the fray without the hoped for impact.
Schweingruber's immediate after-match views: "A difficult start, not what we hoped for. From there we got into the game but mainly with long range efforts. Their 35 was very dangerous and he pulled us apart for their goal, leaving 7 free to score. I'm really proud of my team how they came out after the break and tried to apply what I told them. First 20 minutes we had several good chances and did much better, including the equaliser. We should've had a penalty in my eyes, our striker was pushed in the back, but the referee didn't see it. Then the penalty against us was quite harsh I thought - I have to see it again. Going away with a point, after they missed a penalty late in the game, is a result we can live with. I'm still a bit disappointed that in the big games we are not playing as we want to play, and how I know we can play, in the key moments of the match. We need to put what we are capable of into these title-deciding games. A word of thanks to our fans today - their vocal support was fantastic. When they make as much noise as that, they can make a difference. They were brilliant."
PPCFC v NagaCorp: Yaty, Srin, Pheng, Boris (Sokheng 62), Obadin, Sothy, Sokumpheak, Suhana (Sosela 89), Makara (Oliveira 82), Borey, Bisan. Subs not used: Ary, Soksela, Da, Dara, Morslim, Pisa, Titchhy, Chanpolin. Bookings: Sokumpheak. MOTM: Sou Yaty - made important saves. Goal: Makara (54).