|PPCFC v Kirivong, back row, LtoR: Obadin, Boris, Bisan, Makara, Sokumpheak, Yaty. Front: Pellegrino, Sothy, Pheng, Sosela, Da - click to enlarge|
Phnom Penh Crown began June as they finished May, in winning mode as they extended their lead at the top of the league table to five points over their nearest rivals Boeung Ket. Despite losing Khim Borey to a niggling knee injury the day before the game, coach Sam Schweingruber was able to include Kok Boris in his starting line-up and birthday boy Bin Thierry got a place on the bench, for the first time in three months, both players returning after injury. A torrential downpour at the end of the earlier kick-off and during the break between matches left the Olympic Stadium pitch under a considerable amount of water and referee Thong Chankethya only allowed a 25-minute delay before calling the teams to begin. With so much water still lying on the surface, that decision could've backfired but Crown set out their stall early on, mastering the conditions with firm and quick passing, leaving Kirivong literally floundering in the shallows. It took just 45 seconds for Crown's top marksman George Bisan to find his range, sending a shot from the edge of the box two feet wide. Boris was quick to clear his lines when a Kirivong free-kick fell invitingly in the box but that was almost it as far as Kirivong being seen as an attacking force. They managed to muster just one single shot in anger in the opening 45 minutes. The league leaders began to build their momentum early on, with captain Kouch Sokumpheak sending a 25-yard drive into the hands of Kem Makara, and the keeper then had to sort out his feet quickly as Neou Sosela bore down on him. Leng Makara blasted a shot over the bar from fifteen yards out after Hong Pheng's dash into the box found his teammate lurking and Sokumpheak, did likewise, with Makara this time using his left foot with greater accuracy, though it still whistled past the uptight by a few inches. The inevitable goal for Crown arrived in the 17th minute as Sosela threaded the ball to Bisan, who broke into the box unopposed and picked his spot inside the far post, leaving Kem Makara with no chance, and the striker wheeling away with his 12th goal of the campaign. Adriano Pellegrino was prominent early on and it was his corner, one of 14 that Crown earned, that Pheng got his head to at the near upright, only to see his attempt miss the post by a whisker. From their next Pellegrino corner, Makara looped a header onto the cross-bar and Sosela's fizzing shot from the rebound found Kem Makara blocking the route to goal. A tap on Sosela saw him go down but Chankethya has a habit of booking players for simulation and he saw the tiny winger's fall as just that, earning him the game's first caution.
Nob Chanborarasmey provided Kirivong's sole attempt on goal after some casual defending allowed him a sight of goal, but his shot went straight to Sou Yaty, who was otherwise seriously unemployed. A quick throw-in from Thourng Da sent Bisan scampering towards goal and weaving past two defenders, his drilled low drive from the edge of the area was pushed around the post by Makara. From that corner, with another perfect delivery from Pellegrino, Bisan had the easiest of tasks of nodding the ball home, unmarked, in the six-yard box for his, and Crown's, second on 39 minutes. They don't come much easier than that for the Metfone C-League's leading scorer with 13 goals. Pheng broke quickly soon after but Ouk Sothy sent his pull-back pass way over the bar. A Pellegrino reverse pass looked to have put Makara in with a chance but the Kirivong keeper came out quickly and cleared the ball with a two-footed challenge that left his namesake needing treatment. The half ended with a second yellow for Crown, given to Sothy for a sliding challenge. Bisan tried his luck from the second-half kick-off, but Makara collected easily enough, and then the Nigerian swung inaccurately as Sokumpheak found him in space on the right side. With his vision in top gear, Sokumpheak saw the run of Sosela but the winger's shot was deflected wide, while another Pellegrino corner found Bisan on the edge of the area in a practice-ground move, only for the striker to miskick into the keeper's hands. Pellegrino was enjoying acres of space and his snap drive spun off legs for a corner, before his right-wing free-kick delivery met the head of Sokumpheak, only for the ball to fizz just wide of the upright.
Coach Schweingruber handed Ly Morslim a rare chance and the switch with Sosela would work well, but before that two more Pellegrino corners from the right were met by Odion Obadin at the far post, only for Kem Makara to stand strong and snatch up both attempts on goal. On 70 minutes, Morslim was on the spot to grab his own slice of glory. Pheng's surge down the right wing saw him pull the ball back to Bisan, who let fly with a fizzing shot, which Makara pushed out into the path of the substitute and he neatly tucked the ball into the gaping goal for Crown's third, and his first in Crown colours. Another change and Bin Thierry reappeared after his lengthy absence, and it took him just twenty seconds to unleash a tasty drive which was blocked. In Vichheka finally picked up Kirivong's first caution for a poor challenge on Morslim and from the free-kick, Pellegrino's dipper was caught above his head by Makara. Soon after, Nhem Sovannara's rash tackle on Pellegrino saw him booked and a touchline chat between Schweingruber and the referee ensued. From the dead-ball kick, Thierry's effort cleared the wall but Makara pushed it clear from the foot of the post. And that was it. Pretty much one-way traffic for the entire game and a deserved three points for Crown as their championship challenge gathers speed. Sam Schweingruber's view on the game and his team's league position: "The field obviously made it a bit of a lottery but we completely dominated the game. After just 15 minutes we were 1-zero ahead and we had the luxury of trying a few things, and probably should've scored a couple more goals. At the end of the day, I'm happy with the performance, we did really well and kept good possession of the ball. 2nd half they were never dangerous at all, nothing. Possession-wise, we could've done anything we wanted and yes, we were not clinical enough. But very happy with the result. There are still 8 games to go, we're just a few points ahead, a lot can still happen. Kirivong are the weakest team in the league, so good for us we got six points from them - especially as both Naga and Boeung Ket dropped points against them. Its still too early to think too far ahead of ourselves, and with so many games to go, there is still a lot of hard work ahead of us."
PPCFC v Kirivong: Yaty, Pheng, Da, Boris, Obadin, Sokumpheak (Thierry 77), Sothy (Suhana 68), Makara, Sosela (Morslim 63), Pellegrino, Bisan. Subs not used: Soksela, Dara, Sokheng, Srin, Pisa. Bookings: Sosela, Sothy. MOTM: Pellegrino - always prompting and dead-ball kicks are sublime. Goals: Bisan 2 (17, 39), Morslim (70).