|PPCFC v Albirex, back row, LtoR: Suhana, Srin, Makara, Bisan, Kim, Ary. Front Row: Da, Pheng, Pellegrino, Borey (capt), Sothy - click to enlarge|
Crown arrived at the Olympic Stadium for this top v bottom clash with Japanese-club Albirex Niigata without five of their starting line-up. Suspension saw Bin Thierry and Kouch Sokumpheak on the sidelines, with injury forcing Sou Yaty, Odion Obadin and Kok Boris to watch from the stands. Albirex have been improving of late and are not a team to underestimate, despite their place at the foot of the league ladder. A slow start saw Crown with a few attempts on goal though it was Albirex who came closest to open the scoring. Jeongho Kim's recovery tackle on the marauding Yusuke Ueda took a deflection off Ngoy Srin and edged towards the goal-line, only for Thourng Da to clear the danger with his quick reactions. Crown had already gone close when Sos Suhana ghosted in behind the Albirex defence but just failed to get a touch to Adriano Pellegrino's decisive pass, Ouk Sothy sent a long distance attempt into the arms of the keeper and George Bisan's touch was a little too heavy as he broke through. Pellegrino's set pieces are a danger to any team and from two of his corners, Kim headed wide under pressure, and then Hong Pheng will wonder how he managed to skim his free header wide of the upright. It was all Crown as Khim Borey tried an ambitious 30-yarder, another Kim header from a Pellegrino corner caused panic but was scrambled clear, and Borey, popping up on the right flank, saw his drive edged inches wide. Next, Borey's near post header went tantalisingly wide, and Leng Makara's pass to Pellegrino saw the Australian send a snap-shot into the far corner of the net only to turn around and see the flag raised. The breakthrough finally arrived on 31 minutes. A foul on Bisan allowed Pellegrino to whip a free-kick from the right flank into the crowded box and smack onto the forehead of Kim, who nodded home for his second goal in as many games.
Albirex, with their second strike on goal, were inches away from levelling the scoreline. Former Crown defender Sen Sarak launched a 40-yard free-kick goalwards and it dipped viciously onto the crossbar before being cleared. Less than a minute later, Crown too had struck the woodwork, as Borey cut inside from the left and his 25-yard effort rebounded off the upright. A Pheng thrust into the box was cut out just in time and Suhana headed a corner over the top before Pellegrino made his mark on the game. Thirty yards from goal, his free-kick skill was again much in evidence as he curled the dead-ball into the top corner to make it two-nil with six minutes of the half remaining. Within a minute Crown registered their third. Makara threaded a pass through for Borey to run onto, he avoided the keeper and from a very acute angle, rolled in his perfect touch via the far post. It was no more than Crown deserved. A minute before the break and Albirex showed they were no slouches. Ueda, a recent addition from Singaporean football, gave Srin the slip and fired a shot from the edge of the box past Yok Ary to reduce the deficit.
Albirex changed their goalkeeper at the break but it didn't change their fortunes. Just 49 seconds into the second half and Crown were handed another opportunity on a plate. Makara's chip into the box was controlled by Bisan and as he went around the new keeper, Chhim Busan tapped his ankle and referee Tuy Vichheka pointed to the spot. Bisan stepped up to confidently to dispatch his 17th goal of the season in the second minute of the half. A few minutes later and the Nigerian hitman was again in the thick of it as he bypassed one defender but sent his powerful drive a foot over the crossbar. Makara challenged keeper Mat Muslim for a Pellegrino chip which referee Vichheka wrongly viewed as high feet, Kim tried his luck from 35 yards out but to no avail and at the other end, Tatsuta Kazuki's attempt was deflected into Ary's hands. Makara was guilty of a bad miss ten minutes in, when Pheng's center found him and Pellegrino in acres of space, but the striker skimmed his header wide of the mark, and soon after, the same player's drive was held by the keeper above his head. Seventeen minutes into the second half and Albirex took advantage of some sloppy marking by the league leaders. Chea Virath's free-kick found the head of Kheng Sopanha and his touch took a deflection and nestled in the corner of the Crown net to make it 4-2. Hearts in mouths time a few minutes later as Ueda crossed for Kazuki but his prod at the far post was blocked by Ary, who gladly grabbed the ball at the second attempt. As a contest the match got bogged down in midfield mediocrity, with few bright moments, though a one-two between Suhana and Bisan saw the Crown hotshot lob the ball over the bar from just outside the area. The final action was Touch Sokheng's cross that gave Muslim a few flutters as it landed on the roof of the net. The whistle blew and Crown celebrated another three points, maintaining their five point lead over their nearest challengers, Boeung Ket, who'd beaten Western Uni 3-2 in the game before.
At the final whistle, Crown head coach Sam Schweingruber gave this assessment. "With 5 games to go it's about winning games. For me we were much better in both halves but we made some mistakes. Very frustrating as we have these moments where we lose focus. A sign of a team that is still a work in progress. I hate conceding goals and being 4-1 up but not playing how I want us to play. That said, we had a lot of players working hard and giving their best until the end, a couple of really good goals that we scored - 3 from set pieces - showing how important that is for us, and how we need to create more chances and opportunities from open play."
PPCFC v Albirex: Ary, Pheng, Da, Srin, Kim, Sothy, Suhana (Sokheng 83), Makara, Borey (Sosela 90+1), Pellegrino (Pisa 90+4), Bisan. Subs not used: Soksela, Dara, Morslim. Booking: Sothy. MOTM: Pellegrino - continues to thrive and drive. Goals: Kim (31), Pellegrino (39), Borey (40), Bisan (47 pen).