Port aim to make history while Buriram target yet another title

Port FC face a defining moment on Sunday when they take on Buriram United in a match that could decide the destiny of this year’s Thai League (T1) title.

With Buriram aiming for a sixth title in seven years, Port have an opportunity to end a duopoly (with Muang Thong United) that has lasted over 10 years.

Chiang Rai United also have a strong chance and a win for them, combined with a Port win or a draw in Buriram, would leave them one victory away from becoming champions.

At the other end of the table, five clubs are battling it out to avoid relegation and this week we will surely see at least one team confirmed for the drop.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 29.

  1. Port’s moment of truth

It has been a strange old season for Port FC’s followers. The Port Lions’ strong start to the year marked them down as serious title contenders.

However, a 3-1 home defeat to Buriram in June precipitated a collapse that saw them take just two points from six matches. In any other season, a similar run would have seen their rivals move out of sight.

But this has been a season like no other, with Buriram struggling and Bangkok United failing to reach the heights of the previous three years. Muang Thong United’s shocking start ensured their recovery came too late and, almost by default, Port could lift the title by beating Buriram on Sunday and then beating Samut Prakan City at home.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port’s form against fellow Top Six sides has been poor, however. While they have yet again put Muang Thong to the sword, they have taken just two points from six matches against the other four.

To make history, Port will need everything to go their way on Sunday, but the absence of influential midfielder Go Seul-ki – on loan from Buriram – is a blow.

The visitors have won their last three T1 matches, scoring nine goals without conceding, so they are in a good place form-wise. The big question is whether or not they can keep their heads in the type of match Buriram have been winning for years.

  1. All eyes on Chiang Rai’s Ekanit 

Thailand hailed a new hero on Tuesday after 19-year-old Ekanit Panya put in a match-winning performance as the War Elephants defeated the UAE 2-1 in World Cup qualifying.

The attacking midfielder made the first goal and scored the second in an eye-catching display that has apparently brought him to the attention of Japanese clubs.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Chiang Rai United will hope that he has enough energy left to keep their title bid on track in a match at home to Prachuap FC. The Beetles lost control of their own fate with a draw at PTT Rayong last time out, but a win here would ensure they still have a chance and if Buriram drop points, they will be back in the driving seat.

On paper, it looks straightforward against a side with nothing to play for. But the League Cup winners are on a seven-match unbeaten run, conceding just three goals in that spell.

A game-changer like Ekanit may be what is required to unlock the organised Prachuap defence and keep Chiang Rai United’s title dream alive.

  1. Swatcats face battle to survive 

Since beating Chainat 2-1 in June, Nakhon Ratchasima have won just two T1 matches, a slump that sees them sitting just four points above the Hornbills going into Sunday’s return match.

The good news for the Swatcats is that Chainat’s form has also been miserable, winning just one of the last eight fixtures and losing six of them.

Nakhon Ratchasima’s plight is bad news for the fan base that makes them the second-best supported club in the league. There is vast potential in this northeastern city but the limited investment in the club has prevented it from competing with sides with far fewer supporters.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima

On the pitch, the Swatcats will be nervous about facing their relegation rivals on their home pitch, given its reputation for throwing up some surprise results in the hosts’ favour.

Chainat’s recent form may have been poor but they have lost just one of their last seven home matches. For this one, they will need to rediscover the inspiration that saw them beat Buriram United, Bangkok United and Muang Thong United in April and March.

A victory for the visitors would put them in a very strong position but there would remain the matter of a home match against fellow relegation strugglers Sukhothai next week. Depending on the outcome of other games, that could yet be a winner takes all affair.

  1. Suphanburi and Sukhothai in familiar positions

On Matchday 28, Suphanburi and Sukhothai looked set to clinch significant victories as, at home to opponents with little to play for, they both took a first-half lead.

But Prachuap fought back to earn a point at Suphanburi and Sukhothai needed an 89th-minute equaliser to rescue a 2-2 draw with Ratchaburi.

This weekend, Suphanburi travel to Samut Prakan City – a side whose unlikely title bid has long since ended – while Sukhothai host Trat, who have already clinched T1 football in 2020.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

If the War Elephant and the Firebats cannot earn victories in matches like this, they simply don’t deserve to stay up.

Suphanburi may be the fourth-best supported club in the league but they have endured a miserable time since consecutive Top Six finishes between 2013 and 2015. Meanwhile, Sukhothai have flirted with relegation in the three seasons since an impressive T1 debut year in 2016 saw them finish seventh.

On the balance of probabilities, one of these two teams is likely to go down and this weekend will go a long way to deciding which one.

Ekanit stars as Thailand turn on the style

One week before his 20th birthday, Ekanit Panya announced his arrival on the Asian football stage with a starring role in Thailand’s stirring 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over the United Arab Emirates.

Chiang Rai United’s attacking midfielder netted the winning goal early in the second half, having provided the assist for Teerasil Dangda’s first-half opener.

The three points put Thailand on top of Group G despite the injury absences of Japan-based Chanathip Songkrasin and Thitipan Puangchan.

The War Elephants must now build on the positive momentum and finish the year on a high with positive results against Malaysia and Vietnam next month.

Here are three things to consider after an outstanding Thailand performance.

  1. Ekanit caps his breakthrough year 

In Thai football’s competitive world of producing the youngest scorers in the league, Ekanit netted his first senior goal just before his 16th birthday, way back in 2015.

Having broken a record, Chiang Rai decided to loan him out to Chiang Rai City and then Chiang Mai rather than use him in a team that was developing loftier aspirations than the class of 2015.

Ekanit finally got a chance to shine on the bigger stage this season when Chiang Mai were promoted to T1. Such was his form, his title chasing parent club recalled him from loan mid-season and he has since played a key role in Chiang Rai’s title bid.

An excellent solo goal in a 4-0 destruction of champions Buriram United would have caught the eye of Akira Nishino and Ekanit’s performances in starts against Indonesia and Congo convinced the head coach to start him in a crucial test against the group’s top seeds.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Nishino’s faith was richly rewarded as Ekanit’s relentless energy set the tone and ensured that the UAE were always on the back foot. Ekanit combined industry with creativity and his floated cross was brilliantly headed home by Teerasil.

With the Thais having conceded the equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Ekanit’s far post finish from close range ensured there would be no way back for the visitors as Thailand continued to dominate.

Ekanit’s emergence on the international stage was the major talking point after the kind of victory that Thailand have often threatened but rarely achieved when it matters.

  1. Nishino gives balance and belief 

It’s early days but indications are that Nishino may be succeeding where predecessor Milovan Rajevac failed by making the most of Thailand’s attacking flair.

Rajevac may have been unfortunate not to have had the same access to the emerging attacking talents of Ekanit, Supachok Sarachat and Suphanat Mueanta but the Serbian immediately sought to turn Thailand into a more pragmatic side.

Nishino has quickly recognised the potential in making Thailand a more offensive force, with attack being the best form of defence. The midfield five gave the UAE little time to rest and constantly forced them into mistakes.

Sarach Yooyen looked like he had been given a new lease of life, while Chiang Rai Utd midfielder Phitiwat Sukjithammakul has been given his big chance and taken it.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

The lapse in defensive concentration that saw Ali Mabkhout equalise demonstrated that old habits die hard but with just one goal conceded in three qualifiers, putting teams on the back foot has limited their attacking threat.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Tuesday’s performance was how Thailand did not allow Mabkhout’s goal to alter their game plan. The War Elephants’ football history has not featured many important wins against high ranking sides from West Asia and confidence has often been fragile when under pressure.

But this was a performance full of guts and self-belief, with the only disappointment being that the game wasn’t wrapped up long before they had to endure a nervous five minutes of added time.

  1. Keep feet on the ground 

Just as it’s important to recognise the potential significance of Tuesday’s result, it will mean nothing if Thailand go to Malaysia and Vietnam next month and fail to take at least four points.

As the Thais found out in last year’s AFF Cup, the Malaysians have built a decent side under Tan Cheng Hoe and they arguably should have matched Thailand’s result against the UAE, instead of going down 2-1 after taking the lead last month.

Vietnam’s recent rise is well documented and Thailand could only take a point from them in last month’s match in Bangkok.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency and only similar performances will be enough to earn Thailand victories in what are sure to be hostile atmospheres at the homes of their Southeast Asian neighbours.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

There was understandable euphoria after Tuesday’s win but UAE look a shadow of the side that defeated Japan in 2018 World Cup qualifying. Former Asian Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman remains well off the pace as he comes back from serious injury and he was very much second best to the likes of Ekanit and Supachok.

Nevertheless, UAE are 55 places above Thailand in the FIFA rankings so this was a very significant scalp. But only by following up with good results in Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi will the War Elephants prove that they are very much on an upward trajectory.

Nishino’s Thailand face early test of credentials on road to Qatar

Thailand must make home advantage count as they host the UAE in Tuesday’s 2020 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

In what is likely to be an extremely tight Group G, success in the home fixtures may be key. Having dropped two points to Vietnam in last month’s clash in Bangkok, there is no margin for error against the group favourites if the Thais want to progress to the final stage of qualifying for just the third time in their history.

Without star playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin and midfield dynamo Thitiphan Puangchan, the War Elephants are missing two of their most influential players. Head coach Akira Nishino must get the balance right if Thailand are to emerge from this match in a strong position to qualify.

Here are three things to look out for in Tuesday’s Thailand Vs UAE fixture.

  1. Start for Suphanat?

 It would be a brave but positive move if Nishino were to give 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta a start in attack alongside Teerasil Dangda.

Thailand have struggled to score goals this year, netting just seven times in 11 matches – three of those coming against a poor Indonesia side. Teerasil did miss several of those games through injury but playing the veteran up front on his own is a predictable move that the UAE will be ready for.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Suphanat’s movement and trickery would provide a very different option, as Congo found out when he tormented them in the second half of Thursday’s friendly. The Buriram United striker has consistently risen to the big occasion despite his tender years, including becoming the youngest ever scorer in the AFC Champions League when he was still 16.

This is a high stakes fixture and maybe a gamble is necessary to secure the three points that would put the Thais in a strong position.

  1. Dealing with Ali and Omar 

Without Omar Abdulrahman at this year’s Asian Cup, the UAE looked a distinctly average side. Thailand held them to a 1-1 draw when they played them in that tournament, and the countries also drew in Bangkok when they met in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

But Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout took the Thais apart when they met in 2016 and these will be the two players that the Thailand defence will have to stop.

In the UAE’s 5-0 victory over Indonesia on Thursday, Mabkhout struck a hat-trick to become the country’s all-time leading scorer. At 29 years old, the Al Jazira striker is at the peak of his powers and his deadly finishing prowess means he must be very carefully tracked.

Mabkhout scored three times in the two 2018 qualifiers against the Thais, striking twice in the UAE’s 3-1 home win and netting in added-time in Bangkok to deny Thailand what would have been their only victory of the final stage of qualifying. The War Elephants’ nemesis scored against them once again in this year’s Asian Cup.

2016 Asian Player of the Year Abdulrahman has yet to hit full fitness following the injury that kept him out of the Asian Cup and he started Thursday’s match on the bench. But the playmaker’s magical skills can cut open a defence at any moment and, if he starts, Thailand will have to try and limit his space to cut off the supply to Mabkhout.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Thailand’s central defence will certainly be tested and this is an area of continued uncertainty. Defensive midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat was used at centre-back against Congo but his positional sense and concentration are often suspect. Manuel Bihr is the one player who looks certain to start, with Pansa Hemviboon, Adisorn Promrak and Elias Dolah the other options.

Whoever is selected will have their work cut out against two players who have a history of putting Thailand to the sword.

  1. A test of self-belief

Thailand’s recent history in matches of this nature does not instill confidence. Facing countries with significantly higher FIFA rankings in important matches do not usually end in victory. The draw with the UAE at the Asian Cup was crucial for Thailand but made little difference to a UAE team that had already qualified for the last 16.

Even though the Thais topped a group that included Iraq in the first group stage of the 2018 qualifiers, they were outplayed for an hour in Bangkok before a late comeback earned a 2-2 draw.

The two times that Thailand have made it past this stage, they have flopped spectacularly against superior opponents, failing to win any of the 18 matches in the final round of AFC qualification.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

There seems to be an inferiority complex when the Thais take on Asia’s better sides and much of it seems to come down to mentality. They just don’t expect to win games like this and the number of late goals they concede underlines their fragility.

The Round of 16 clash against China in the Asian Cup was a fine example. Leading 1-0 at half-time, the Thais looked well set to reach the quarter-finals, but lost their discipline and ultimately the game as confidence deserted them.

One of Nishino’s biggest challenges will be to transform this state of mind to help Thailand finally look as if they may belong among Asia’s Top 12 teams. A victory in this match would be a huge statement. 

Suphanat stars as Thailand prepare for UAE challenge

Suphanat Mueanta stole the show as Thailand warmed up for Tuesday’s crucial World Cup 2022 qualifier against the UAE with a 1-1 draw at home to Congo.

The 17-year-old didn’t even start the game but his rich potential was there for all to see as he became the biggest threat to the African side in the second half.

The Buriram United striker has made a significant breakthrough this year, becoming a key member of his club’s squad as their foreign strikers have failed to impress.

While it was great to see Teerasil Dangda back on the scoresheet for the War Elephants, the Thai fans would have been more excited by the impact of his heir apparent.

Teerasil is a born goal scorer and the predatory instincts that saw him put the hosts ahead with a diving header remain very much alive at the age of 31. However, time is not on the Muang Thong United legend’s side and injuries have taken their toll.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Fourteen years his junior, Suphanat showed no fear when he replaced Teerasil at half-time on Thursday. He immediately put himself about in a way that suggests he should become a striker with much more to his game than finishing.

His best moment came when he evaded a couple of challenges from the Congolese defence as he cut in from the left, creating space for a shot from the edge of the penalty box. Unfortunately, he pulled the shot wide but it demonstrated his ability to make something happen.

Suphanat would have a different kind of impact later in the match at both ends of the pitch. Following a Congo corner, the striker picked up the ball on the Thai 18-yard-line but his attempt to surge forward and mount a counter attack was crudely ended by a cynical challenge from Harvy Ossete.

With the match then entering the final stages, Suphanat again tried to work his way through the Congo defence but his run was ended by a trip from Ossete, who earned his second yellow.

Having seen his young teammate single-handedly reduce the opposition to 10 men, Bodin Phala almost struck the winner from the resulting free kick but his powerful effort was well saved.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

A 1-1 draw was a decent result with Thailand weakened by the absence of their three injured Japan-based players. But while Theerathon Bunmathan’s injury in the warm-up saw the evening begin on a sour note, Suphanat’s second-half performance gave fans the feeling that they were witnessing a coming-of-age of sorts.

At 17, the hard work is just beginning for Suphanat but it’s rare to see a 17-year-old playing for a national side, never mind tormenting his opponents in this manner.

Head coach Akira Nishino will probably start with Teerasil again on Tuesday but he will have no hesitation in turning to the Buriram prodigy if the Thais need a bit of inspiration.

Supachok puts Buriram clear at the top as Chiang Rai slip up again

Supachok Sarachat was Buriram United’s hero again as he struck the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over local rivals Nakhon Ratchasima on Thai League (T1) Matchday 28.

Ten days after grabbing the winner against Chainat, Supachok repeated the trick with a similar goal at a similar time in the match to put Buriram two points clear at the top of T1, with Chiang Rai United dropping two points at PTT Rayong.

Port FC beat Chainat 4-0 to stay two points behind and set up a crunch match at Buriram on October 20th.

Three of the bottom five lost, while Sukhothai and Suphanburi could only manage draws as the relegation struggle remained very much unresolved.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 28.

  1. Buriram signal intent in derby classic 

The champions were reeling from a League Cup final defeat in what has been a mediocre season by their standards. But they quickly took the initiative in the Isaan derby and went 2-0 up just over halfway through the first half.

Like many of the foreign strikers who arrived in the mid-season transfer window, Rasmus Jonsson has disappointed but the Swede grabbed his first T1 goal in spectacular style as he volleyed into the top corner from the edge of the box. Rattanakorn Maikami quickly added a second to put the league leaders in control.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

But the Swatcats are in a relegation battle and, in front of a passionate home crowd, a brilliant piece of trickery from Henri Doumbia set up Yayar Kunath to pull one back before half-time.

A tense second half followed and Siwarak Tedsungnoen made a fine stop from Mark Hartmann before Supachok struck what would be the decisive blow. Kritsada Hemvipat pulled one back with a stunning overhead kick in added time but, unfortunately, such a brilliant goal will count for little.

Results elsewhere meant that Nakhon Ratchasima are still very much in control of their fate, while Buriram showed flashes of the quality and spirit that have rarely been seen this year.

  1. Port cruise to set up title crunch

Chainat’s visit to Port FC saw a side on the brink of relegation take on a side with title aspirations. There was little between the teams in the opening 20 minutes but the match began to come to life, though it took the hosts until just beyond the 45-minute mark to take the lead when Go Seul-ki headed home.

Josimar Rodrigues netted a second before Port spurned chance after chance to add a third. There was a brief late rally from the visitors that featured a long-range strike from Dennis Buschening that crashed off the bar. But Port re-asserted themselves with strikes from Sumanya Purisai and Sergio Suárez in added time.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port now travel to Buriram for a match that may make or break their title ambitions. While Buriram have plenty of experience in such matches, this is new territory for Port and will be a huge challenge.

The damage to Chainat was minimised by results elsewhere but they may still have to win their final two matches to have a chance of survival, starting with a clash at home to Nakhon Ratchasima in two weeks.

  1. Chiang Rai feel the heat 

Winning titles requires narrow victories in difficult away matches when the pressure is on. Chiang Rai United twice took the lead at PTT Rayong on Thursday but twice they were pegged back by a side that has won just one of its last nine T1 matches.

The Beetles remain just two points off the pace but they have handed the initiative back to Buriram, who can clinch the title with two more wins. The Thunder Castle would be indebted to their former player Anawin Jujeen, who headed home the second PTT equaliser with under 10 minutes remaining.

The point guaranteed that PTT would spend another year in T1, but it was two points lost for Chiang Rai. They will be hoping that Port and Buriram share the spoils on Matchday 29. Such a result would allow them to take the title if they can win their remaining two fixtures.

  1. Bottom sides blow big chances 

On a night when Chainat and Nakhon Ratchasima were always going to be second favourites, the three other relegation candidates had the opportunity to boost their survival odds when playing against teams that had little to play for.

Up against a severely depleted Bangkok United side, Chiang Mai had a chance to draw level with Chainat. However, team selection again suggested that the last thing they want to do is stay in T1. Strikers Eliandro and Caique were left on the bench, to again expose the shameful mismanagement of the club.

Suphanburi were up against a Prachuap side that had gone a grueling 120 minutes in the League Cup final on Saturday. The War Elephant took an early lead before several clear cut chances were squandered. Anxiety set in and the Killer Wasps found an equaliser following a calamitous defensive mixup.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

At home to FA Cup finalists Ratchaburi, Sukhothai went ahead through Irvin Herrera in the first half. Like Suphanburi, they couldn’t hold on and they actually fell 2-1 behind before Yanto Basna’s last-minute effort secured what could yet be a vital point.

This was certainly a big opportunity lost for Suphanburi and Sukhothai, though Chiang Mai will have to wait a little longer to be put out of their misery.

It’s too tight to call at top and bottom as Thai League heads for thrilling finale

It’s all or nothing for both Port FC and Chainat when they meet on Thai League (T1) Matchday 28.

Port must win to ensure they do not drop further behind the Top Two, while Chainat need three points to avoid slipping a potential four points from safety.

There are several other big games at both ends of the table as the 2019 T1 season draws to a close.

Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday 28.

  1. Josimar eyes fairytale ending

Josimar Rodrigues spent the first half of the year with Police Tero in T2 and cannot have imagined that he might end the year with a T1 title.

Josimar’s return to Port FC – where he spent the 2017 season – was seen as gamble as it meant that Dragan Boskovic would have to move on. There was then the drama of Rolando Blackburn’s signing and the possibility that Josimar would not form part of the T1 squad after all.

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Photo credit: Port FC

In the end, Port opted to sideline centre-back David Rochela and keep Josimar. The Brazilian has risen to the challenge in the last few games in particular, while Blackburn has largely been left on the bench. Josimar’s brace against Nakhon Ratchasima on Friday took Port to within two points of joint leaders Buriram United and Chiang Rai United. A victory over Chainat on Wednesday would set up a potential title decider in Buriram on October 20th.

But Chainat have their own needs to take care of as they sit second from bottom. With rivals Sukhothai and Suphanburi playing in more winnable home fixtures, the Hornbills risk falling further behind both if they cannot beat the title challengers.

Port are the league’s form team, with six wins in the last eight, and they have hit their stride at the perfect time. Another victory in this fixture would ensure that they keep the pressure on Buriram and Chiang Rai ahead of the final two games. In the unlikely event that the joint leaders both lose, Port could even end the week at the top of the table.

  1. Isaan derby with much at stake

While Nakhon Ratchasima’s position is not as precarious as Chainat’s, they could be under a lot of pressure by the end of the evening if they fail to take anything from the Isaan derby at home to Buriram. The high of the recent 4-1 win over Samut Prakan City gave way to grim reality on Friday as they were soundly beaten at Port.

The Swatcats have an extremely challenging run-in and can’t afford to play tactically for a draw and keep something in reserve for the two fixtures to come. Next up are relegation rivals Chainat and Sukhothai, so the reality is that three straight losses against highly motivated sides may put them in T2.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Remarkably, stuttering Buriram are leaders of T1 but by the most precarious of margins. While they lead Chiang Rai on goal difference, if the two sides were to end the season level on points, the Beetles would take the title through the head-to-head record.

Buriram are enduring a tough spell, losing in both cups to sides in the bottom half of T1, while hanging on to top spot by their fingertips despite unimpressive league form.

There is plenty at stake when these northeastern neighbours meet and if there is a winner, the losing side could be on the verge of losing their title or losing their place in the top tier.

  1. Chiang Rai must handle pressure

It is tough to lead from the front and the two times Chiang Rai United have held the T1 lead this season, they have lost it in the very next game. When they beat Buriram 4-0 at the end of July, they rose to top spot but followed it up with a fortuitous draw at home to Ratchaburi.

A 3-1 win at Trat two weeks ago again saw them go clear at the top, with Buriram losing at Muang Thong. But Chiang Rai then failed to maintain their two-point advantage by drawing 1-1 at Bangkok United.

Three wins from the final three matches hand the title to Chiang Rai and this run begins with a match at a PTT Rayong side that are almost safe from relegation. PTT were poor in a 3-0 loss to Chonburi on Sunday and may be looking ahead to 2020 after more or less securing their T1 berth for another year.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

PTT have had a strange season swapping relegation form in the early stages for a run of six wins in eight in the middle before taking just one win from the last eight to leave them in 11thplace. Thursday’s visitors can be encouraged by their opponents’ poor recent form but should be wary of a team that has taken four points from Port and drawn twice with Muang Thong.

Buriram claimed a 1-0 win at PTT on their visit and Chiang Rai must match their title rivals to ensure that their fate stays in their hands.

  1. Suphanburi’s chance to bring another side back to earth

When Ratchaburi visited Suphanburi two weeks ago, they had just beaten Buriram in the FA Cup semifinal. Their celebrations may have lasted a few days but by the fourth minute they were 2-0 down in T1 action. The match ended 3-0 to the War Elephant – a vital victory in their battle against relegation.

On Wedneday, Prachuap FC visit, four days on from landing their first major trophy with a win over Buriram in the League Cup final. It took 120 minutes and penalty kicks so there was a physical and emotional cost to pay.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

It may be the perfect time for Suphanburi to be hosting the Killer Wasps as, like Ratchaburi, they may still be basking in the glory of their cup triumph when the game kicks off. Prachuap’s recent form has taken them seven points clear of the relegation zone so they should be in no danger of being sucked into the battle to avoid the drop.

Cleiton Silva and Dellatorre were both in fine form against Ratchaburi and Suphanburi will again look to them to provide the goals to claim a vital three points.

  1. Firebats set for thrilling finale

Sukhothai have three matches to save their season, starting with a home match against Ratchaburi. A team that has won just four games all season would normally have been relegated by this stage but an incredible 15 draws has kept their points total sufficient to remain in with a chance of survival.

Their final three fixtures offer reasonable prospects of the victories that have been eluding them. All four wins this season have been at home and Trat follow the Dragons to the Thung Talay Luang Stadium. Both of these opponents are all but safe and may not offer the kind of resistance that others might.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

Victories in these two home matches could set up a huge game at Nakhon Ratchasima on the final day of the season. With the Swatcats currently four points above the Firebats, they need to win their next two matches to shake them off, assuming Sukhothai win both of theirs.

With Philip Roller, Yannick Boli and Lossemy Karaboue all suspended, the Dragons are missing three of their best players. Sukhothai striker Irvin Herrera has failed to make much of an impact since his arrival in mid-season and perhaps it is time for him prove that he – like his countryman Nelson Bonilla – can become a hero for the club.

Prachuap target first ever cup success as Buriram target first part of a double

Prachuap FC are aiming to make history when they take on Buriram United in Saturday’s Thai League Cup final.

The Killer Wasps battled their way up through the lower tiers before finishing an impressive 6th in their first T1 season in 2018. Having effectively consolidated their position in the top tier this year, they are now looking for their first major honour.

Buriram will need to put their indifferent league form behind them if they are to deny the underdogs a famous win.

Meanwhile in T1 action, Port FC hope to keep their title hopes alive at home to Nakhon Ratchasima, while Chonburi will look to banish the slight threat of relegation when they host PTT Rayong on Sunday.

Here are three things to look out for in Thai football this weekend.

  1. Prachuap target another SCG triumph 

As Prachuap bid to upset the odds in Saturday’s League Cup final, they can perhaps take inspiration from their last two visits to the SCG Stadium. Both ended in victory against Muang Thong United, while opponents Buriram’s suffered a 3-1 defeat in their most recent trip.

Omens aside, Prachuap come into the game on the back of a six-match unbeaten run that has taken them away from relegation danger. They have not conceded in the last four games and have lost just two goals in that six-match stretch.

However, they will be weakened by the likely unavailability of no fewer than four Buriram United loan players. The biggest losses are regular goalkeeper Kwanchai Suklom and midfield schemer Chitpanya Tisud.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Buriram will have to raise their game to ensure that they avoid another cup upset, having recently lost to Ratchaburi in the FA Cup semifinal. Supachok Sarachat came to their rescue in last weekend’s home win over Chainat and in such a difficult year, they would settle for a repeat.

A transitional season may yet end in a league and cup double for the champions, which would seem excessive reward for a side whose standards have fallen way below what we have come to expect. But Buriram often find a way to win and few would bet against them taking another trophy on Saturday.

  1. Port wary of resurgent Swatcats 

The visit of Nakhon Ratchasima to Port FC on Friday evening has taken on a very different complexion since the Swatcats’ weekend heroics gave the club a huge boost following months of doom and gloom.

Head coach Chalermwut Sa-ngapol’s dramatic debut saw his team come from behind to win 4-1, scoring three times in the final five minutes. While this result may go a long way to securing another season in T1, they are not safe yet and will want to seal their place in the top tier with a victory here. Fixtures against Buriram and relegation strugglers Sukhothai and Chainat are yet to come so three points would be a huge relief.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

However, Port FC have their own aspirations as a victory would take them to within two points of joint leaders Buriram and Chiang Rai United ahead of the final three matches of the season. Since a mid-season slump, Port have taken 16 points from seven games to move back into contention as their rivals falter.

When they tried to play this match two weeks ago, a storm stopped the action just four minutes in. Both sides will be hoping for less extreme conditions as they approach a match that could be hugely significant.

  1. Chonburi aim to settle nerves 

With a six-point cushion, it would take a very unlikely sequence of results for Chonburi to be relegated. However, three defeats in the last four have them looking slightly nervously over their shoulders as we reach the final stages of the season.

There was relief last weekend as three of the bottom four lost to maintain a healthy distance from the drop zone and a win here would put an end to any lingering concerns while setting the Sharks up for a positive end to another mediocre season.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

Sunday’s visitors PTT Rayong sit just one point above Chonburi and would also secure another T1 season with a victory. They are unbeaten in four T1 matches, though three of them have ended in draws.

Compared to the weekend’s two headline matches, this is certainly no more than a support act but we will see two clubs that wish to end their seasons on a high to keep their fans on board for 2020.

Chiang Rai’s slip gives Buriram and Port a lift as title race nears finishing line

Chiang Rai United blew their chance to stay clear of Buriram United as a battling Bangkok United side held them to a 1-1 draw on Thai League (T1) Matchday 27.

Facing a tired and weakened Bangkok Angels, the Beetles had a great opportunity to maintain the two-point gap at the top but instead saw Buriram draw level on points after they beat Chainat 1-0 24 hours later.

Port FC moved back into the title race with a win at Chiang Mai while there were some big results at the bottom of the table.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 27.

  1. Vander dents former club’s title bid

Chiang Rai United travelled to face Bangkok United with high hopes of the win that would take them three points closer to the T1 title. With Bangkok United having run through mud for 120 minutes on Wednesday, only to lose their FA Cup semifinal on penalties, it did not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Beetles would be clear favourites.

When the teams were announced, Bangkok United were without the injured Tristan Do, Mika Chunuonsee and Nelson Bonilla, while playmaker Vander Luis started on the bench. The loss of four key players heightened expectations of an away win and an early and well-deserved Bill goal meant all was going according to plan.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

But the introduction of Vander at half-time changed the complexion of the game and gave Bangkok United much better attacking options. The Brazilian equalised from the penalty spot and was instrumental in the hosts’ attacking efforts as they went for the win.

Both sides had chances to take the three points but it was Chiang Rai who ended the match with a greater sense of regret. Having dominated the early stages, they will feel that they should have put the game beyond their opponents before Vander came back to haunt them.

  1. Suphanburi strike pair stun Ratchaburi

Ratchaburi seemed to be continuing to bask in the glory of their midweek FA Cup semifinal win over Buriram United when they were given a rude awakening by Suphanburi on Saturday.

The War Elephant – in desperate relegation trouble – were 2-0 up after just four minutes through goals from Cleiton Silva and Guilherme Dellatorre. The Brazilian duo have struggled to find the scoring touch they need at times but they delivered when it really mattered as time runs out in the battle to stay in T1.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

In what was a bad-tempered clash marred by a waterlogged pitch and player indiscipline, Suphanburi added a late third to ensure that the FA Cup finalists’ feel good factor was punctured and they stayed in with a chance of continuing their stay in T1.

The War Elephant face Chiang Rai United at home on the final day of the season. As things stand, we could see a battle between a team that needs to win to stay up and a team that needs to win to lift the title.

  1. Muang Thong inspire 2020 vision

If you had to name the title favourite for 2020, based on everything we have seen in the second half of the T1 season, it would have to be Muang Thong United. While Port FC have become their bogey side, they have beaten Buriram United, Chiang Rai United and Bangkok United in a run of 10 wins in 13 matches. They are the only side this season to have strung together such an impressive and consistent sequence of results.

They faced a tough match at relegation threatened Sukhothai on Saturday but overcame the loss of the opening goal to lead 2-1. Dang Van Lam then saved John Baggio’s penalty to preserve that lead before Oh Ban-suk’s header made it 3-1. The Kirins then kept out the home side after Jung Myoung-oh’s goal ensured a nervy finale.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

If Alexandre Gama can keep this group of players together and add a couple of signings to enhance the overall quality, Muang Thong should again be in a position to challenge for the title they last won in 2016.

Sukhothai, meanwhile, face three huge matches as they try and secure a fifth season in T1.

  1. Late show saves Swatcats 

When Ibson Melo’s fine volley put Samut Prakan City in front at Nakhon Ratchasima, it looked like the Swatcats were about to blow a huge opportunity to pull four points clear of the relegation zone.

With Sukhothai, Chainat and Chiang Mai all losing, Nakhon Ratchasima had the perfect chance at home to a team that had lost five of its previous seven matches. But a penalty was missed and several opportunities were squandered before the way side struck with just 26 minutes remaining.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

It was a devastating blow but it took just three minutes to equalise before an anxious wait for a second. Leandro Assumpcao’s volley from the edge of the box found its way through several bodies and into the net in the 85th minute and two more goals quickly followed in a late blitz.

With matches against title chasing Port FC and Buriram United followed by clashes with struggling Chainat and Sukhothai, it was absolutely vital that the Swatcats took the three points in this one. New head coach Chalermwut Sa-ngapol now has a bit of breathing space as he attempts to lead the club to safety.

  1. Port get back in the title race 

After a chastening 3-1 home defeat to Buriram United in June, few Port FC fans dared to believe that this would be their year. That loss seemed to puncture burgeoning hopes of a title triumph and a slump in form followed.

But the incredible inconsistency of the top sides in the league has allowed Port to stay in contention even though all has seemed lost at several points.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Sunday’s 2-0 win at Chiang Mai was not achieved with the swagger of potential champions but it ensured that, should they beat Nakhon Ratchasima at home on Friday, they will be just two points off top spot with three matches to play – one of them at current leaders Buriram.

A thrilling end to a chaotic season is in store. The T1 champions will emerge as the best of an average bunch with no side managing to look consistently good throughout the year.

Chiang Rai Utd set to gain from Bangkok United pain

Chiang Rai United have a great opportunity to consolidate their position at the top of the Thai League (T1) when they face demoralised Bangkok United on Matchday 27.

The fixture in Bangkok looked like the trickiest of the Beetles’ run-in, but Bangkok United’s gut-wrenching FA Cup final defeat to Port FC on penalties on Wednesday will surely boost the league leaders’ chances.

In the relegation zone, Suphanburi need to defeat buoyant Ratchaburi to keep their survival hopes alive, while Sukhothai can pull away from Chainat again if they beat Muang Thong Utd while their rivals lose at Buriram United.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 27.

  1. Chiang Rai’s perfect chance to stay ahead 

When Chiang Rai took over at the top of T1 last week, it looked like the lead might last just one week, with the Beetles set to travel for a tough match at Bangkok United, while second-placed Buriram United hosted relegation candidates Chainat.

FA Cup defeats for both Bangkok United and Buriram in midweek completely change the dynamic and Chiang Rai are now clear favourites to win against a team that have nothing but pride left to play for after a dismal campaign.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Many people’s favourites for the title at the beginning of the year, Bangkok United now have a fight to finish in the Top Five. In Wednesday’s match against Port FC, the absence of top scorer Nelson Bonilla was keenly felt as they struggled in the final third.

For a team that has become accustomed to near misses, this was yet another devastating result to digest and Chiang Rai may well exploit the dark mood at the club by earning the win they need to keep them ahead of Buriram.

  1. Suphanburi running out of time 

In contrast to Chiang Rai, Suphanburi are facing a side high on confidence as Ratchaburi stunned Buriram on Wednesday to reach the FA Cup final. For completely different reasons, this may work in the War Elephant’s favour as the Dragons’ focus switches to the end-of-season showpiece.

Last weekend’s loss at PTT Rayong was another damaging result and only a victory will do here if Suphanburi are to maintain their place in T1 for an eighth year.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

Ratchaburi will be basking in the glory of their cup victory and, with T1 survival almost certain, they may rest some key players to keep them fresh ahead of a more important challenge.

In what has been a desperately disappointing season for Suphanburi’s star striker Cleiton Silva, it is perhaps time for the Brazilian to step up and prove that he is not a spent force.

  1. Sukhothai hopes rest on Baggio 

Things might have been looking different for Sukhothai had John Baggio not been suspended for last week’s defeat at Chainat. Instead of pulling six points clear of the Hornbills, Sukhothai ended the weekend a place above the relegation zone on goal difference only.

The energy and skill of Baggio has made him a handful for T1 defences for the past four years and he is the main reason why the Firebats remain in the top tier. He may not be a prolific scorer but his all-round game makes him a menace to any opposition.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

But Baggio will need all of his teammates to be at their best as they host a Muang Thong United side that is buzzing after their convincing victory over Buriram last week. Alexandre Gama has made such an impact at the club that they can still finish in the top three despite winning just three of their first 14 games of the season.

Muang Thong’s 10 defeats have been costly and they have lost three more matches than Sukhothai. But Sukhothai’s 15 draws have prevented them from reaching a safe position.

Firebats head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok started the season very poorly at Muang Thong and quit after just five T1 games. He will hope to finish strongly and keep Sukhothai up, just as he managed to help Suphanburi beat the drop last year.

  1. Buriram must stop the rot

It has been one of the worst weeks in Buriram United’s short history. Last weekend saw them humiliated at bitter rivals Muang Thong United – a defeat that was to cost them top spot in the league. On Wednesday, Ratchaburi pulled off a big upset as they defeated the T1 champions in the FA Cup semifinal.

Despite being below par all year, Buriram can still win two trophies but they may have to string together four T1 wins for the first time this season to retain their league title. Chainat are Sunday’s visitors and they will be fighting to climb out of the relegation zone.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The Hornbills won the reverse fixture and should not be overawed by a team that has lost much of its ability to intimidate. With Buriram centre-back Andres Tunez suspended, Chainat will target the centre of an unusually vulnerable defence.

Buriram will have to rely on their formidable attacking talents to get them back on track and to keep them breathing down Chiang Rai’s necks.

Gama torments Buriram again as Chiang Rai go top

Alexandre Gama was once again a thorn in the side of his former club Buriram United as Muang Thong United convincingly beat the champions 3-1.

Since being dismissed by Buriram, Gama has come back to haunt his old employers several times – first with Chiang Rai United and now with Muang Thong.

Chiang Rai took advantage of Buriram’s slip-up and beat Trat to go top of the league, while there were some big results at the other end of the table.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 26.

  1. Gama outwits Buriram once again 

Muang Thong fans will be wondering about what might have been after watching their team dismantle Buriram to make it nine wins in 13 T1 matches for Gama. In a season in which the leaders have consistently had a win percentage of around just 50 per cent, a 69 per cent winning record suggests that the Kirins may have been better off pursuing the Brazilian instead of Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok in the close season, and that he would also have been a better option than Yoon Jong-hwan, who replaced Pairoj.

A disastrous start to year meant that Gama’s main goal was to lift Muang Thong out of relegation trouble but he has done so much more than the bare minimum.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

On Saturday, he showed again that he had the measure of Buriram in terms of his tactics and the commitment of his team to performing their tasks. Many of the players who floundered under Pairoj and Yoon have thrived under Gama, while the mid-season signings of Bruno Gallo and Derley were inspired.

Despite winning a domestic treble in 2015, Gama was sacked by Buriram just months into the 2016 campaign following a dreadful AFC Champions League (ACL) performance and a poor start to the T1 season. Bozidar Bandovic may have led Buriram to consecutive titles and a place in the last 16 of the ACL but he will know that a failure to lift the T1 title this year may well spell the end of his tenure.

Footage of Bandovic’s angry post-match rant at his players in the dressing room was curiously released and Gama will surely sympathise, having been unceremoniously shown the door by the club where sustained success is a requirement.

  1. Chiang Rai go top after late drama

Buriram United’s defeat had left the door open for Chiang Rai United to take over top spot, with the Beetles sitting just a point off the lead going into Sunday’s match at home to Trat. But the hosts would not be taking the visitors lightly, having been soundly beaten by them earlier in the season – a match in which they were 3-0 down by half-time.

Chiang Rai had already survived a few scares when Phitiwat Sukjithammakul put them ahead with a stunning strike in the 41st minute. But T1 top scorer Lonsana Doumbouya levelled with a looping header in the 72nd minute and it looked the like the Beetles might blow their big chance.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Two goals in the final 10 minutes from Piyaphon Phanichakul and Akarin Sawasdee ensured that Chiang Rai finished the job and ended Matchday 26 two points above Buriram.

The Beetles now have their fate in their own hands and can complete an unlikely title win if they can match or beat Buriram’s finish to the season. The biggest obstacle may come next weekend with a trip to Bangkok United. The Bangkok Angels may be out of the title race but they will be out to prove they have the quality to beat anyone on their day and make it two wins from two against Chiang Rai.

  1. Babalj keeps Chainat hopes alive

A defeat at home to Sukhothai was unthinkable for Chainat. The Hornbills were sitting three points behind their opponents and a defeat and a six-point gap would have sent them further towards T2.

It was a good time for Eli Babalj to finally make an impact as his header proved the difference between the two sides. While Chainat remain in the relegation zone, they are behind the Firebats on goal difference only and Nakhon Ratchasima are just a point above them.

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Photo credit: Chainat Hornbill FC

It was a good time for Chainat to face Sukhothai – whose talisman John Baggio was suspended – and it was the perfect time for Australian Babalj to net his first T1 goal. There was further good news for the Hornbills as other relegation rivals Suphanburi and Chiang Mai both lost.

Teams from 11th spot and above look relatively safe so there is going to be a huge scrap between the bottom five – separated by just four points – in the final few games of the season.