Buriram United head coach Bozidar Bandovic hailed the work ethic and mental strength of his players after they clinched the club’s fifth Thai League (T1) title in six years with a 2-0 win at home to Police Tero.
The Thunder Castle are champions again with three games to spare and can now turn their attention to a league and FA Cup double as they get set to face Sisaket in the cup semifinal on Wednesday.
Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 31.
- Dominant Buriram still the best
At the beginning of the season, it did not appear that Buriram United had made any significant changes to strengthen an ageing squad.
But the players that remained were more than good enough to continue their dominance in Thai football and stage a stirring run to the last 16 of the AFC Champions League (ACL).
The emergence of some young players was complemented by a core group of very experienced players to create the perfect balance. Eight of those who started Saturday’s match were 30 or over but they were joined on the pitch by 20-year-old midfielder Ratthanakorn Maikami and 19-year-old attacker Supachai Jaided.
22-year-old wing-back Sasalak Haiprakhon and 20-year-old attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat have also made important contributions this year.
Photo Credit: Buriram United
Saturday’s goals came from 31-year-old talisman Diogo Luis Santo and 30-year-old Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri but there is no doubt that age has only been a number for a side that has managed a congested fixture list with a small squad high on quality.
“We are champions because we work very, very hard,” Bandovic told ThaiFootie.com. “The team was good tactically and even the young players are now coaches on the field.
“We are ready to run and sprint in the first and last 10 minutes of a game. We had many games in the ACL and T1 at the same time.
“We showed how one Thai team can compete against big teams from Korea, China and Japan tactically and physically.
“What we did last year, we wanted the same in 2018. We build a team step by step to have a winning mentality.
“We have experienced players with strong characters, both Thai and foreign, and they are leaders, so the young players will be the same in future. The players believe in and trust my work and I always believe in them.”
While there will be the usual evaluation of playing resources ahead of the 2019 campaign, Bandovic believes continuity will be key to more success.
“We are a big team and our targets are big,” he said. “We have team that is ready but we will take players in some positions so we can maintain the level as the last two years.
“Most of our young players are around 20 years old but now have more experience and have already won two championships.”
- Sintaweechai shines in Suphanburi win
Thailand head coach Milovan Rajevac must be tempted to try and coax Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool out of international retirement after watching the goalkeeper’s display in Suphanburi’s 2-0 win at Port FC on Saturday.
Sintaweechai has been given a testimonial against Trinidad & Tobago in October to say his farewells to the Thailand fans after 78 caps. However, with Kawin Thamsatchanan unavailable for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup, the War Elephants could really use the 36-year-old in the squad.
Against Port, he pulled off a stunning triple save and then brilliantly clawed away a powerful deflected Dragan Boskovic effort to ensure the match remained goalless at half-time.
Suphanburi made the most of their goalkeeper’s heroics as second-half strikes from Cleiton Silva and Chananan Pombuppha earned them a vital three points in their fight against relegation.
- Chainat’s perfect timing
Chainat had gone eight games without a victory before hosting Muang Thong United on Saturday, allowing several teams to catch and overtake them as the relegation battle heated up.
Adding a ninth match to that sorry statistic could have been fatal and it looked like it might be when former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle blazed over from the penalty spot. At that stage, there were just over 10 minutes remaining and the visitors were one up through Sarach Yooyen’s first-half strike.
But the Hornbills were not ready to give up their T1 status and Santipap Ratniyom fired home in the 82ndminute before Parinya Utapao’s last-minute header sparked wild celebrations.
Due to results elsewhere, Chainat remain in the relegation zone but their survival prospects look considerably better after breaking their winless run.
- More late Dragons drama
Death, taxes and late goals in a Ratchaburi game. The Dragons were 1-0 down with 16 minutes remaining at Pattaya United when Joel Sami levelled Picha U-Tra’s first-half opener.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Sami was then sent off four minutes later and Pattaya retook the lead through a bizarre ricochet off Lukian in the 87thminute. But Ratchaburi refused to give up and Kang Soo-il’s 89th-minute header rescued what may be a crucial point.
In their last three games, six goals have been scored in the final 10 minutes, with goals in the final minute or added time having an impact on the result in all three.
The Dragons have taken four points from their last two games when it would have been just one without the late drama.
- Bonilla hat-trick boosts Sukhothai survival bid
Nelson Bonilla’s hat-trick kept Sukhothai out of the relegation zone as the Firebats won 3-2 at Bangkok United on Sunday.
Mano Polking’s side had secured second place and a spot in the 2019 ACL qualifiers as a result of Muang Thong United’s defeat on Saturday. And the Brazilian used the opportunity to give some fringe players a runout with nothing at stake but pride.
Bonilla took advantage by netting his seventh goal in four games to hand his side all three points and stay a point clear of Chainat. The visitors withstood a testing second half as goals from Pokklaw Anan and Teerathep Winothai kept the hosts in the match.
The Firebats host Muang Thong next week as they continue their fight to stay in T1.