Bonilla strike gives Bangkok United lift-off as Muang Thong fire blanks again

Nelson Bonilla was the hero for Bangkok United as his second-half strike earned them their first ever home win over Muang Thong United and finally got their Thai League (T1) season moving in the right direction.

Bangkok United fans had seen optimism somewhat punctured by a 5-1 humbling in a pre-season friendly against Consadole Sapporo, a 1-0 defeat at home to Hanoi FC in the AFC Champions League qualifier and a scrappy performance in the 1-1 draw at Sukhothai last weekend.

But Saturday’s 1-0 victory has completely transformed the mood and Mano Polking’s side now look in a much better position to mount a bid for the title.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday Two.

  1. Bonilla delivers when it matters most 

In a group of strong new recruits, Nelson Bonilla stood out as the Bangkok United player who might make the biggest difference. After a prolific season at struggling Sukhothai in 2018, the El Salvador striker looked the perfect player to address the profligacy in front of goal that hindered the Bangkok Angels last year.

The 28-year-old failed the find the net on his first two competitive appearances but Saturday’s winning goal represents exactly why he is so highly rated. With the game becoming increasingly tense just after the hour mark, he threw himself at Vander Luiz’s cross to head home.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The home defence absorbed some pressure in the closing stages and were relieved when VAR came to the rescue. A foul on Heberty Fernandes initially resulted in a penalty award, but the referee was informed that the offence had taken place just outside the box and a free-kick was given instead.

The old profligacy was back when a couple of opportunities to kill the game off were squandered in added time but Bangkok United were just relieved to get the three points on the board and rid themselves of the psychological barrier that Muang Thong have often presented.

Muang Thong United, with Teerasil Dangda, Heberty and Adisak Kraisorn in the side, are goalless and pointless after two matches, with new head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok now in desperate need of a victory at home to Chiang Mai next Saturday.

  1. Buriram draw a blank

Two points in the first two games is not the tally the reigning champions were hoping for but Buriram United’s goalless draw at Suphanburi sees them four points off top spot. The bonus for them is that the sides sharing first place are unlikely to maintain a challenge to take their title but these are slightly worrying times for Bozidar Bandovic’s men.

This was a chance to repair the damage done by letting a winning position slip against Chonburi’s 10 men last weekend but Buriram failed to break down a Suphanburi defence that gives little away. Buriram now travel to Japan for Wednesday’s AFC Champions League opener at Urawa Reds a little low on confidence.

Suphanburi, meanwhile, have to work out how to get their strikers into the game. Cleiton Silva and Jonatan Reis were again seen dropping deep in an attempt to get involved due a lack of service in the danger areas. The War Elephant will be happy to have taken a point against the champions but they need to show much more in attack if they are to improve on last year’s performance.

  1. City slickers see off Sharks

Samut Prakan City made it six points out of six as Ibson Melo’s double earned them a 2-0 win at Chonburi. The newly-formed club is clearly benefiting from the continuity provided by the core of the Pattaya United squad, while new signings like centre-back Aris Zarifovic and Ibson are making positive contributions.

It is clear that the upheaval of taking over a club and relocating it under a new name has not yet had an adverse effect.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

However, Chonburi’s promising work in the 2-2 draw at Buriram last weekend was undone by a failure to build on it with what appeared a very winnable home match. The Sharks again kept new striker Patrick Cruz on the bench, while their strongest centre-back Kim Gyeong-min was also a substitute.  Fellow South Korean Park Hyun-beom was not even in the squad.

Chonburi appeared to be putting together a more formidable team unit than last year but on the basis of Saturday’s performance, much work is yet to be done to have them develop the consistency that was sorely missing in 2018.

  1. No sign of second-season syndrome for Prachuap

 Promoted sides who do surprisingly well in their first season in the top tier often struggle in their second year. Nakhon Ratchasima made a strong start to life in the top flight with an 8th-place finish in 2015 before dropping three places and 14 points in 2016. Sukhothai were the surprise package as they finished 7thin 2016 but they dropped to 15thspot the following year.

Ubon UMT United were the top performing promoted side with a 10thplace finish in 2017 but they were relegated in 17thplace last year.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Prachuap’s outstanding performance in 2018 saw them end the season in sixth place, picking up some stunning results on the way, most notably the 6-1 victory over Muang Thong United. But, having lost their two top strikers – Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya – it seemed reasonable to suggest that they might follow fellow promoted clubs in having a tough second season.

It certainly hasn’t worked out that way so far. They followed up last week’s 1-0 win at Muang Thong with a 2-0 victory at home to PTT Rayong, as Matheus Alves’ penalty got him off the mark and Caion added a second. Two wins and two team sheets represent an excellent start and a strong indication that they may on their way to bucking the trend.

  1. VAR controversy mars Port victory

Ratchaburi Director of Football Robert Procureur cried foul after Port FC sealed a 1-0 win over the Dragons at the PAT Stadium. Dragan Boskovic’s second-half penalty settled the match, but Procureur was furious at the award of the spot-kick after a VAR call.

Ratchaburi had a claim turned out after the referee had looked at the replay in the first half, but only having bowed to pressure from the away bench. When Port’s claim arrived, play continued for some time and even after the ball had gone out and come back into play. With the home fans chanting ‘VAR’, the referee eventually opted to have a look and awarded the penalty for handball against Philip Roller.

In the aftermath, Procureur claimed that Yannick Boli was kicked in the head by a Port player. However, like a nightclub bouncer who has no interest in knowing the aggressor and victim in a fight, the referee booked both Boli and Sumanya Purisai when it seemed apparent the cards were for involvement and no known offences.

It was an evenly matched game with both sides fully committed, but yet another botched use of VAR left a sour taste. The referee has very little control and reviews seem to come from external pressure and not advice from colleagues. The Thai FA should consider suspending its use indefinitely on this evidence.

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