Port FC face a pivotal moment in the Thai League (T1) title race when they host champions Buriram United on Matchday 14.
Port have taken advantage of slow starts to the season from their rivals to lead Buriram by two points and Bangkok United by six.
The outcome of Sunday’s match will give a strong indication of Port’s title credentials going into the second half of the season.
Sunday also sees Alexandre Gama take care of relegation-threatened Muang Thong United for the first time as he attempts to lead a recovery beginning at Chonburi.
Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 14.
- Port’s big day arrives
We have yet to reach the halfway point of the season but Port FC’s clash with Buriram is set to be one of the most important matches of the year.
The side from Bangkok used to revel in their reputation as rough and tough anti-establishment underdogs from the mean streets of Klong Toey. The stadium – having apparently failed to receive any investment despite their recent-found wealth – may be as rough and ready as ever, but they shed the underdog status when moneyed Nualphan ‘Madam Pang’ Lamsam took over the club four years ago.
Her arrival may have been too late to prevent a slide into T2 in 2015 but since they returned to T1 in 2017, there has been significant investment in the playing squad, which culminated in a third-place finish last year. The shrewdest signing has probably been Sergio Suarez, with the former Las Palmas midfielder rescued from the relative obscurity of T2 to play a huge role in Port’s revival.
Photo credit: Port FC
With Tanaboon Kesarat already recruited for the second half of 2019, there is a strong feeling that this could be Port’s year, with a collection of players who have a good blend of youth and experience, and many in their mid-20s.
They will have to do without the services of Go Seul-ki – who is on loan from Buriram – on Sunday and the attacking thrust of injured left-back Kevin Deeromram will be missed.
But Port should have no fears of a Buriram side who took just one point from recent visits to Chainat and Sukhothai. The Thunder Castle may have found their scoring touch with a midweek thrashing of PTT Rayong but Port should see this as an excellent opportunity to prove that their title challenge is the real deal.
- Bangkok United must close the gap
It was Bangkok United rather than Port FC who most people considered as the main contenders to Buriram this year.
After a troubled start to the season, the Bangkok Angels have started to show a bit more consistency and are now unbeaten in five. This recent form has kept them in touch with the league leaders and Sunday gives them the perfect opportunity to close the gap on one or both of their rivals.
Photo credit: Bangkok United
They face an unpredictable Ratchaburi side that possesses some great attacking talent and whose defence has tightened up, conceding just once in the last three games.
But Bangkok United know what victory means with the two main contenders clashing elsewhere. Anything else may suggest that we have a two-horse race on our hands.
- Gama hopes to make it third time lucky
Muang Thong United parted ways with head coach Yoon Kong-hwan in midweek and the widely anticipated arrival of former Buriram and Chiang Rai United boss Alexandre Gama was almost immediately confirmed.
Gama is the Kirins’ third coach of a season that has seen the four-time champions reduced to relegation strugglers. The Brazilian’s time in Thailand has seen great success, with his rugged style at Chiang Rai noted for the cup wins of a side that could rise to the big occasion.
Photo credit: Muang Thong United
Muang Thong must string together some results that have them heading up the table and away from the potentially disastrous consequences of a relegation. Victory at Chonburi on Sunday would be a huge step in the right direction and would see them move just one point behind their old rivals.
Chonburi also have a new head coach in position, though the appointment of Sasom Pobprasert has failed to generate much enthusiasm. Sasom is a veteran of many jobs but his best days at Thai Port were a long time ago.
A Chonburi Vs Muang Thong United clash used to be at a different end of the table but both may already just be looking to get to the end of this season unharmed and start again next year.