Samut Prakan aim to prove they have what it takes as Buriram come calling

Samut Prakan City face the ultimate test of their title credentials when they host champions Buriram United on Thai League (T1) Matchday 20.

The two clubs are in joint top spot – something no one could have predicted as we edge towards the final third of the season.

New head coach Choketawee Promrut will aim to get Port FC moving back in the right direction when they welcome Sukhothai to the PAT Stadium and there will be an interesting Lanna derby between two sides that have uncomfortably close links.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 20.

  1. Samut Prakan’s chance to shine

When Samut Prakan City suffered a 3-0 loss at home to PTT Rayong two weeks ago, it felt like it may be the beginning of the end of their unlikely title challenge. No one had expected the newly formed club to perform at the same level as the top T1 side’s for so long and it wasn’t unreasonable to anticipate a dip in form.

But they bounced straight back with a 2-1 victory at Sukhothai, proving to the doubters that they will not be shaken off that easily. Now, they face another huge test of character when Buriram visit.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

The champions have been lacklustre all year and have only rarely shown the intensity that is usually associated with the team that has dominated Thai football for the best part of a decade. When they went to Bangkok and put then-leaders Port FC in their place with a dominant performance six weeks ago, it felt like a turning point.

However, Buriram soon slipped back into mediocrity, with only the shared mediocrity of their immediate challengers keeping them top. On Saturday, they again have the opportunity to swat aside an upstart. They will have been lifted by the midweek League Cup victory at Bangkok United, though such a grueling 120-minute tie will also have caused fatigue.

Samut Prakan have generally been a tight unit all year and the home defeat to an in-form PTT Rayong looks the exception rather than a sign of things to come. It’s a tough one to call and whatever the result, both sides will remain in title contention after the final whistle.

  1. Decisions, decisions ahead of Lanna derby.

Do you try and save a relegation-threatened side or try and keep a club’s T1 title bid alive? These are the questions facing the club directors at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai United, ahead of the season’s second northern derby.

The two clubs already enjoyed a close relationship before Chiang Mai’s recent move to share a stadium when theirs closed for renovations. Now, with many Chiang Rai players on loan at the Lanna Tigers, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other apart from their shirt colours and their positions in the table.

A sign of priorities was perhaps seen when Chiang Rai recalled Ekanit Panya from his loan spell, depriving Chiang Mai of one of their top players. Ekanit went on to score the winning goal in his club’s midweek League Cup victory at BG Pathum United.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Mai sit joint bottom, while Chiang Rai are just two points off the top spot and this game will go a long way to determining the fates of both clubs. A defeat for Chiang Mai could see them slip as much as six points from safety, while defeat for Chiang Rai may result in them dropping five points off the T1 leaders.

The presumed unavailability of the players Chiang Mai have borrowed from the Beetles automatically weakens them, so a home win seems the more likely outcome. However, do the clubs’ sponsors want to see both these clubs in the top division next season?

  1. Can Choketawee turn it around for Port?

After Port FC’s fading title hopes were dealt yet another blow with defeat at PTT Rayong last weekend, time was called on Jadet Meelarp’s reign as head coach. Form over the past two months has been that of a side headed for relegation but Port remain just five points behind leaders Buriram United.

Jadet’s successor Choketawee Promrut now has the opportunity to start afresh and make a renewed push for the T1 title, starting with a home match against struggling Sukhothai on Sunday.

The new man in charge is not an inspiring appointment given his lack of success at club level. His most notable achievement as a coach is winning SEA Games gold for Thailand U23s in 2015, but he has failed to impress anywhere since.

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Photo credit: Port FC

He was recently assistant to Thailand’s interim head coach Sirisak Yodyardthai with the Thai national side, but things didn’t end well after poor performances at the Kings Cup in May.

At 44 years old, this is a huge opportunity for Choketawee as he takes charge of one of T1’s most talented squads. If he gets things right, he may well be at the start of a very rewarding career. If not, he might just join the well-established Thai coach merry-go-round. This may ensure he is rarely out of work, but also that he achieves little of note.

The first assignment is to inflict another damaging defeat on Sukhothai but the Fire Bats are unlikely to make it easy as they battle for survival.

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