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.

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