Muang Thong ready to derail Buriram’s title challenge

Muang Thong United will try and play the role of spoilers in the Thai League (T1) title race when they host leaders Buriram United on Matchday 26.

The Kirins failed to mount a title bid of their own due to a dismal start to the campaign but they have the ability to put a dent in the hopes their rivals on Saturday.

Second-placed Chiang Rai United will aim to keep the pressure on Buriram when they face Trat FC at home, while there is a huge clash between Chainat and Sukhothai in the battle to beat the drop.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 26.

  1. Muang Thong aim to damage Buriram hopes 

A series of defeats in a shambolic start to the 2019 T1 campaign ensured that Muang Thong United would not be serious challengers for their first title since 2016. However, such has been their improvement, they have the best record of any side over the last 15 matches.

Buriram will certainly be wary of a team that can beat anyone on their day and who have twice beaten Chiang Rai this year. Former Buriram boss Alexandre Gama is now in charge at the Kirins and he certainly knew how to get the better of the champions during his two seasons at Chiang Rai.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Muang Thong were impressive in their recent 4-1 win over Suphanburi as Derley underlined his quality with a brace. Meanwhile, Buriram continue to blow hot and cold as they seek to tie up a sixth title win in seven years.

Kirins fans would love to see their team lay down a marker for next year and they would undoubtedly be happy for a victory to derail their rivals’ bid to win the 2019 title. Attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat may be the key man for the visitors as he attempts to recreate his heroics for the national team in midweek.

  1. Chiang Rai’s chance to keep up the pressure 

With Buriram facing a tough fixture at Muang Thong, Chiang Rai United must make the most of an opportunity to keep within a point of the T1 leaders or even overtake them when they host Trat.

The visitors look to have accrued enough points to secure another season in T1 so the Beetles should be the more motivated of the two sides. Nevertheless, Trat will pose a significant goal threat, having scored more than Chiang Rai this year, thanks mainly to the contributions of T1’s leading scorer Lonsana Doumbouya.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

This is a game in which to get the three points by whatever means as every result has a huge impact on the title race. In a normal season, Chiang Rai’s modest total of 47 points from 25 games would not enable them to challenge for the title but they have a huge opportunity to upset the odds.

Any slip from Buriram combined with a Chiang Rai win would see the side from the north in pole position with just four matches remaining.

  1. Desperate times for Chainat

Four defeats in five games have seen Chainat sink to joint bottom of T1. Sukhothai sit three points above them so the Firebats visit on Sunday promises to have a huge bearing on the outcome of the season for both sides.

Sukhothai are unbeaten in five, though their last four games have been drawn. The Hornbills might have been confident that home advantage would have been key when they were beating the likes of Buriram, Bangkok United and Muang Thong on home turf earlier in the year.

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Photo credit: Chainat FC

However, they have failed to win any of their last three home games and capitulated late in the recent fixture with Samut Prakan City when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

We are likely to see a very tight and tense affair at the Khao Plong Stadium with both teams having everything to lose. Neither side is in winning form, with Sukhothai having taken just one win from the last 10 matches and Chainat just one from eight. It will be interesting to see if either can rediscover that winning feeling in one of their biggest games of the year.

  1. Life after Joksic begins with a tough test 

Milos Joksic’s four-year reign as Nakhon Ratchasima head coach ended following a humiliating defeat at Chiang Mai. Veteran Chalermwut Sa-ngapol takes over and tries to steer the club to safety as they sit just three points above the relegation zone.

With just one win in 11 T1 games, Chalermwut faces a formidable challenge as he tries to lift morale and it doesn’t get much more difficult than a trip to Port FC. The Klong Toey side may have seen their title hopes disappear with a defeat at Bangkok United last time out but they remain in third spot – 15 points ahead of the struggling Swatcats.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

60-year-old Chalermwut’s recent record will not inspire confidence among the Nakhon Ratchasima faithful but the club will be hoping that he can use his experience to make a quick and crucial impact in the final five matches of the season.

On a weekend on which relegation rivals Sukhothai and Chainat meet, the Swatcats will be happy with a point in this one and they would be absolutely delighted with three.

Thais must find cutting edge to win in Indonesia

Thailand’s disappointing draw on Matchday One of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign makes it vital that they respond by winning in Indonesia on Tuesday.

The War Elephants’ blunt attack cost them a chance of victory at home to a physical Vietnam side in Thursday’s bruising encounter.

They must now find the way to goal to avoid slipping behind several Group G rivals. Here are three things to look out for in Indonesia Vs Thailand.

  1. The striking problem 

Teerasil Dangda has had to wear the crown of Thailand’s leading striker for over a decade. Now with his powers fading, his successor has yet to become apparent.

Injury prevented Teerasil from playing on Thursday and head coach Akira Nishino decided to start without a recognised striker. Supachai Jaided’s physicality looked like he may have been an option as lone striker but Nishino was not convinced despite having several attacking midfielders to play off him.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

The result, of course, was a failure to score and this may force Nishino to reconsider his options. He was unlucky that he could not call upon Teerasil or even Buriram prodigy Suphanat Mueanta who, at 17, looks most likely to end a long wait and become a worthy successor to Teerasil.

However, Nishino witnessed just how, for all of their possession, Thailand were generally unable to penetrate the Vietnamese backline and create opportunities. The starting XI had scored just 23 international goals between them – 20 fewer than Teerasil’s personal haul. Supachai – who has scored four times in 15 matches – must be in Nishino’s thoughts as he considers how to get the better of an Indonesia team that conceded three goals against Malaysia on Thursday.

  1. Replacing Thitipan

After Chanathip Songkrasin, Thitipan Puangchan has arguably been Thailand’s most consistent performer over the last two years. His injury rules him out of this match and Nishino will be forced into a change.

Peeradol Chamratsamee’s injury robs him of one potential replacement and Patcharapol Intanee has been drafted in to plug the hole. It is difficult to identify a direct replacement for Thitipan’s skill set but it is disappointing that two of the players of the Thai League season – Bodin Phala and Sasalak Haiprakhon did not get a look-in last week.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Sasalak offers similar energy to Thitipan and could play wide, assuming Nishino sticks with the three central midfielders that started against Vietnam. Bodin provides pace, directness and a goal threat from distance that few others in the squad possess.

Nishino will be unlikely to tinker too much with a formation that managed to more than match a good Vietnam side. However, Thitipan’s absence gives him an unwelcome headache as he seeks to put together a midfield that will dominate possession and create chances.

  1. A time for cool heads

As Malaysia found out on Thursday, the atmosphere in Jakarta can be hostile. Unfortunately, in a country which has a severe hooliganism problem, some fans overstepped the mark and attacked away supporters, forcing the referee to stop the game until order was restored.

The visitors gave their answers on the pitch and struck in added time to win 3-2. It is vital that Thailand do the same and do not react to the crowd or physical challenges from their opponents.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Thursday’s match against Vietnam was often played on the edge of the rules and a couple of Thai players got away with tackles that might have been severely punished by another referee.

The War Elephants must play with controlled aggression and not allow themselves to be drawn into a confrontational clash that tests their discipline. After their loss on Matchday One, the Indonesians will be desperate for the win but Thailand have the better players and must manage the conditions and prove their superiority on the pitch.

Reports of slow ticket sales suggest that the Indonesians may not be able to generate a large home support and this may work in Thailand’s favour.

Thailand’s Nishino looks to find winning formula in tough Vietnam debut

Thailand’s new head coach faces a tough test in his first game in charge as the War Elephants host Vietnam in a 2022 World Cup Group G qualifier on Thursday.

The second round begins with a repeat of the fixture that the Thais dominated in the 2018 campaign. But much has changed in four years, with Vietnam and Thailand now looking very evenly matched.

The Golden Stars have their own golden generation and will be confident of taking something in Thailand, having won 1-0 in the recent King’s Cup match in Buriram.

Here are three things to look out for as Nishino tries to work out the best formation for the playing resources at his disposal

  1. Muddle over men at the back

Thailand reverted to a 3-5-1-1 formation following the departure of Milovan Rajevac, who had favoured 4-2-3-1. Having three at the back allowed Thailand to use the attacking instincts of Theerathon Bunmathan and Tristan Do in the wide areas.

Central defensive options are, as usual, limited. Pansa Hemviboon is likely to start, while Adisorn Promrak’s experience may see him get the nod despite often failing to start for his club Muang Thong United this year.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Manuel Bihr and Shinnaphat Lee-oh are other options if they go for three in the centre but Bihr has been capped just four times while Shinnaphat is still uncapped. You have to assume that Do and Theerathon will be first choices but who makes up the central area is up for debate.

Shoddy Thailand defending and sometimes goalkeeping have seen Thailand fail to compete with Asia’s best so Nishino’s selections in this area will be absolutely vital. The country is not spoiled for defensive talent so organisation and tactics will have to be spot-on.

  1. Form or favour for middle men?

 Since 2014, Tanaboon Kesarat has been a first-choice pick for Thailand, either as a defensive midfielder or centre-back. He has already earned 47 caps at the age of just 25 but could it be time for him to take a step back to recover the form that he has never really shown since suffering a serious injury in 2017?

He has always been unconvincing at centre-back and recent performances at the heart of the Thai midfield have been unimpressive. Peeradol Chamratsamee would surely be a better choice alongside Thitiphan Puangchan at the base of the midfield.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

Further forward, Chanathip Songkrasin will be the main man as he is given freedom to run the Vietnam defence ragged. There will have to be players in there to protect him as the Consadole Sapporo playmaker will surely be targeted by a physical Vietnam side.

It would be good to see Bodin Phala given a chance and Sasalak Haiprakhon’s consistency should also make him a strong contender for place in any three-man attacking midfield. Sasalak alternates between wing-back and centre-midifeld for Buriram United but would certainly have the right qualities to play in a more advanced role.

Thailand are spoiled for choice when it comes to the more offensive midfield roles so a balance between guile and grit is vital.

  1. Supachai’s time to shine

It was thought that 2019 would be the year in which Supachai Jaided really established himself as the next big thing in Thai football. 2018 had been a breakthrough year both at club and international level and his goal in the 2019 Asian Cup Round of 16 match against China was evidence of his ability to deliver under pressure.

However, it has been a patchy season in the Thai League for the 20-year-old. While he rarely plays in his preferred role as an out-and-out striker, just two league goals is a poor return for an attacking player. He has been usurped by Buriram United’s child prodigy Suphanat Mueanta who, at 17, has netted seven times in the league and also notched a goal in the AFC Champions League.

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Photo credit: Changsuek

With Teerasil Dangda injured and Adisak Kraisorn unable to get a game for Muang Thong, Supachai is the only recognized striker in the Thailand squad and even he often plays elsewhere for his club.

It is a problem area for Nishino but it seems that Supachai has been identified as the man to lead the line and pose a physical threat. If he can recapture the confidence he had last year, he could make a big impact. He will, however, have to keep the head. Vietnam players may target his suspect temperament having seen him sent off for violent conduct against their U23 side earlier this year.

 

 

Port FC aiming to lay Bangkok United bogey to rest

Port FC must overcome bogey team Bangkok United if they are to maintain their Thai League (T1) challenge on Matchday 25.

The Bangkok Angels have consistently got the better of matches between the two sides but this looks the perfect time to change that pattern.

Buriram United have a great opportunity to consolidate their lead at the top with a match at home to Sukhothai, while it may be last-chance saloon for Chiang Mai.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 25.

  1. Port’s big chance to put Bangkok United to the sword

With Bangkok United’s morale at rock bottom, while Port FC are on a roll, Saturday’s match at the True Stadium seems the ideal time for Port to earn a long-awaited victory over the Bangkok Angels.

The last time they triumphed in this fixture in the league was back in 2010. May’s bad-tempered 1-1 draw at the PAT Stadium at least put an end to a six-match losing streak against Mano Polking’s side. But Port had come into that game on the back of five consecutive wins, while Bangkok United had won just two in seven.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Following that match, Port won just won of their next eight matches, while Bangkok United went on a four-match winning streak – their best of the season.

With Port having moved five points clear of this weekend’s opponents, they still have an outside chance of the title, while Bangkok United are now out of the running. To prove they have the required mental strength to challenge Buriram, this is a chance for Choketawee Promrut’s side to send the message that they won’t be shaken off in their pursuit.

However, Polking has an unbeaten record against Port and he will want to preserve that as he attempts to rebuild confidence ahead of an FA Cup semi-final against the same side. But Bangkok United’s injured top scorer Nelson Bonilla looks set to miss out yet again.

  1. Buriram aim to hammer home advantage 

It is a year that has seen Buriram’s worst performance in T1 since a woeful 2016 campaign saw them finish fourth. That season was cut short by four matches, meaning Buriram took 55 points from 30 games.

With T1 having moved to a 30-match schedule, the maximum Buriram can rack up this year is 65 points. It is far from the dominance of 2017, when they dropped just 16 points, or 2018, when they dropped just 15. In 2019 to date, Buriram have let slip 24 points in 10 fewer games but somehow find themselves with a three-point lead at the top of the table.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The champions’ young talent came to the fore last weekend as Suphanat Mueanta, Supachok Sarachat and Rattanakorn Maikami all found the net in a 6-0 rout of Ratchaburi. They now look well set for a sixth title in seven years, with Sukhothai heading for the Chang Arena looking slightly like lambs to the slaughter.

The Firebats sit just two points above the relegation zone and they may look at this fixture as mission impossible with more winnable matches to come. Nevertheless, Buriram have shown unusual vulnerability and inconsistency this season, while Sukhothai can take heart from a battling draw at Chiang Rai last weekend.

The odds are certainly in Buriram United’s favour but Sukhothai are unbeaten in four and may not roll over in the fashion of last week’s hapless visiting team.

  1. Crunch time for Chiang Mai and Swatcats 

Chiang Mai’s home support dipped below 1,000 fans last weekend as the folly of a mid-season move to Chiang Rai was laid bare. A club that generally cannot buy its own players and play in its own city does not seem to have a place in any league, never mind T1.

Chiang Mai’s farcical dependence on Chiang Rai United for loan players hit them hard when their ‘big brother’ recalled Ekanit Panya and robbed them of one of their most inspirational talents. The Beetles understandably put their T1 title challenge ahead of the Lanna Tigers’ survival bid and Chiang Mai are in serious trouble.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

They have done well to stay in with a chance of survival for so long but time is running out and they are five points from safety. Nakhon Ratchasima may seem the ideal visitors at this time as they have just one win in 10 matches and need points to ensure their own safety.

Should the Swatcats manage to take the three points, Chiang Mai can surely start planning for life in T2. However, Chiang Mai have repeatedly shown that they won’t give up without a fight and it would be no great surprise to see them live to fight another day.

  1. Ratchaburi looking for more Langil magic 

Ratchaburi’s mercurial playmaker Steeven Langil signed a one-year contract extension this week and, having missed the last couple of matches through injury, the Dragons will hope to have him fit and ready torment Chainat again.

Earlier in the year, the Frenchman turned on the style as Ratchaburi destroyed the Hornbills 3-0 away from home. Now five points above Dennis Amato’s side, they can ease any lingering relegation worries by defeating the same opponents at home on Saturday.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Ratchaburi may have been wounded by a 6-0 loss at Buriram last week but Chainat’s 3-2 defeat at home to Samut Prakan City was arguably more damaging. The Hornbills threw away a desperately needed three points by blowing a 2-1 lead late in the game.

This sets the scene for an intriguing match and all eyes will be on the influence of Langil, who has impressed in his first season in Thailand.

Suphanburi seek killer touch while rejuvenated Port target title again

Suphanburi aim to make it eight games without defeat when they host title challengers Port FC on Thai League (T1) Matchday 24.

The War Elephant remain in the relegation zone despite having racked up a seven-game unbeaten streak and they desperately need to start converting draws into wins if they are to stay in T1.

Nakhon Ratchasima face a huge test at Chonburi with head coach Milos Joksic under fire from fans, while Prachuap will hope that their midweek League Cup semifinal win boosts morale for their home clash with Bangkok United.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Suphanburi need wins not draws 

Since Adebayo Gbadebo took over from struggling head coach Totchtawan Sripan, he has certainly got Suphanburi moving in the right direction again. The defence has conceded just three goals in seven T1 matches – a run that has included draws with Buriram United and Bangkok United.

At the other end of the pitch, however, just five goals have been scored by a blunt attack. Out-of-sorts Cleiton Silva and out-of-shape Guilherme Dellatorre cannot find the form to trouble opposing defences and grab the goals that would lift them to safety.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

This weekend does not look a good time to be facing Port FC who are buoyant after last Sunday’s stirring win over Muang Thong United. Choketawee Promrut’s side are dreaming of a title win again, having emerged from a slump that seemed set to kill off their hopes.

While Suphanburi’s strikers are struggling for goals, Port have been getting by without strikers, though Josimar will surely start after his all-action performance and clinching goal last week.

This match will either send Suphanburi deeper into relegation trouble or put another dent in Port’s title challenge. The momentum is very much with the away side and the War Elephant will have to find a cutting edge to earn the three points they need.

  1. Sharks lie in wait for under fire Milos

Nakhon Ratchasima’s season seems to be fizzling out to the extent that a relegation battle will be looming if the Swatcats lose this one. A single victory in nine T1 matches has seen them go from Top Five contenders to just four points above the relegation zone.

Such is the nature of this year’s compressed T1 table, a win here could take them as high as seventh, while they could slip back to 12th with a defeat. Head coach Milos Joksic has come under heavy criticism from fans for their recent form, with many calling for his head.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

The wisdom of making a change at this crucial stage of the season would certainly be questionable but a Chonburi victory on Saturday would see the campaign to oust him gather further momentum.

Joksic needs a victory to relieve the pressure but Chonburi will be equally keen to take three points as they target a finish in the Top Six.

  1. Prachuap look for a lift after cup boost 

Prachuap FC fans finally had something to cheer in midweek as their relegation threatened club reached the League Cup final after a shock win over holders Chiang Rai United. The Killer Wasps prevailed in a penalty shootout following a match that ended in a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes and a 3-3 tie after extra time.

Prachuap will now hope that the morale boost helps lift their T1 form. They have won just twice in a 17-match spell going back to the beginning of April.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Their opponents on Saturday – Bangkok United – are still clinging to their title hopes but, realistically, a run of seven wins in their last seven matches will be required and even that may not be enough with three clubs above them. They should have a decent chance of three points against a team that went through a 120-minute slog on Wednesday but the Prachuap pitch may not be best suited to their preferred style of football.

It has been a disappointing season for both clubs and they will be desperate to end it on a high. For Prachuap this means T1 survival, while for the Bangkok Angels, a failure to become Thai champions would only be offset by a second-place finish and an FA Cup triumph.

Nongbua’s Holland hopes to stun Buriram in League Cup clash

Nongbua Pitchaya head coach Matt Holland is aiming to put one over on his former employers when the T2 side meet Buriram United in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

In two different spells over a total of three years at the Thai champions, Holland worked as Head of Youth Development, Football Development manager and Technical Director.

However, the 31-year-old Welshman is relishing the opportunity to face some of his old friends and wants to cause a huge upset.

“You want to play against your old clubs, it’s the beauty of football,” said Holland. “I’ve been lucky to have worked for a club like Buriram. Many people want to but never get the chance, so I’m grateful to Khun Newin, Khun Karuna and Khun Tadthep for that, not once, but twice in my career.

“There are still many people there who I know there and still communicate with, so to coach against a team that you know and who, budget-wise, are astronomically different to us, you have a chance to try and show what you can do, to try and boost the players that you’ve got and to put a good performance in.”

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Buriram United come into the game on the back of two tough matches at Trat, edging the FA Cup quarter-final on penalties last week before a late strike earned them a T1 victory at the weekend. The Thunder Castle still have much to do to defend their league title as they sit just a point above Chiang Rai United.

Nongbua, meanwhile, sit mid-table in T2 – safe from relegation but too far off the pace for a promotion bid. Holland has steadied the ship since arriving at the club when they were on a four-match losing streak, and his second game in charge was a 1-0 victory over Ratchaburi in the League Cup Round of 16.

Nongbua beat an under-strength Port FC in the First Round, but Holland feels that Buriram will be fully motivated despite continuing to challenge on three fronts in an extremely congested schedule.

“Of course, we know that Buriram are always fighting on all fronts and they’re always in the latter stages of the competition,” he said.

“I’m sure the whole of Thailand doesn’t expect anything but a Buriram United win, but in these games anything can happen if you prepare well, if you take care of the players properly and if you have the right information.

“Luckily, I have had the benefit of working there for three years, so my understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the squad are valuable. They play with a clear philosophy and identify which has remained similar since I first joined the club so hopefully this information will be helpful for us.”

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As he plots an upset, Holland insists that the has belief in the players he inherited after two changes of head coach since the start of the year.

“In Thailand, the majority of coaches – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully – consistently rely on foreign players to change the game,” said Holland. “They expect foreign players to come up with the goods all the time.

“I work in Thailand with a squad of 25, with just three foreign players. You have to believe in the Thai players. I believe we have strong players in each department. One of them is the captain, Wichitchai Chauyseenual – a terrific player on and off the ball as people may have seen from the last game. Wonderfully balanced, understands the game – how can you not trust players of this quality?”

Holland had not been with Nongbua for a long time when he was hit with the huge blow of losing one his biggest signings of the recent transfer window. Brazilian striker Maranhao had played for Port FC and Sukhothai and after a spell in South Korea didn’t work out, he found himself back in Thailand. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken leg on his debut for the club and is out for the season.

“He (Maranhao) was good in training and looked sharp even though he hadn’t played too much in Korea,” said Holland. “He integrated himself well and he started well. I believe he was going to get a goal against Rayong but was on the end of a horrific tackle which wasn’t even cautioned. It ends up with him breaking his leg, his season is finished and you can’t replace him.

“Sometimes, you just have to get on with it. You have to pick yourself up and deal with whatever the game throws at you but it was disappointing because he would have been a great player for us.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

Bladimir Diaz is a recent addition from Colombia and, despite some challenges in helping him adapt to Thai football, Holland has high hopes for him.

“Diaz came in from a team called Atlas in El Salvador,” he said. “He was top scorer in the league and had spent a number of years there. The integration over the first 7-10 days was a bit complex. He had to learn a little bit how to play with the Thai players as the style was very different but he has done that now. He has made some fantastic relationships with some Thai players in the squad, albeit through Google translate.

“He’s a little bit unorthodox, but he understands the game, and he has a desire to win. I think it will be a matter of time before the shows his real quality in Thailand.”

Another key player is at the other end of the pitch, with Singapore international goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud the man between the sticks. Holland has been impressed with the professionalism of the second Singapore keeper he has worked with – having been assistant head coach at Army United with Hassan Sunny also at the club.

“He is a top goalkeeper,” said Holland. “He prepares himself very well, he looks after himself physically. He’s a top professional and knows what it takes to do the right things. He has made some big saves for us and is important to the team.

“He’s got great feet and is very comfortable on the ball. He’s also very experienced, having played for his national team 40 or 50 times.”

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Photo credit: Nongbua Pitchaya

The choice of venue for such a prestigious fixture has disappointed many. The 72ndAnniversary Stadium is a difficult place to get to at the best of times but in traffic-choked rush hour on a Wednesday evening, the outskirts of Bangkok are a long way from the northeast region that both sides hail from.

“I didn’t really think about the game being played in this region [the northeast], but one thing for sure is that it would have put fans in the stand if it was played around here – possibly at Korat, in a nice big stadium,” said Holland.

“I’m not overly sure if that will be the case in Bangkok. Buriram fans need to travel, our fans need to travel. There are obviously reasons why people that run the cups have decided to play in these stadiums. I personally felt that even in Bangkok, there were one or two better options, but I’m not fully aware of whether or not they were available.”

Whatever the venue, the odds are firmly stacked against Nongbua but if Holland’s inside knowledge of the opponents can be used to good effect, we could just have an upset on our hands.

Resurgent Muang Thong have bitter rivals Port FC in their sights

Muang Thong United can make a huge statement of intent when they visit Port FC on Thai League Matchday 23.

The Kirins have gone from the relegation zone to within two points of the Top Five in less than a month and victory in this fixture would suggest that a wildly unlikely title bid is on.

Leaders Buriram United will hope to maintain at least an eight-point gap between them and Muang Thong with a second match at Trat in four days, while Nakhon Ratchasima can take a significant step towards safety when they host struggling Suphanburi.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 23.

  1. Muang Thong aim to turn tables on Port 

Having lived in the shadow of their bitter rivals for several years, the last three seasons have allowed Port FC fans some welcome opportunities to celebrate at the Kirins’ expense.

They have been beaten just once by Muang Thong since returning to T1 in 2017 and have recorded three memorable T1 victories as well as one in the FA Cup this year.

However, their triumphs have all come at the SCG Stadium – once at an empty stadium and on other occasions without the backing of their own fans due to the ban on away supporters. The two matches at the PAT Stadium in that period have ended with one draw and one defeat.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Having finished below Port in the T1 table in 2018, Muang Thong have an opportunity to reassert themselves with a victory and start to emerge from over 18 months in Port’s shadow.

Form is certainly on the Kirins’ side, having won seven of their last eight T1 games, while Port have won just two league matches in that period. The visitors also have the benefit of a week’s rest, with the hosts having played a cup tie in midweek.

But recent history has shown that the Port Lions tend to raise their game when up against their rivals and Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter-final win over Chiang Rai was a timely boost. An intriguing clash awaits.

  1. Trat plot revenge after cup defeat leaves a sour taste

Not for the first time, a beaten side was left to rue a sub-standard refereeing performance in a match against Buriram United. It is rare to hear fans, players or pundits reflect on a game and say that Buriram were hard-done by, but the opposite is true for many of their opponents.

Trat were 2-0 leading Buriram in their FA Cup quarter-final on Wednesday but the Thai champions managed to level the score before a red card for Trat turned the game in Buriram’s favour. A penalty shootout was still required to separare the sides but Baihakki Khaizan and Adefolarin Durosinmi were two of the players to question the quality and partiality of the referee after the match.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

On Twitter, Durosinmi wrote, “People telling you to get used to bad officiating in the country is mediocrity. Maybe they need to be educated again that the rules doesn’t change because you play against some certain teams”. Khaizan highlighted the selection process by writing “Quarter Final, no FIFA grade referee?”

Four days later, the two sides get to play again at the same location and Trat will be motivated by revenge, while Buriram will be desperate to stay at the top of T1. The hosts will hope for a more positive outcome than on Wednesday but the champions are reaching the business end of the season and they have a good record at getting the right results in these types of matches.

  1. Samut Prakan need to stop the rot

In the space of five games, Samut Prakan City have seen their impressive underdog title challenge blown away by four demoralising defeats – three of them on home soil. Those four losses have seen 15 goals conceded as a previously solid team unit has crumbled.

The injury absences of inspirational skipper Peeradol Chamratsamee and goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai have clearly had an impact, though Peeradol may be back for this one.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

Chiang Rai United visit on Sunday and will pose their usual threat, though it seems a long time since the thrill of destroying champions Buriram United just over a week ago. Last weekend’s fortuitous draw at home to Ratchaburi was followed by a midweek FA Cup defeat at Port FC, so they are also in desperate need of a lift.

The Beetles remain just a point off the top of T1 so victory will keep them in firm contention. Defeat for Samut Prakan could see them fighting to stay in the Top Six, instead of battling to be champions.

  1. Swatcats hoping to keep Suphanburi at a distance 

The classic relegation six-pointer takes place in Nakhon Ratchasima as the Swatcats have the opportunity to put nine points between themselves and Suphanburi, while the War Elephant can move to within three points of their opponents with a game in hand.

Despite a six-game unbeaten run built on a solid defence, Suphanburi need to turn draws into wins if they are to extend their stay in T1. They may have conceded just twice in that six-match sequence but they have scored just four times. They will be missing the suspended Alvaro Silva, who has done so much to shore up the defence since joining in mid-season.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

There have been more goals in games involving Nakhon Ratchasima but they have struggled for consistency and depend strongly on their talented front three for inspiration.

This is a huge opportunity for both sides to make a decisive move, but given recent form, a low scoring or goalless draw would not be a huge surprise.

Chiang Rai United hoping to make the most of their turn at top of T1 table

Chiang Rai United have the perfect opportunity to maintain their position as Thai League (T1) leaders when they host Ratchaburi on Matchday 22.

The Beetles went top of the table in spectacular style by beating champions Buriram United 4-0 on Wednesday and now have their fate in their own hands.

Muang Thong United can continue their surge up the table if the beat Nakhon Ratchasima at home, while Suphanburi will hope to provide further torment for struggling Bangkok United.

Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 22.

  1. Chiang Rai’s big chance 

When millions of baht were invested in Chiang Rai United’s squad in 2017, it seemed a gamble designed to win the T1 title in that year.

They reached two cup finals – winning one – but a fourth-place T1 finish was not what the owners had in mind. Assets were sold off, though there was still enough in the coffers for big-name signing Cleiton Silva.

Chiang Rai managed to lift the two domestic cups in 2018 but finished one place lower in the league with five points fewer than 2017, while Cleiton flopped and was loaned to Suphanburi halfway through the season. When head coach Alexandre Gama left at the end of the 2018 season, things looked ominous, especially when his replacement Jose Borges left before the 2019 domestic season had even begun.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai haven’t performed exceptionally well this year but they have kept pace as the title favourites have fallen well short of expectations. The Beetles will never have a better chance, and Ratchaburi’s visit on Saturday will give an indication of how they handle the pressure of leading from the front.

The recall from loan of 19-year-old playmaker Ekanit Panya has given Chiang Rai an extra dimension and he may provide the flair required to win tight matches in the run-in.

Ratchaburi should be confident after turning around a 2-0 deficit to beat Samut Prakan City on Wednesday but if Chiang Rai really want to lift this title, victories in matches like this are absolutely vital.

  1. Muang Thong aim to close in on rivals Port FC

While the top clubs have recklessly thrown away points week after week, Muang Thong United have surged up the table by taking 19 points from the last seven matches and now sit just six points behind third-placed Port FC, who they meet next week.

If the Kirins can see off the challenge of Nakhon Ratchasima on Saturday, they will go into next week’s showdown with realistic hopes of a Top-Three finish – an unthinkable outcome after a defeat at Chonburi left them in the bottom three six weeks ago.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

The arrival of Alexandre Gama has demonstrated the impact a good coach can have and he has found a way to get Muang Thong’s underperforming squad winning again. Given the implausible twists and turns of a dramatic season, if the Kirins can win every game between now and the end of the season they could yet be the unlikeliest ever T1 champions.

Port FC are back in the title reckoning after a wretched run of form and will hope to keep that up with a win at free falling Prachuap FC. But a defeat could see them reeled in by their bitter rivals when they two sides clash at the PAT Stadium next weekend.

  1. Suphanburi aim to pile on the misery for Bangkok United 

Bangkok United have had a terrible time of late. Just one win in six T1 matches has seen them slip to fifth place and they also exited the League Cup in agonizing fashion last week.

After blowing two points at home to Nakhon Ratchasima last weekend, a midweek defeat at Chonburi has surely spelled the end of an anticipated title challenge that has failed to take off despite the failings of those around them.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

A visit to Suphanburi is not the fixture they need at this time, with the War Elephant fighting for their lives and unbeaten in five – conceding just one goal in that run as new signings Alvaro Silva and Miki Seroshtan have tightened up the defence. Bangkok United head coach Mano Polking has a huge job on his hands as he tries to lift a side whose morale is at rock bottom.

Suphanburi have hit form at the crucial time, while their opponents have chosen the worst possible moment to hit a slump.

  1. Last year’s heroes on the brink 

When Prachuap FC won four their first six matches of the 2019 season, it looked like business as usual for the club that had surprised everyone by finishing 6th in 2018, following promotion from T2.

However, the Killer Wasps have gone into a tailspin by winning just two of the 15 matches since. They are now in the relegation zone and will remain there if they can’t quickly turn things around.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Their signings in the transfer window have yet to make an impact and attackers Jean-Philippe Mendy and Maurinho were kept out of the starting lineup by Siroch Chatthong and Supot Jodjam in Wednesday’s defeat at Nakhon Ratchasima.

Port FC visit on Sunday, having revived hopes of winning the title with two narrow wins since Choketawee Promrut took over as head coach. The visitors have no margin for error as they fight to stay in touch at the top, and the hosts could slip into serious trouble with another loss.

 

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.

Bangkok United target long-awaited win over Buriram as title race heats up

Bangkok United will have to end a five-year wait if they are to beat Buriram United and leapfrog the champions on Thai League (T1) Matchday 19.

The Bangkok Angels’ last victory over Buriram came in October 2014, at the beginning of Mano Polking’s side’s rise to become one of the most formidable teams in the country.

Port FC will hope to use the midweek FA Cup win at Muang Thong United to launch a renewed bid for the title when they travel to in-form PTT Rayong, while the Kirins aim for a quick recovery from that disappointment when they host 2nd-placed Chiang Rai United on Sunday.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 19.

  1. Bangkok United bid to seize control of their fate

Since Bangkok United’s surprise 2-0 win at home to Buriram United in 2014, the Thunder Castle have been dominant in this fixture. The reaction to this defeat was for Buriram to defeat the same opposition by an aggregate of 12-1 over three matches in 2015.

Even in a miserable year for Buriram, they still remained unbeaten against Polking’s men in 2016, winning one, drawing one and prevailing on penalties in a League Cup tie.

Buriram did the double the following year and 2018 was very similar to 2016, with the side from the northeast winning one and drawing one in T1, while progressing in a cup tie on penalties.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Earlier this year, Pedro Junior’s late strike earned Buriram a win at the True Stadium and it seems that Bangkok United don’t simply have to overcome 11 players but also a significant psychological barrier.

In terms of quality, there is nothing between the teams and Bangkok United arguably have the better players this season. Last year, they were clearly the better team before falling to a late sucker punch in a 2-1 defeat at the Chang Arena.

Buriram have gone three league matches without scoring, picking up just two points in that run but remain top of T1 due to the failings of the teams around them. They also have a habit of rising to the big occasions as Port FC found out to their cost last month.

Bangkok United remain in title contention despite their inconsistent form and, having edged to within two points of Buriram, victory on Sunday would be a huge boost to their confidence and perhaps instill the belief that they can be Thai champions this year.

  1. Port aim to make most of reprieve

In any other year, a run of one win in eight games would have ended a side’s title bid at this stage of the season. Things have not been normal in 2019, however, as the top five have been incapable of putting together a string of wins in recent weeks.

Based on form over the last five T1 games, Port sit bottom of the table. Over the past 10, they are eighth best. However, they are still just four points off the lead and, with Buriram and Bangkok United facing off, while the two other teams in the top five face difficult away games, Saturday’s match at PTT Rayong is a great opportunity for a renewed assault on the title.

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Photo credit: Port FC

The FA Cup victory at rivals Muang Thong on Wednesday will have lifted morale after the bitter end to last week’s draw at home to Chonburi. New striker Rolando Blackburn got off the mark to seal the 2-0 victory and if he can be more ruthless in front of goal, Port may have picked up a strong signing.

With four wins in five games, PTT are at the opposite end of the form table, edging up to sixth place following a difficult start to the season. In this year’s incredibly compressed T1 table, a win for PTT – relegation threatened just weeks ago – would take them just two points behind Port.

You get the feeling, however, that Port’s midweek victory may just have turned things around for them as we approach the business end of the season.

  1. Muang Thong under renewed pressure

Less than two weeks ago, there was a feel-good factor at Muang Thong United after a stirring 3-2 victory at home to Bangkok United. On a run of four T1 wins in five, it appeared the Kirins had put their early season woes behind them.

That optimism has been somewhat punctured in the last week, however, with two points dropped at Chiang Mai before the cup exit in midweek. Muang Thong remain just two points above the relegation zone and can ill-afford many more slips.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Chiang Rai United visit the SCG Stadium on Sunday, a five-game unbeaten run putting them just a point behind leaders Buriram. A victory could put the Beetles clear at the top of the table – a huge incentive in a match against vulnerable opponents.

Muang Thong head coach Alexandre Gama knows his opponents well, having managed them in 2017 and 2018, and he will need the perfect game plan to help his side move further away from the bottom three while inflicting a significant blow to the title hopes of his former club.