2019 Thai League review: Teams 13 to 16

My review of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season continues with a look at the teams who finished from 13th to 16th.

  1. Nakhon Ratchasima 

Predicted finish: 13th

Best player: Leandro Assumpcao

A dull 2018 campaign had seen the Swatcats flirt with relegation before pulling clear to finish eighth. But nothing in the preparation for the 2019 season suggested things would get better as they started with the same head coach and with Henri Doumbia and Amadou Ouattara as the only significant additions to the squad.

Doumbia and Ouattara may have the pace and skills to trouble most defences but their lack of consistency and final product ensured that, while exciting to watch at times, they were not players to take the club to a higher level.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

The team scored more, memorably thumping Muang Thong United and Chonburi at home, but they also conceded more and a desperate run of form saw Milos Joksic axed with a few games left.

Despite just two wins in the final nine matches, Nakhon Ratchasima survived on the last day but it was a disappointing season for the club with the second-best support in the league. More investment is clearly required if they are to fulfil their potential.

  1. Suphanburi 

Predicted finish: 5th

Best player: Cleiton Silva

Without a doubt, the most disappointing performance given the resources at the club’s disposal.

Despite an indifferent few years, things were looking much brighter at the start of 2019, with T1 winning head coach Totchtawan Sripan at the helm. The War Elephant seemed to have the makings of a deadly strike pairing as Jonatan Reis joined Cleiton Silva in attack.

Arguably the best Thai keeper in the league, Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool, played behind Thailand centre-back Suphan Thongsong and the midfield featured the defensive solidity of Adul Lahso and Kim Sung-hwan, with Tanasith Sripala offering some flair.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

While the squad lacked the depth to challenge at the very top, they looked well placed to get back into the Top Six.

Things started slowly but surely as they took six points from the first four matches, conceding just once. But the next game saw a 4-0 thrashing at Trat and things were never the same. Suphan’s season ended after an injury on international duty, Sintaweechai and the misfiring Reis left mid-season and the departing Totchtawan added another failed appointment to his CV.

A seven-match unbeaten run in July and August threatened to lift them out of trouble but they had left themselves who too much to do. The final day defeat at home to Chiang Rai United should have confirmed their relegation but PTT Rayong’s demise has given them a reprieve. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess.

  1. Chainat 

Predicted position: 15th

Best player: Chatmongkol Thongkiri

Chainat were up against it from the start with one of the smallest budgets in the league. They also very quickly lost their foreign attacking signings – Gorka Unda and Leandro Resida – to long-term injuries.

Despite this misfortune, the Hornbills remained competitive and pulled off some big wins at their home stadium, beating Buriram United, Bangkok United and Muang Thong United. They saw the continuing development of some young talents in midfielder Chatmongkol Thongkiri and full-back Jaturapat Satham.

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Photo credit: Chainat FC

However, Dennis Amato’s side could not achieve the required level of consistency to stay clear of the drop zone and a home defeat in the penultimate match against Nakhon Ratchasima confirmed relegation.

With some of their top young players expected to move on, Chainat will have their work cut out as they attempt to return to the top tier at the first attempt.

  1. Chiang Mai FC

Predicted position: 16th

Best player: Eliandro

One of the most shameful episodes in Thai League history is the only way to describe Chiang Mai’s participation in T1 this year. The promotion of the team from Thailand’s ‘second city’ had generated much excitement but it was clear that much was wrong in the build-up to the season.

The squad comprised of 10 loan players from northern neighbours Chiang Rai United and, given the close ties between these two clubs, this was a clear indication that Chiang Mai were not standing on their own two feet.

The precocious talent of Ekanit Panya – on loan from Chiang Rai – lit up the first half the season although the Lanna Tigers struggled. After he returned to his parent club, things got tougher. Chiang Mai moved in with Chiang Rai – a mere 200km away – as renovations were supposedly taking place in their home stadium.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

Despite the change, the men on the pitch fought hard but, as they neared the end with chances of survival intact, the club resorted to self-sabotage. It was apparent that another season in T1 did not appeal as several regular starters were left out.

Relegation was confirmed with one game left but there was still time for one more act of high farce. Up against Buriram on the final day, they played the spoilers role with a late equalising goal handing the title to Chiang Rai.

The celebrations were outrageous, not just for the goal, but long after the match. This had been a season of disappointment and embarrassment but players and staff cavorted around as if they had won a trophy, raising suspicions of Chiang Rai’s role in their motivation.

You have to feel for the fans betrayed by those at the head of the club.

 

2019 Thai League review: Teams 9 to 12

My review of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season continues with a look at the teams who finished from 9th to 12th.

9. Prachuap FC

Predicted finish: 12th

Best Player: Artyom Filiposyan

A revelation in 2018, Prachuap kicked off 2019 with no sign of second-season syndrome, racking up four wins in the first six matches. However, the loss of prolific strike pair Lonsana Doumbouya and Jonatan Reis eventually kicked in.

Caion made a reasonable, if inferior replacement, but Matheus Alves failed to match the high standards of his predecessors. A 5-0 thrashing at Port FC on Matchday Seven marked a sharp downturn and the Killer Wasps won just two of the next 17 matches to slide into the relegation battle.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Ironically, it was the return fixture against Port that kickstarted the revival that would see them survive. A 1-1 home draw on Matchday 22 was the start of a seven-game unbeaten run in which they conceded just three goals.

That spell coincided with a historic League Cup success as what had threatened to be a disappointing campaign ended in triumph.

  1. Trat FC

Predicted finish: 14th

Best player: Lonsana Doumbouya

A team cobbled together just before the season started looked ill-equipped to begin their first ever T1 campaign. Favouring revolution over evolution, Trat were a completely different side to the one that had been promoted from T2.

The arrivals of various loan players and veterans looked uninspiring but they made a promising start with a battling performance in a 3-2 defeat at Ratchaburi on Matchday One.

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Photo credit: Trat FC Fanclub

The signing of Lonsana Doumbouya – who ended the season as T1’s top scorer – was inspired while veterans like Bireme Diouf, Baihakki Khaizan and Pichit Jaibun made valuable contributions. Nigerian winger Adefolarin Durosinmi saw his career revived with some scintillating performances, particularly in the destruction of eventual champions Chiang Rai Utd.

It will be interesting to see how they manage playing resources in the close season, with loan players set to return to parent clubs and the men in their mid-30s not getting any younger.

  1. PTT Rayong 

Predicted finish: 8th

Best player: Apiwat Pengprakone

These T1 newcomers looked well prepared for life in T1, with many of the squad having experience at some of the top clubs. Anawin Jujeen and Korawit Namwiset had won titles with Buriram, Victor Cardozo had won two cups at Chiang Rai United and Costa Rican international striker Ariel Rodriguez had starred for Bangkok Glass.

Former Thailand internationals Suttinin Phuk-hom and Sarawit Masuk were two other eye-catching signings alongside the wildcard Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, once a very promising young talent at Arsenal.

It took a long time for PTT to get going and it looked like they would be in a relegation battle rather than shooting for the top half of the table. Like most English strikers who have played in Thailand, things didn’t work out for Emmanuel-Thomas and his contract was soon terminated.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

The turning point came in the middle of the year as a run of six victories in eight matches saw them shoot up the table. However, they soon lapsed into mediocrity again, winning just one of their final 11 games to finish just three points above the relegation zone.

It was a disappointing campaign with a squad of such experience and quality. Sarawut was in and out of the side, Ariel’s fitness was an issue and Cardozo failed to find the goalscoring form of previous seasons. Journeyman striker Apiwat Pengprakone was an unexpected inspiration and arguably the club’s most consistent performer for the first half of the year at least.

Things got worse as the season ended, with the news that the club would be withdrawn from T1 due to a lack of investment from the sponsors. Another sad ending for a Thai club

  1. Sukhothai FC

Predicted finish: 11th

Best player: John Baggio

Another season, another relegation battle. Sukhothai were certainly a tough team to beat in 2019 but they found it very difficult to beat their opponents. Under Ljubomir Ristovski, the Firebats began the season with an eight-match unbeaten run, but seven of those matches ended in draws. After Ristovski was sacked, they had to win on the final day of the season to seal another year in T1.

Sukhothai ended the season having lost just eight games – more than only Chiang Rai United, Buriram United, Port FC and Bangkok United. On the flip side, they won just six times – fewer than any other club. The sixteen draws they had were down to the defensive head coaches they employed, survival specialist Pairok Borwonwatanadilok having replaced Ristovski..

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

Just 37 goals conceded pointed to evidence of the solid shape they often had but the absence of a reliable striker was the difference between mid-table security and a battle to survive. John Baggio was again their most important player after Montenegrin striker Petar Orlandic proved unable to fill Nelson Bonilla’s boots.

If they can hang on to Baggio, they can hope to have a better campaign in 2020 but they need to recruit wisely to avoid another season of struggle.

2019 Thai League review: Teams 5 to 8

My review of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season continues with a look at the teams who finished from 5th to 8th.

  1. Muang Thong United

Predicted position: 3rd

Best player: Heberty Fernandes

It was more of a salvage job than a T1 campaign for Muang Thong United as a disastrous start saw two head coaches try and fail. Relegation specialist Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok seemed immediately out of his depth, quitting after five games before Yoong Jong-hwan also found the task too tough for his liking despite having one of the league’s most talented squads.

The four-time Thai champions made their worst ever start to a season, losing eight of the first 11 matches to leave them sitting in the relgation zone.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

In came former Buriram United and Chiang Rai United head coach Alexandre Gama to clean up the mess. The serial trophy winner may have started inauspiciously with a 2-0 defeat at Chonburi but he soon turned form around in spectacular style, winning seven of the next eight. With the clubs at the top taking it in turns to drop points, it even looked like Gama could pull off an incredible title victory until a defeat at Port FC ended their surge.

In the final 20 games of a 30-game season, Muang Thong were top of the form table, having won the same number of points as champions Chiang Rai. Had Gama been in charge from the start, we may have seen a very different title race.

  1. Samut Prakan City

   Predicted position: 10th

Best player: Peeradol Chamratsamee

Samut Prakan City were the surprise package of the first half of the season. Having taken over the licence of Pattaya United and moved the club closer to Bangkok, it was effectively a new club but they did have the core of a decent Pattaya squad to call upon.

Still, no one expected them to be among the title contenders as the season reached the halfway stage, as the likes of Peeradol Chamratsamee, Jaroensak Wongkorn, Teeraphol Yoryoei and Noppol Phonkam forged an excellent team unit. Striker Ibson Melo impressed in attack, while Aris Zarifovic was proving an astute signing at centre-back.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

But the loss of midfield general Peeradol precipitated a collapse in form just after the halfway point of the season. Five defeats in six games – three by three-goal margins – ensured that Samut Prakan would not stay in contention for the title beyond Matchday 20.

Form over the final 10 matches would actually have them in the bottom three – above only PTT Rayong and Chainat, highlighting just how significant the dropoff in form was. Nevertheless, a sixth-place finish was more than anyone could have hoped for at the start of the year and it will be tough to emulate that in 2020.

  1. Chonburi

   Predicted finish: 6th

Best player: Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool

It was another season of inconsistent form from the Sharks, never winning more than two on the trot, while their longest losing streak was three.

The club known for its academy and the opportunities it gives young players began to resemble more of a retirement home when there was an influx of players in their mid to late thirties. 37-year-old goalkeeper Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool returned to his spiritual home before a line of veterans followed in the shape of Datsakorn Thonglao (35), Wittaya Madlam (34), Teerathep Winothai (34) and Mongkok Namnuad (34).

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

It was a curious recruitment policy in a year in which their most promising youngster – Worachit Kanitsribampen – failed to build on an impressive 2018 as he was in and out of the side. However, 20-year-old centre-back Kritsada Kaman grew in stature and was one of the more regular starters in a side that saw a lot of chopping and changing of personnel.

Chonburi at least improved on last year’s 9th place but they remain far from the heights of the years 2007-2014 when they never finished outside the Top Three.

  1. Ratchaburi

Predicted finish: 9th

Best player: Steeven Langil

The drama at Ratchaburi was somewhat familiar as a new head coach quit before the season had even started. Manuel Marquez Roca suggested he had received a better offer and was on his way, leaving the inexperienced Farncesc D’Asis Bosch in charge.

It wasn’t long before the Spaniard was packing his bags to be replaced by AC Milan legend Marco Simone, whose management career had been modest at best.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

A squad possessing the attacking flair of Steeven Langil and Yannick Boli could be fun to watch but form was erratic until the midyear arrivals of Lossemy Karaboue and Yoo Jun-soo added some steel to the team.

The popular Simone’s departure was met with disappointment but form improved. The Dragons lost just three of their final 15 T1 matches and ended the season as the league’s fifth top scorers, while just four teams conceded more goals.

If they can hold on to their top foreign players and tighten up at the back, Ratchaburi could be a more formidable force in 2020.

2019 Thai League review: Teams 1-4

The battle for the 2019 Thai League (T1) title will go down in history as one of the tightest ever.

Chiang Rai United and Buriram United completed their 30-game schedule level on points, meaning the former were crowned champions for the first time.

Five teams had remained in contention at the halfway point and three teams were separated by just two points going into the final two games.

It was just as exciting at the other end with the first relegations confirmed only in the penultimate round of matches.

Here is a look back at the performance of clubs from 1-4 compared with the predicted finish at the start of the season.

  1. Chiang Rai United 

Predicted finish: 7th

Best player: Phitiwat Sukjithammakul

I got this one hopelessly wrong. The departure of Alexandre Gama at the end of 2018 to be replaced by yesterday’s man Jose Borges seemed a backwards step. When Borges then made way for Ailton Silva before the start of the T1 season, it smacked of turmoil behind the scenes. Add to that a lack of investment in the squad and it didn’t look promising. Incoming centre-back Brinner looked a downgrade on Victor Cardozo, while midfielder Peerapong Pichitchotirat was always destined to be a squad player, having arrived from BG Pathum United.

But the Beetles demonstrated the value of continuity as the team that had won three domestic trophies in two seasons proved as strong as ever as they scrapped their way to an unlikely title. Brinner proved an inspired singing, while midfield rock Phitiwat Sukjithammakul emerged as a key player for club and country.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai Utd

The Brazilian attacking pair of Bill and William Henrique were consistent and the icing on the cake was the return of Ekanit Panya from loan. Ekanit made a significant contribution in the second leg of the season as he made the leap from promising youngster to the country’s most in-demand young talent.

Winning just 53 percent of matches would not have been the record of T1 champions in most years and Chiang Rai certainly benefited from not being affected by the kind of injury crisis that afflicted Bangkok United. However, if you end a long season on top, you deserve to be there. We are in for a fascinating close season as the club now builds towards a participation in the AFC Champions League and a defence of their title.

  1. Buriram United 

Predicted finish: 2nd

Best player: Supachok Sarachat

We waited all season for the real Buriram United to come but it just never happened. The Buriram we know win games even when playing poorly and rise to the occasion when it matters most. This team never got going and we saw only flashes of the side that has dominated Thai football in recent years.

A standout 3-1 victory at Port FC in June was the only time Buriram looked like themselves but they paid dearly for poor recruitment decisions, with the foreign contingent in attack failing to deliver.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

Capitulations at Muang Thong United and Chiang Rai United were most unlike Buriram, while they found themselves stealing narrow wins at the likes of Ratchaburi and Trat FC due to some dubious refereeing.

There is now a sense that the northeastern club will come back stronger next year, with many of their young talents toughened up after a disappointing year. Attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat finally showed the consistency and end product that his game had been lacking and he will be a key player as they attempt to wrestle back their title in 2020.

  1. Port FC 

Predicted finish: 4th

Best player: Sergio Suárez

Looking back, this seems a season of missed opportunity for Port. If it wasn’t for a bizarre mid-season slump, the T1 title may well have ended up in Klong Toey rather than Chiang Rai.

Ultimately, it was their failure to beat the teams around them that proved costly as they took just two points from six matches against their fellow Top Four sides. There were plenty of positives as Elias Dolah became a more formidable presence at the back, Nitipong Selanon forced his way into the national team and Bodin Phala recovered his form and confidence to show what he could do.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Veteran midfielder Sergio Suárez remained their key player but the treatment of David Rochela – cut from the T1 squad mid-season – was shoddy, while Dragan Boskovic looked a shadow of his former self before his mid-year departure.

The arrival of head coach Choketawee Promrut sparked a revival and Port finished the season strongly but the controversial defeat at Buriram on Matchday 29 ended a title bid that always had shaky foundations.

If they can keep the bulk of this squad together and add a bit of quality, they should be able to mount another sustained challenge to take that elusive first T1 title.

  1. Bangkok United 

Predicted finish: 1st

Best player: Michael Falkesgaard

It was a season that started with great promise but ended in anti-climax as Bangkok United failed to take the opportunity presented by weakened opponents.

The Bangkok Angels looked significantly strengthened by the arrivals of Nelson Bonilla, Tristan Do, Peerapat Notchaiya, Mike Havenaar and Anon Amornlerdsak. But it didn’t take long for what would become a recurring problem to set in.

In just the second match of the season, a nasty tackle on Vander Luis put him out for almost three months and so began a series of injuries to key men that affected three of the new players.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Bonilla, Do, Peerapat and Vander all missed approximately a third of T1 matches, while Mika Chunuonsee and Anthony Ampaipitakwong also had injury plagued years. Havenaar failed to adapt to the tropical heat and left mid-season. Add to that the eight-match suspension for Sanrawat Dechmitr and the Bangkok Angels could never really develop momentum with the talents at their disposal.

Having said that, they should have been good enough to beat Buriram at least once in two evenly matched games. Instead they took just one point out of six. Their hopes really died when they conceded a last-minute winner at resurgent Muang Thong United – a result that sucked the belief from the squad as they won just one of the next five.

Doubts remain over the future of head coach Mano Polking and, with Japanese clubs rumoured to be eyeing Bonilla, the club faces a very uncertain future.

Chiang Rai United clinch Thai League title as Chiang Mai upset Buriram

Chiang Rai United won their first ever Thai League title in the most dramatic style as a late goal from Chiang Mai’s Caique denied Buriram United a sixth championship in seven years.

Chiang Rai fulfilled their duty as they thrashed Suphanburi 5-2 to ensure Buriram needed to take three points. The striker they sent to Chiang Mai on loan then did his parent club a huge favour by netting the goal that saw the Top Two finish level on points, meaning the Beetles became champions courtesy of their superior head-to-head record.

The home defeat to Chiang Rai meant that Suphanburi finished in the bottom three as survival expert Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok steered Sukhothai to safety with victory at Nakhon Ratchasima.

Here are three things we saw on a dramatic T1 Matchday 30.

  1. Chiang Rai finish with a flourish 

When former Chiang Rai striker Cleiton Silva put Suphanburi 1-0 up in the 13th minute of Saturday’s match, it would have taken a brave person to predict that the Beetles would be crowned as Thai champions by the end of the evening.

It took until the 44th minute for Siwakorn Tiatrakul to equalise but by the time William Henrique and Ekanit Panya had completed the turnaround, Buriram had taken the lead at Chiang Mai.

Tanasith Sripala pulled one back for the home side before Nattapong Samana’s red card gave the momentum back to Chiang Rai and a strong finish saw Bill add a fourth from the penalty spot.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

After Phitiwat Sukjithammakul added a fifth in the 90th minute, there was a nervous wait before the club from the north were confirmed as champions.

Chiang Rai had started the season behind Bangkok United and Port FC as the side most likely to end the Buriram-Muang Thong United duopoly that has lasted 10 years but a talented squad with the same core as last season managed to battle through an unusual season to end on top of the pile with a win percentage of just 53 per cent.

The Brazilian trio of Brinner, Bill and William were important, Phitiwat’s form saw him establish himself in the national team and Siwakorn also had excellent season. Recalling Ekanit from his loan at Chiang Mai midway through the season may just have given the Beetles the additional edge required to become champions.

Under Alexandre Gama, Chiang Rai won two FA Cups and a League Cup but they failed to mount a sustained title challenge.

They can now look forward to the AFC Champions League group stages in 2020 and they will hope to keep as many of these players together after lifting four trophies in three years.

Suphanburi, meanwhile, face dropping into T2 unless the anticipated withdrawal of PTT Rayong grants them a reprieve.

  1. Buriram blow it

Buriram United title wins have become fairly routine. Despite the fact that Bozidar Bandovic’s side had been thoroughly unimpressive for most of the year, they entered the final day of the season as T1 leaders and needing to beat already relegated Chiang Mai to become Thai champions for the sixth time in seven years.

Chiang Mai’s uncomfortably close relationship with Chiang Rai suggested the home side might have an unusual incentive for a relegated tea. A return to their home stadium after months away added extra spice and a huge crowd reflected a sense of occasion.

Buriram’s plodding first-half performance was familiar but when Nacer Barazite gave them the lead early in the second half, it looked like they would win the title despite themselves.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

However, Chiang Mai were determined to give the home support something to shout about and Buriram had survived some nervous moments before Caique rose to head home from a corner with just three minutes remaining. The Brazilian was so delighted to help his parent club that he ripped off his shirt and promptly received his second yellow card.

An onslaught from the visitors followed and there were several near things before the referee blew for full-time after five additional minutes.

The Buriram players slumped in despondency while Chiang Mai bafflingly celebrated like a team that had won a trophy rather than a side that was heading for T2.

Overall, it has been a year to forget for Buriram, with several of the older guard running out of steam while the recruitment of four foreign strikers failed to come close to providing adequate quality to replace Diogo Luis Santo and Osvaldo. Significant changes can be expected at the club by the time the 2020 season kicks off.

  1. Pairoj engineers another great escape

Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok started the season as head coach of Muang Thong United but soon discovered that he didn’t have a head for heights at a club used to challenging for trophies rather than battling relegation. He quit the Kirins after just five games in charge that included three defeats.

Pairoj then found himself back at Sukhothai – the club he saved from relegation in 2017 before achieving a similar feat at Suphanburi last year.

He went into Saturday’s match at Nakhon Ratchasima knowing that a victory would be enough to keep his club in T1 given that it would take the Firebats above the Swatcats on the head-to-head record.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

Kabfah Boonmatoon’s stunning opening strike set the visitors on their way and he added a second to put Pairoj’s side in control. But a Rudolf Basna own goal and a Chtichanok Xaysourinthone effort from close range levelled matters to put Pairoj’s reputation as a survival expert at risk.

But Basna redeemed himself by putting Sukhothai back in front before Irvin Herrera made it 4-2 to make the points and the club safe.

Suphanburi’s failure to beat Chiang Rai United ensured the Swatcats stay up for another year. Pairoj quit his job at Sukhothai following the completion of his duties and rumor has it he will join Nakhon Ratchasima for the 2020 campaign.

Buriram close in on another title after controversial victory

Buriram United edged to within three points of the 2019 Thai League (T1) title as they ended Port FC’s challenge with a controversial 3-1 victory on Matchday 29.

Sergio Suarez gave Port the lead but the challengers were soon behind and the champions ended the evening in a very strong position.

Chiang Rai United ensured the title race would go to the final day as they thrashed Prachuap 4-1, while the relegations of Chiang Mai and Chainat were confirmed.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 29.

  1. Referee takes centre stage as Buriram all but wrap up title

Going to Buriram needing a victory is a tall order for any side and Port FC knew they would be up against it, despite the fact that the hosts had had a disappointing year by their standards.

Suarez rose to the occasion by firing the visitors ahead from distance but the Spaniard was soon baffled when he was yellow-carded for an innocuous coming together with Hajime Hosogai. Tanaboon Kesarat followed Suarez into the book for an equally innocuous challenge.

When Nacer Barazite levelled the score from an offside position, Port fans began to feel that the trip to the northeast might have been doomed from the start. Supachok Sarachat soon put Buriram ahead with an excellent finish after a smart counter attack and the home side were looking ominous.

Port tried to battle their way back into the game but again felt hard-done by when Sasalak Haiprakhon appeared to barge Suarez off the ball in the penalty area and the referee waved play on.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The most controversial moment was yet to come as, following a foul on Barazite on the edge of the Port penalty area, advantage was played with Sasalak in a good position. The Thailand international was left with a difficult angle and his powerful shot flew over. To the astonishment of Port players and fans, the home side were awarded the free kick for the original foul.

Kevin Ingreso netted from the free kick, though Port keeper Worawut Srisupha should have done better. Nevertheless, the goal had come from another controversial decision, with the end result favouring the hosts.

Despite some battling play from the visitors, Buriram controlled the remainder of the match in the manner of the serial champions they have become. However, the referee’s performance was the major talking point at the end of a game that effectively decided the destination of the 2019 T1 title.

It would be the biggest upset in Thai League history if relegated Chiang Mai were to deny Buriram the title by holding them to a draw or beating them next week.

  1. Sukhothai and Swatcats set up thrilling finale as Chainat are relegated 

Nakhon Ratchasima will host Sukhothai next weekend in a match that could end with one, both or neither relegated.

The Swatcats need just a point to stay in T1 after winning 3-1 in Chainat – a result that saw the Hornbills relegated, having failed to make the kind of great escape that kept them up last year.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

Sukhothai, meanwhile, saw off Trat with a 2-1 home victory and travel to Korat next week, needing to win while also hoping that Chiang Rai United take at least point off Suphanburi.

A Firebats win coupled with a Suphanburi victory would send the Swatcats down in what is probably the least likely outcome.

With Chiang Mai and Chainat both having their T2 fates sealed this weekend, the final relegation spot will be taken by one of three teams.

  1. Kasidech keeps Suphanburi in control 

He may have been used sparingly this season but Kasidech Wettayawong’s first goal of the campaign may turn out to be Suphanburi’s most important.

Having fought back from 1-0 down to lead Samut Prakan City 2-1, the War Elephant’s bid for survival was on track until Teeraphol Yoryoei equalised for the hosts.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

With time running out, substitute Kasidech took aim from 20 yards and sent a floating shot into the top corner. Understandably wild celebrations followed as Suphanburi ensured that they retained control of their own fate going into the final match of the season.

A home match against Chiang Rai United will not be easy, with the Beetles still in with an outside chance of becoming champions but at least Suphanburi know what they have to do rather than relying on results elsewhere to secure an eighth consecutive year in T1.

  1. Chiang Mai go down fighting 

For the past couple of games, Chiang Mai seemed to have raised the white flag before a ball was kicked as they sent out a starting XI that did not feature several of their better players.

Top striker Eliandro was inexplicably left on the bench again, while key defender Evson was not even in the squad. However, Caique returned up front and Mustafa Azadzoy was back in the midfield for a match Chiang Mai has to win at PTT Rayong.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

Two goals from Dennis Murillo had the home side 2-1 up with 10 minutes remaining but substitute Eliandro struck twice to give the away fans an uplifting victory. With Suphanburi and Sukhothai both winning, the victory was in vain and Chiang Mai will be back in T2 in 2020. As it took Eliandro just over 15 minutes to score his brace, things might have been so much different if he had been selected from the start in the previous two matches.

As this display showed, the team would have had a fighting chance of staying up had they gone with their best players every week, not to mention playing in their home stadium rather than moving 200 km away halfway through the season. The fans deserved better.

Ekanit stars as Thailand turn on the style

One week before his 20th birthday, Ekanit Panya announced his arrival on the Asian football stage with a starring role in Thailand’s stirring 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over the United Arab Emirates.

Chiang Rai United’s attacking midfielder netted the winning goal early in the second half, having provided the assist for Teerasil Dangda’s first-half opener.

The three points put Thailand on top of Group G despite the injury absences of Japan-based Chanathip Songkrasin and Thitipan Puangchan.

The War Elephants must now build on the positive momentum and finish the year on a high with positive results against Malaysia and Vietnam next month.

Here are three things to consider after an outstanding Thailand performance.

  1. Ekanit caps his breakthrough year 

In Thai football’s competitive world of producing the youngest scorers in the league, Ekanit netted his first senior goal just before his 16th birthday, way back in 2015.

Having broken a record, Chiang Rai decided to loan him out to Chiang Rai City and then Chiang Mai rather than use him in a team that was developing loftier aspirations than the class of 2015.

Ekanit finally got a chance to shine on the bigger stage this season when Chiang Mai were promoted to T1. Such was his form, his title chasing parent club recalled him from loan mid-season and he has since played a key role in Chiang Rai’s title bid.

An excellent solo goal in a 4-0 destruction of champions Buriram United would have caught the eye of Akira Nishino and Ekanit’s performances in starts against Indonesia and Congo convinced the head coach to start him in a crucial test against the group’s top seeds.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Nishino’s faith was richly rewarded as Ekanit’s relentless energy set the tone and ensured that the UAE were always on the back foot. Ekanit combined industry with creativity and his floated cross was brilliantly headed home by Teerasil.

With the Thais having conceded the equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Ekanit’s far post finish from close range ensured there would be no way back for the visitors as Thailand continued to dominate.

Ekanit’s emergence on the international stage was the major talking point after the kind of victory that Thailand have often threatened but rarely achieved when it matters.

  1. Nishino gives balance and belief 

It’s early days but indications are that Nishino may be succeeding where predecessor Milovan Rajevac failed by making the most of Thailand’s attacking flair.

Rajevac may have been unfortunate not to have had the same access to the emerging attacking talents of Ekanit, Supachok Sarachat and Suphanat Mueanta but the Serbian immediately sought to turn Thailand into a more pragmatic side.

Nishino has quickly recognised the potential in making Thailand a more offensive force, with attack being the best form of defence. The midfield five gave the UAE little time to rest and constantly forced them into mistakes.

Sarach Yooyen looked like he had been given a new lease of life, while Chiang Rai Utd midfielder Phitiwat Sukjithammakul has been given his big chance and taken it.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

The lapse in defensive concentration that saw Ali Mabkhout equalise demonstrated that old habits die hard but with just one goal conceded in three qualifiers, putting teams on the back foot has limited their attacking threat.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of Tuesday’s performance was how Thailand did not allow Mabkhout’s goal to alter their game plan. The War Elephants’ football history has not featured many important wins against high ranking sides from West Asia and confidence has often been fragile when under pressure.

But this was a performance full of guts and self-belief, with the only disappointment being that the game wasn’t wrapped up long before they had to endure a nervous five minutes of added time.

  1. Keep feet on the ground 

Just as it’s important to recognise the potential significance of Tuesday’s result, it will mean nothing if Thailand go to Malaysia and Vietnam next month and fail to take at least four points.

As the Thais found out in last year’s AFF Cup, the Malaysians have built a decent side under Tan Cheng Hoe and they arguably should have matched Thailand’s result against the UAE, instead of going down 2-1 after taking the lead last month.

Vietnam’s recent rise is well documented and Thailand could only take a point from them in last month’s match in Bangkok.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency and only similar performances will be enough to earn Thailand victories in what are sure to be hostile atmospheres at the homes of their Southeast Asian neighbours.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

There was understandable euphoria after Tuesday’s win but UAE look a shadow of the side that defeated Japan in 2018 World Cup qualifying. Former Asian Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman remains well off the pace as he comes back from serious injury and he was very much second best to the likes of Ekanit and Supachok.

Nevertheless, UAE are 55 places above Thailand in the FIFA rankings so this was a very significant scalp. But only by following up with good results in Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi will the War Elephants prove that they are very much on an upward trajectory.

Suphanat stars as Thailand prepare for UAE challenge

Suphanat Mueanta stole the show as Thailand warmed up for Tuesday’s crucial World Cup 2022 qualifier against the UAE with a 1-1 draw at home to Congo.

The 17-year-old didn’t even start the game but his rich potential was there for all to see as he became the biggest threat to the African side in the second half.

The Buriram United striker has made a significant breakthrough this year, becoming a key member of his club’s squad as their foreign strikers have failed to impress.

While it was great to see Teerasil Dangda back on the scoresheet for the War Elephants, the Thai fans would have been more excited by the impact of his heir apparent.

Teerasil is a born goal scorer and the predatory instincts that saw him put the hosts ahead with a diving header remain very much alive at the age of 31. However, time is not on the Muang Thong United legend’s side and injuries have taken their toll.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

Fourteen years his junior, Suphanat showed no fear when he replaced Teerasil at half-time on Thursday. He immediately put himself about in a way that suggests he should become a striker with much more to his game than finishing.

His best moment came when he evaded a couple of challenges from the Congolese defence as he cut in from the left, creating space for a shot from the edge of the penalty box. Unfortunately, he pulled the shot wide but it demonstrated his ability to make something happen.

Suphanat would have a different kind of impact later in the match at both ends of the pitch. Following a Congo corner, the striker picked up the ball on the Thai 18-yard-line but his attempt to surge forward and mount a counter attack was crudely ended by a cynical challenge from Harvy Ossete.

With the match then entering the final stages, Suphanat again tried to work his way through the Congo defence but his run was ended by a trip from Ossete, who earned his second yellow.

Having seen his young teammate single-handedly reduce the opposition to 10 men, Bodin Phala almost struck the winner from the resulting free kick but his powerful effort was well saved.

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Photo credit: @Changsuek

A 1-1 draw was a decent result with Thailand weakened by the absence of their three injured Japan-based players. But while Theerathon Bunmathan’s injury in the warm-up saw the evening begin on a sour note, Suphanat’s second-half performance gave fans the feeling that they were witnessing a coming-of-age of sorts.

At 17, the hard work is just beginning for Suphanat but it’s rare to see a 17-year-old playing for a national side, never mind tormenting his opponents in this manner.

Head coach Akira Nishino will probably start with Teerasil again on Tuesday but he will have no hesitation in turning to the Buriram prodigy if the Thais need a bit of inspiration.

Supachok puts Buriram clear at the top as Chiang Rai slip up again

Supachok Sarachat was Buriram United’s hero again as he struck the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over local rivals Nakhon Ratchasima on Thai League (T1) Matchday 28.

Ten days after grabbing the winner against Chainat, Supachok repeated the trick with a similar goal at a similar time in the match to put Buriram two points clear at the top of T1, with Chiang Rai United dropping two points at PTT Rayong.

Port FC beat Chainat 4-0 to stay two points behind and set up a crunch match at Buriram on October 20th.

Three of the bottom five lost, while Sukhothai and Suphanburi could only manage draws as the relegation struggle remained very much unresolved.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 28.

  1. Buriram signal intent in derby classic 

The champions were reeling from a League Cup final defeat in what has been a mediocre season by their standards. But they quickly took the initiative in the Isaan derby and went 2-0 up just over halfway through the first half.

Like many of the foreign strikers who arrived in the mid-season transfer window, Rasmus Jonsson has disappointed but the Swede grabbed his first T1 goal in spectacular style as he volleyed into the top corner from the edge of the box. Rattanakorn Maikami quickly added a second to put the league leaders in control.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

But the Swatcats are in a relegation battle and, in front of a passionate home crowd, a brilliant piece of trickery from Henri Doumbia set up Yayar Kunath to pull one back before half-time.

A tense second half followed and Siwarak Tedsungnoen made a fine stop from Mark Hartmann before Supachok struck what would be the decisive blow. Kritsada Hemvipat pulled one back with a stunning overhead kick in added time but, unfortunately, such a brilliant goal will count for little.

Results elsewhere meant that Nakhon Ratchasima are still very much in control of their fate, while Buriram showed flashes of the quality and spirit that have rarely been seen this year.

  1. Port cruise to set up title crunch

Chainat’s visit to Port FC saw a side on the brink of relegation take on a side with title aspirations. There was little between the teams in the opening 20 minutes but the match began to come to life, though it took the hosts until just beyond the 45-minute mark to take the lead when Go Seul-ki headed home.

Josimar Rodrigues netted a second before Port spurned chance after chance to add a third. There was a brief late rally from the visitors that featured a long-range strike from Dennis Buschening that crashed off the bar. But Port re-asserted themselves with strikes from Sumanya Purisai and Sergio Suárez in added time.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port now travel to Buriram for a match that may make or break their title ambitions. While Buriram have plenty of experience in such matches, this is new territory for Port and will be a huge challenge.

The damage to Chainat was minimised by results elsewhere but they may still have to win their final two matches to have a chance of survival, starting with a clash at home to Nakhon Ratchasima in two weeks.

  1. Chiang Rai feel the heat 

Winning titles requires narrow victories in difficult away matches when the pressure is on. Chiang Rai United twice took the lead at PTT Rayong on Thursday but twice they were pegged back by a side that has won just one of its last nine T1 matches.

The Beetles remain just two points off the pace but they have handed the initiative back to Buriram, who can clinch the title with two more wins. The Thunder Castle would be indebted to their former player Anawin Jujeen, who headed home the second PTT equaliser with under 10 minutes remaining.

The point guaranteed that PTT would spend another year in T1, but it was two points lost for Chiang Rai. They will be hoping that Port and Buriram share the spoils on Matchday 29. Such a result would allow them to take the title if they can win their remaining two fixtures.

  1. Bottom sides blow big chances 

On a night when Chainat and Nakhon Ratchasima were always going to be second favourites, the three other relegation candidates had the opportunity to boost their survival odds when playing against teams that had little to play for.

Up against a severely depleted Bangkok United side, Chiang Mai had a chance to draw level with Chainat. However, team selection again suggested that the last thing they want to do is stay in T1. Strikers Eliandro and Caique were left on the bench, to again expose the shameful mismanagement of the club.

Suphanburi were up against a Prachuap side that had gone a grueling 120 minutes in the League Cup final on Saturday. The War Elephant took an early lead before several clear cut chances were squandered. Anxiety set in and the Killer Wasps found an equaliser following a calamitous defensive mixup.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

At home to FA Cup finalists Ratchaburi, Sukhothai went ahead through Irvin Herrera in the first half. Like Suphanburi, they couldn’t hold on and they actually fell 2-1 behind before Yanto Basna’s last-minute effort secured what could yet be a vital point.

This was certainly a big opportunity lost for Suphanburi and Sukhothai, though Chiang Mai will have to wait a little longer to be put out of their misery.

Chiang Rai’s slip gives Buriram and Port a lift as title race nears finishing line

Chiang Rai United blew their chance to stay clear of Buriram United as a battling Bangkok United side held them to a 1-1 draw on Thai League (T1) Matchday 27.

Facing a tired and weakened Bangkok Angels, the Beetles had a great opportunity to maintain the two-point gap at the top but instead saw Buriram draw level on points after they beat Chainat 1-0 24 hours later.

Port FC moved back into the title race with a win at Chiang Mai while there were some big results at the bottom of the table.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 27.

  1. Vander dents former club’s title bid

Chiang Rai United travelled to face Bangkok United with high hopes of the win that would take them three points closer to the T1 title. With Bangkok United having run through mud for 120 minutes on Wednesday, only to lose their FA Cup semifinal on penalties, it did not seem unreasonable to suggest that the Beetles would be clear favourites.

When the teams were announced, Bangkok United were without the injured Tristan Do, Mika Chunuonsee and Nelson Bonilla, while playmaker Vander Luis started on the bench. The loss of four key players heightened expectations of an away win and an early and well-deserved Bill goal meant all was going according to plan.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

But the introduction of Vander at half-time changed the complexion of the game and gave Bangkok United much better attacking options. The Brazilian equalised from the penalty spot and was instrumental in the hosts’ attacking efforts as they went for the win.

Both sides had chances to take the three points but it was Chiang Rai who ended the match with a greater sense of regret. Having dominated the early stages, they will feel that they should have put the game beyond their opponents before Vander came back to haunt them.

  1. Suphanburi strike pair stun Ratchaburi

Ratchaburi seemed to be continuing to bask in the glory of their midweek FA Cup semifinal win over Buriram United when they were given a rude awakening by Suphanburi on Saturday.

The War Elephant – in desperate relegation trouble – were 2-0 up after just four minutes through goals from Cleiton Silva and Guilherme Dellatorre. The Brazilian duo have struggled to find the scoring touch they need at times but they delivered when it really mattered as time runs out in the battle to stay in T1.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

In what was a bad-tempered clash marred by a waterlogged pitch and player indiscipline, Suphanburi added a late third to ensure that the FA Cup finalists’ feel good factor was punctured and they stayed in with a chance of continuing their stay in T1.

The War Elephant face Chiang Rai United at home on the final day of the season. As things stand, we could see a battle between a team that needs to win to stay up and a team that needs to win to lift the title.

  1. Muang Thong inspire 2020 vision

If you had to name the title favourite for 2020, based on everything we have seen in the second half of the T1 season, it would have to be Muang Thong United. While Port FC have become their bogey side, they have beaten Buriram United, Chiang Rai United and Bangkok United in a run of 10 wins in 13 matches. They are the only side this season to have strung together such an impressive and consistent sequence of results.

They faced a tough match at relegation threatened Sukhothai on Saturday but overcame the loss of the opening goal to lead 2-1. Dang Van Lam then saved John Baggio’s penalty to preserve that lead before Oh Ban-suk’s header made it 3-1. The Kirins then kept out the home side after Jung Myoung-oh’s goal ensured a nervy finale.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

If Alexandre Gama can keep this group of players together and add a couple of signings to enhance the overall quality, Muang Thong should again be in a position to challenge for the title they last won in 2016.

Sukhothai, meanwhile, face three huge matches as they try and secure a fifth season in T1.

  1. Late show saves Swatcats 

When Ibson Melo’s fine volley put Samut Prakan City in front at Nakhon Ratchasima, it looked like the Swatcats were about to blow a huge opportunity to pull four points clear of the relegation zone.

With Sukhothai, Chainat and Chiang Mai all losing, Nakhon Ratchasima had the perfect chance at home to a team that had lost five of its previous seven matches. But a penalty was missed and several opportunities were squandered before the way side struck with just 26 minutes remaining.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

It was a devastating blow but it took just three minutes to equalise before an anxious wait for a second. Leandro Assumpcao’s volley from the edge of the box found its way through several bodies and into the net in the 85th minute and two more goals quickly followed in a late blitz.

With matches against title chasing Port FC and Buriram United followed by clashes with struggling Chainat and Sukhothai, it was absolutely vital that the Swatcats took the three points in this one. New head coach Chalermwut Sa-ngapol now has a bit of breathing space as he attempts to lead the club to safety.

  1. Port get back in the title race 

After a chastening 3-1 home defeat to Buriram United in June, few Port FC fans dared to believe that this would be their year. That loss seemed to puncture burgeoning hopes of a title triumph and a slump in form followed.

But the incredible inconsistency of the top sides in the league has allowed Port to stay in contention even though all has seemed lost at several points.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Sunday’s 2-0 win at Chiang Mai was not achieved with the swagger of potential champions but it ensured that, should they beat Nakhon Ratchasima at home on Friday, they will be just two points off top spot with three matches to play – one of them at current leaders Buriram.

A thrilling end to a chaotic season is in store. The T1 champions will emerge as the best of an average bunch with no side managing to look consistently good throughout the year.