Sergio and Bordin lead the way as Port FC keep top spot

Sergio Suarez returned from injury to provide the inspiration for Port FC and ensure they stayed four points clear at the top of the Thai League (T1) with a 3-2 victory over Suphanburi.

The Spanish midfielder created all three goals, including a slide-rule pass for Dragan Boskovic’s late winner.

Elsewhere, Mario Gjurovski came off the bench to hit his first goal of the season, earning a point for Muang Thong United in a 2-2 draw at PTT Rayong, while Buriram United and Bangkok United both picked up important victories.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday Nine.

  1. Super Sergio keeps Port on top

With a number of key players out injured or suspended, the visit of Suphanburi was always going to be a test for Port FC but the return of Suarez was perfectly timed and he wasted no time in reminding fans of his value to the team.

While Jonatan Reis and Cleiton Silva tormented a backline that finally looked to be sorely missing David Rochela, Suarez ensured that there were enough scoring opportunities at the other end to give the Port Lions another three points.

Silva had let the hosts of the hook when he squandered a great opportunity to put the War Elephant 2-0 up just before half-time and Port took full advantage.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Bordin Phala again played a big part for Port, scoring twice to make it four in his last three games. Bordin has finally been given a run of matches in the absence of the injured Nurul Sriyankem and he is ensuring that Nurul will find it tough to get back in the side.

A title winning team finds a way to win games like this and with four wins on the trot, Port are the clear front runners in what is becoming an intriguing season.

  1. Mario magic lifts Muang Thong off the bottom

Two goals from PTT Rayong’s Ariel Rodriguez looked like condemning Muang Thong United to a fifth straight defeat as the game entered its final 10 minutes.

In what has been a shockingly poor start to the season for the Kirins, it was left to a club legend to come off the bench and secure the point that takes them off the bottom of the table on goal difference.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Mario Gjurovski has scarcely had a look-in since returning to Muang Thong after three years away, despite the sides struggles on the pitch. But the former Macedonia international engineered the move that ended with him finding the net from the edge of the box.

Gjurovksi’s celebrations were typically theatrical as his shirt came off and he ran to the bench. While it was another disappointing result for Muang Thong, the 33-year-old playmaker’s intervention may just re-energise the club and spark a recovery.

  1. Buriram get a helping hand

It took a very late Pedro Junior penalty to get Buriram United back to winning ways as they came from behind to win 2-1 at Ratchaburi.

The Dragons were the better team in the first half, with Steeven Langil’s strike giving them an early lead. Buriram’s struggles in front of goal continued and they needed a Jirawat Thongsaengphrao own goal to level the score before the penalty presented Pedro with his chance.

The penalty award caused much controversy in a game in which the referee seemed to whistle at every opportunity to give Buriram a free-kick. Philip Roller certainly handled but he appeared to be just outside the box.

In addition to several other questionable decisions that went against them, Ratchaburi understandably felt hard-done by as they came within minutes of taking a point against the champions.

Buriram ensured they stayed within four points of Port FC with a game in hand but they will need to depend on more than own goals and marginal penalty decisions if they are to win yet another title.

Muang Thong rock bottom as Port FC extend lead at the top

Muang Thong United’s new head coach Yoon Jong-hwan ended his first weekend in charge at the bottom of the Thai League (T1) following a 2-1 defeat at home to bitter rivals Port FC.

But there was a bit more fight about the team than there had been in the three straight losses that preceded this match. Elsewhere, Bangkok United lost for the third time in five games, while Buriram United also dropped points.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday Eight.

  1. Port pull clear as Kirins lose again

Port FC moved four points clear at the top of T1 as they edged to a 2-1 victory at the SCG Stadium. There may have been no Port fans present for the third year running but that seems to work well for them as they won here for the third consecutive season.

After a tight first half, Bordin Phala opened the scoring with a lovely strike from 20 yards and Nitipong Selanon finished off an excellent counter attack for the second.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Muang Thong rallied and Weerawut Kayem’s goal set up a tense finish and Charyl Chappuis was inches away from the equaliser with a thunderous strike from outside the box.

Yoon Jong-hwan will have been encouraged by some aspects of what he saw on Saturday as his side fought gamely to stay in the match. With Port looking the strongest side in the league at the moment, you have to fancy Muang Thong to start picking up points against weaker opponents with performances like this.

  1. More misery for Bangkok United

After a slow start to the season, it looked like Bangkok United might have turned a corner when they thumped Suphanburi 4-0 two weeks ago. It looks to have been a false dawn as they slipped to their third defeat in five games at Chainat on Saturday.

The Hornbills looked the hungrier side as a strike from Ricardo Santos and Everton’s own goal put them 2-0 ahead. Teerathep Winothai gave the visitors hope before Santos’ red card left Chainat to endure a testing final 10 minutes with 10 men. But it was another costly defeat for the Bangkok Angels as they slipped six points behind Port FC and lost ground on Buriram who had drawn 1-1 with Trat FC on Friday.

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Photo credit: Chainat FC

It may still be relatively early days in the season but there is little cause for optimism among the Bangkok United support as their side struggles. The losses of Vander Luiz and Mika Chunuonsee to injury haven’t helped but it is time for the other players to get the team on the right track if they are to mount a title challenge.

  1. Comeback win lifts Suphanburi

It looked grim for Suphanburi when Nakhon Ratchasima took the lead through Henri Doumbia on Sunday. The War Elephant were looking at a fourth straight defeat and another week in the relegation zone.

Head coach Totchtawan Sripan had looked like an inspired appointment but the dramatic dip in form suggested he might not last much longer in his post. Some inspired goalkeeping from Samuel Cunningham kept the Swatcats in front at half-time as it began to appear that it would not be Suphanburi’s night again.

But substitute Mark Hartmann started the comeback before goals from Cleiton Silva and Jonathan Reis gave the hosts a much-needed 3-1 victory to lift them out of the bottom three.

Things don’t get easier for Suphanburi as they have a trip to Bangkok to face league leaders Port FC next weekend but they go in much better spirits after showing a steely side to take the three points against a tough opponent.

  1. Lucien notches five in Chonburi goal fest

Chonburi continued their climb up the table with another entertaining performance as they beat Chiang Mai an incredible 7-5. The Sharks have now won three of their last four games, with an aggregate of 23 goals netted in these three wins.

Nine of these goals have been scored by Lukian, with the Brazilian on target five times on Sunday evening. Now T1’s top scorer with 10 goals in total, Lukian is looking like the most inspired signing of the season.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

When Buriram United were releasing Modibo Maiga just a couple of months into his contract, you have to wonder if they regretted not looking closer to home. Lukian had proved his worth at Pattaya United last year and would surely have been a safer bet than the former West Ham man.

Things are now looking up for Chonburi after a dismal start to the year saw them sitting bottom of the table after four games.

Havenaar helps Bangkok United hit form while Port FC strike five to go top

Bangkok United bounced back in style as they thrashed Suphanburi 4-0 on Thai League (T1) Matchday Seven.

The Bangkok Angels had taken just one point from the previous three games and suffered a dispiriting 4-2 loss to Chonburi in midweek. But Mano Polking’s side delivered the result they desperately needed in emphatic style.

Port FC went top with a thumping 5-0 win over Prachuap, while Muang Thong United lost once again in front of the man expected to be named their new head coach.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday Seven.

Havenaar sparks rout

Mike Havenaar and Nelson Bonilla finally got to start a game together and Bangkok United finally looked like a team with the potential to be champions.

It has been a tough start to the year for the Bangkok Angels and serious doubts have been raised about their ability to mount a serious challenge for the T1 title. But Havenaar scored his second goal in four days, while Bonilla notched another two as Suphanburi lost for the third time in a week.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Bangkok United are usually slow starters to the season and will hope that a result like this prompts a much-needed run of form to ensure they stay in touch with the teams at the top.

Meanwhile, Suphanburi have slipped into the relegation trouble after a truly wretched week. The War Elephant began the season with three draws and a win, conceding just once. They have since lost three times and conceded 10 goals.

Port expose Prachuap

Prachuap FC were the surprise package of 2018 and, coming into Matchday Seven, they sat joint top of T1. It seemed that the Killer Wasps were not going to slip into obscurity after a year in the limelight.

But Saturday evening saw Prachuap ruthlessly dismantled by Port FC, and a second-half collapse cast doubt on their ability to maintain their place near the top of the table.  It had been an uneventful game until a three-goal burst at the end of the first half put the home side into a convincing lead at the break.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port added two more goals in the second half to complete the rout and ensure they ended the weekend at the top of the league. Prachuap were truly woeful towards the end of the game and seemed to be inviting their hosts to add to the scoreline.

In what has been a strange start to the season, Port’s five-star performance suggested they might have the ability to join Bangkok United in challenging Buriram United’s dominance. Five unanswered goals with arguably their best defender and best attacker still nursing injuries was impressive.

Muang Thong misery continues

Muang Thong United lost their third game in a row in front of the man expected to be confirmed as their new head coach. Yoon Jong-hwan now knows the scale of the task he faces as the Kirins slipped to yet another defeat against modest opposition.

Oh Ban-suk returned to Muang Thong’s defence but it wasn’t enough to prevent previously shot-shy Nakhon Ratchasima putting three past them in a 3-1 victory in the northeast.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

Former Muang Thong striker Leandro Assumpcao opened the scoring, while Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone scored on a rare start before Bernard Doumbia notched the third. Adisak Kraisorn netted a consolation for Muang Thong – their first goal in 272 minutes.

It is strange to see the talents of Teerasil Dangda, Heberty Fernandes and Dang Van Lam in the bottom three and Yoon Jong-hwan will have to find a way to get the best out of them and their team-mates between now and the end of the season.

Muang Thong United were not expected to make a serious challenge for the title this year but it’s fair to assume that no one expected them to fall so far, so fast.

Simone gets off to a flier and prompts Pairoj’s Muang Thong resignation

Marco Simone’s winning start as Ratchaburi head coach was enough to spell the end of Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok as the Muang Thong United boss resigned after their 2-0 defeat on Matchday Five of the Thai League (T1) season.

Champions Buriram United suffered a scare but moved top as Chonburi beat previous leaders Prachuap 3-2.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday Five.

  1. Sweet start for Simone at the Mitr Phol Stadium

AC Milan legend Marco Simone made an immediate impact as Ratchaburi head coach, with the Dragons ending a three-match losing streak.

Second-half strikes from Yannick Boli and Kang Soo-il saw off Muang Thong United as the home side also earned their first clean sheet of the season. The return in goal of Ukrit Wongmeena may have been one of the most important decisions Simone made, having seen Pairot Eiam-mak endure a torrid time since his arrival from Sukhothai.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Ratchaburi climbed alongside their opponents on six points from five games, with things suddenly looking brighter under the Italian. The same cannot be said for Muang Thong as Pairoj’s brief reign ended after just five matches.

The Kirins now have to pick themselves up for two games this week, while Ratchaburi will hope that the arrival of Simone has marked a turning point after more than a year of decline.

  1. Falkesgaard heroics save Bangkok United

It was another underwhelming performance from Bangkok United as they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Nakhon Ratchasima. The visitors were the better side early in the game but struggled to penetrate the notoriously stuffy Swatcats defence.

Metee Taweekulkarn’s stunning strike put the hosts ahead against the run of play and the Swatcats piled on the pressure before the break, earning a penalty. Michael Falkesgaard made an excellent save from Leandro Assumpcao’s spot-kick to keep the deficit to just one.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Mano Polking brought on Anon Amornlerdsak and Nelson Bonilla at the break and it was Anon who levelled when he rifled home from 20 yards. But Falkesgaard pulled off a number of impressive saves to keep out the home side, particularly when he pushed Amadou Ouatarra’s blistering strike over the bar. Peerapat Notchaiya should have scored for the Bangkok Angels but his close-range effort deflected off the inside of a defender’s leg and out.

The game ended in rancour, particularly after the referee refused to give Kitsada Hemvipat a second yellow for pulling down Bonilla in a good attacking position. It looked a straightforward decision but again refereeing competence was called into question.

The referee had made several eccentric decisions throughout the game and lost control at this point. Metee almost scored his second screamer of the game in the closing stages but his dipping effort from 25 yards crashed off the bar.

  1. Kyaw Ko Ko sparks late scare for Buriram

Bozidar Bandovic took charge of his 100th Buriram United match and his side looked on course for a comfortable victory at home to Samut Prakan City after a brace from Pedro Junior added to Korrakot Wiriyaudomsiri’s wonderful lobbed opener.

Myanmar striker Kyaw Ko Ko has waited a long time to make an impact in Thailand after his 2018 season at Chiang Rai United ended very early due to a serious knee injury. On as a substitute for his new club, he made an impact with a fine strike on the half volley with 10 minutes remaining.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

Picha Autra surged through the Buriram defence before netting Samut Prakan’s second just three minutes later and the home side were hanging on to their 3-2 lead at the end. It was an unusual show of vulnerability from the champions and it might just give hope to the rest of the teams who show up at the Chang Arena expecting the worst.

  1. Orlandic doubles up after a false start 

Former Red Star Belgrade striker Petar Orlandic waited a long time for his first Thai League goals and then three came along in the one game.

Unfortunately, the first one came at the wrong end. The Montenegrin appeared to get a slight touch to direct Pakorn Prempak’s corner into his own net to level the score after Joel Sami had given Sukhothai the lead at home to Port FC.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

By this point at the end of the first half, Port had been reduced to 10 men, with Sumanya Purisai sent off for a petulant push on the referee.

But Orlandic would get off the mark for the home side as he netted from the penalty spot and then added a late header to secure Sukhothai’s first victory of the season. For Port, it was a first defeat and it was self-inflicted due to a loss of discipline from one of their most experienced players.

  1. D-Day for Trat

The shock result of the weekend was surely Trat’s 4-0 victory at home to Suphanburi. The hosts had not won any of their first four games, while Suphanburi had conceded just one goal in their opening four matches.

But Trat’s attacking trio of Lonsana Doumbouya (2), Bireme Diouf and Adefolarin Durosinmi were all on target as Suphanburi’s defence struggled without Anderson Dos Santos.

Defences will now be were well warned of the threat that Trat pose in attack after they moved out of the bottom three for the first time this year.

War Elephant head coach Totchtawan Sripan has much to ponder ahead of his side’s match at home to Chiang Mai on Wednesday.

Pedro’s late strike gives Buriram three points in tough battle with title rivals

Pedro Junior’s first Buriram United goal was enough to help his side put title pretenders Bangkok United back in their place as the champions won 1-0 on Thai League (T1) Matchday Four.

In a cagey affair at Thammasat Stadium, Pedro struck with six minutes remaining and the Bangkok Angels were left with a familiar sinking feeling after a clash with Buriram.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday Four.

  1. Same old story as Buriram have the edge again

Bangkok United’s new signings inspired hope that this was to be their year and the 1-0 win over Muang Thong United two weeks ago generated more optimism.

But this match saw tentative performances from both teams and neither side really looked like they were desperate to win. With a draw, the hosts would have been able to maintain their two-point cushion over their biggest rivals for the title, while a point away from home would not have been the worst result this early in the season for Buriram.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

But in the 84thminute, Pedro took down Sasalak Haiprakhon’s cross, skipped inside past a couple of weak defensive challenges and fired into the bottom corner.

Bangkok United sent on towering striker Mike Havenaar and he caused more problems for the Buriram defence in his brief stint on the pitch than his team-mates had caused in the preceding 85 minutes. Siwarak Tedsungnoen pulled off a couple of fine stops from Nelson Bonilla and Havenaar in the closing stages as Buriram again found a way to win in a tight game.

The international break comes at a good time for Bangkok United, who will have to work out how to get their attack firing, having netted just three times in four matches. Injured playmaker Vander Luiz has been sorely missed and with Havenaar now fit enough for action, we may see a different threat in a couple of weeks.

  1. Heberty heroics inspire Muang Thong in the haze

Heberty Fernandes may have made his name as a goal scorer but it was his playmaking skill that earned Muang Thong United their second win of the season.

The Kirins defeated Chiang Rai United 3-2 in the heavily polluted air of the north, with many fans wearing masks to protect themselves in conditions described as ‘very unhealthy’.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

But the teams served up an entertaining clash on the pitch and Heberty was at the heart of three decisive moments for the visitors. His trickery and balance on the ball created space for three perfectly measured passes that led to goals for Korrawit Tasa, Teerasil Dangda and then Adisak Kraisorn’s thumping winner in the 84thminute.

The home side had twice levelled through William Henrique’s excellent solo effort and Lee Yong-rae’s well-placed strike. But Heberty was the man who made the difference and, after failing to find the right balance in attack in the first two games of the season, head coach Pairoj will have been delighted to see three different strikers on target, set up by the Brazilian whose game is about much more than goals.

  1. Reis gets it right at last 

Striker Jonatan Reis was a revelation for Prachuap last season as his goals helped the Killer Wasps to a surprise sixth-place finish. He was targeted by a number of clubs in the close season but Suphanburi were apparently the only one that would agree to his allegedly extravagant wage demands.

For the first three games of this season, Reis drew a blank and rarely looked like he would become worth the significant salary he is said to be making. Against Chonburi, the Brazilian missed a series of early chances but at least he was getting into the right positions – something he had rarely done in the previous three weeks.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

He finally hit the target with half-time approaching, curling a shot into the top corner from the edge of the box. Cleiton Silva added the second early in the second half and Reis rifled in his second in added time to make it 3-0.

Having scored just one goal in the previous three games, it was a relief for Suphanburi to finally see their attack find another gear. But for Chonburi, it was another dismal episode leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table.

  1. Apiwat the unlikely hero for PTT again

In a side boasting the attacking talents of former Arsenal starlet Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Costa Rican international Ariel Rodriguez, 30-year-old journeyman striker Apiwat Pengprakone might not be the player you look to for goals.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

However, for the second week in a row, Apiwat provided an excellent finish to give PTT Rayong an important goal. Last week, he struck the winner at home to Samut Prakan City and on Sunday he surged through a couple of half-hearted challenges to fire home the equaliser at Port FC after Kevin Deeromram had given the hosts the lead.

The 1-1 draw in Bangkok was another encouraging sign for PTT, after having lost the first two games of the season.

  1. Prachuap’s home comfort sees them go top

Another club took the arduous journey down the coast and returned with nothing as Chainat became the latest victims of Prachuap’s strong home form. Only five sides left the seaside town unbeaten in 2018 and just two visiting clubs won at the Sam Ao Stadium.

Chainat were the second side to travel to Prachuap this year and followed PTT Rayong in leaving with nothing to show for their efforts. The hosts were 2-0 up by half-time through Caion’s double. Ricardo Santos pulled one back for the visitors but Chitpanya Tisud slammed home from 20 yards to seal a 3-1 victory.

The three points put the home side top of T1, a point above Buriram and Port FC. Not many clubs will be relishing the thought of a trip to Prachuap this year as they continue to prove that they are not going to be one-season wonders.

Teerasil strikes to help Muang Thong to first victory of the season

Teerasil Dangda helped ease the pressue on Muang Thong United head coach Pairoj, as the Kirins scored their first goals of the season in a 2-0 Thai League (T1) victory over Chiang Mai.

Teerasil’s strike in the 60th minute ended 240 goalless minutes for Muang Thong that saw them lose their first two games 1-0.

Bangkok United and Port FC both won again as the more fancied teams moved towards the top of the table.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Mathcday Three.

  1. Teerasil makes his mark

A home victory over newly promoted Chiang Mai doesn’t exactly represent a landmark result but in the circumstances it felt significant. Two defeats in two had people wondering when and not if Pairoj would lose his job.

Injury to centre-back Oh Ban-suk added another layer of gloom, while club legend Mario Gjurovski’s return has been a huge anti-climax with the playmaker apparently struggling for fitness and left out of the squad for this one.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

But Pairoj put his faith in youth as 21-year-old Saringkan Promsupa started at the back, while 18-year-old striker Korrawith Tasa was handed his debut.

Both looked comfortable but there was tension in the air until Teerasil struck from Heberty Fernandes’ cross on the hour mark. Heberty’s late penalty then secured a much needed three points for the embattled Pairoj.

An expected home win does not answer any questions but it does ease the scrutiny.

  1. More VARce as Bangkok United edge win at Trat

The good news is that after use of VAR at the Trat Vs Bangkok United match, the referee made the correct calls not to award penalties to either team.

Supoj Wonghoi’s handball for the home side was clearly accidental, coming at him at speed from very close range. Nevertheless, in the current climate of inexplicable penalty awards for accidental handball, we have seen them given.

The most discouraging moment of the game came when Adefolarin Durosinmi’s cross struck Tristan Do. The referee did not look interested but Durosinmi chased after him and the man in the middle was soon surrounded by an aggressive group of Trat players.

As we have seen so often already this season, the referee succumbed and it was player pressure that led to the review. Replays showed the ball bounced off Do’s legs and possibly backside but it was nowhere near a handball.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The sooner the Thai League does something to prevent this unchecked bullying of referees, the better, but you have to suspect things will get worse before they improve.

Nelson Bonilla’s second-half strike was the difference between the two teams in the end but there was another loud shout from Trat for a VAR check in added time. This time the referee resisted and he was right again.

  1. Friday feeling for Port

Friday evening’s game between Chonburi and Port FC served up great entertainment but it was another dispiriting result for the Sharks who lost their second home match on the trot. The pre-season optimism has quickly given way to concern over where the team will end the season.

The home side took the lead through Lukian before sloppy defending allowed Go Seul-ki to crack home a volley on the stroke of half-time. Worachit Kanitsribampen put Chonburi back in front but Sergio Suarez scored a simple equaliser with the Sharks defence ball watching. Artit Budjinda then ghosted in untracked at the far post to fire home the winner.

Port FC’s excellent travelling support were ecstatic but Chonburi were left to reflect on when Patrick Cruz looked certain to make it 3-1 but was denied by a wonderful Worawut Srisupha save.

Port ended the weekend on top of the T1 table but Chonburi now have just one point from three matches. If they continue to defend like they did on Friday, they could remain in the bottom three for some time to come.

  1. Late show boosts Buriram 

The Thai champions had gone almost 280 minutes without scoring when they finally made the breakthrough at home to Prachuap FC on Sunday. The Killer Wasps – who had yet to concede a goal – gave them a gift when a clearance was fluffed and Modibo Maiga pounced to prod the ball home in the 73rdminute.

Substitute Supachok Sarachat soon added the second – his third of the season – to ensure that Prachuap would not retain top spot and to lift his side ahead of Wednesday’s home match againt Jeonbuk Hyundai in the AFC Champions League.

Maiga will be relieved to have got off the mark in T1 and another boost was the first appearance of midfielder Hajime Hosogai, who came on as a late substitute.

A first victory of the season lifts a weight off Buriram’s shoulders and they will hope to kick on from there both domestically and in the ACL.

  1. JET power gives PTT lift-off

Two straight defeats had shaken the confidence of PTT Rayong on their return to T1, having recruited a number of big names in the close season. Things finally came together at home to Samut Prakan City on Sunday, with English striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas playing a starring role.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

The former Ipswich Town and Bristol City man headed in the opener and set up the second for Apiwat Pengprakone in a 2-1 victory. Samut Prakan struggled with Emmanuel-Thomas’ physical presence a driving runs throughout and the home side could have made the win more convincing before Kim Tae-yon’s added-time screamer gave them an uncomfortable end to the game.

There was relief at the final whistle as PTT claimed their first points of the season. Meanwhile, Samut Prakan’s first defeat ended their brief stay at the top of the table.

Bonilla strike gives Bangkok United lift-off as Muang Thong fire blanks again

Nelson Bonilla was the hero for Bangkok United as his second-half strike earned them their first ever home win over Muang Thong United and finally got their Thai League (T1) season moving in the right direction.

Bangkok United fans had seen optimism somewhat punctured by a 5-1 humbling in a pre-season friendly against Consadole Sapporo, a 1-0 defeat at home to Hanoi FC in the AFC Champions League qualifier and a scrappy performance in the 1-1 draw at Sukhothai last weekend.

But Saturday’s 1-0 victory has completely transformed the mood and Mano Polking’s side now look in a much better position to mount a bid for the title.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday Two.

  1. Bonilla delivers when it matters most 

In a group of strong new recruits, Nelson Bonilla stood out as the Bangkok United player who might make the biggest difference. After a prolific season at struggling Sukhothai in 2018, the El Salvador striker looked the perfect player to address the profligacy in front of goal that hindered the Bangkok Angels last year.

The 28-year-old failed the find the net on his first two competitive appearances but Saturday’s winning goal represents exactly why he is so highly rated. With the game becoming increasingly tense just after the hour mark, he threw himself at Vander Luiz’s cross to head home.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The home defence absorbed some pressure in the closing stages and were relieved when VAR came to the rescue. A foul on Heberty Fernandes initially resulted in a penalty award, but the referee was informed that the offence had taken place just outside the box and a free-kick was given instead.

The old profligacy was back when a couple of opportunities to kill the game off were squandered in added time but Bangkok United were just relieved to get the three points on the board and rid themselves of the psychological barrier that Muang Thong have often presented.

Muang Thong United, with Teerasil Dangda, Heberty and Adisak Kraisorn in the side, are goalless and pointless after two matches, with new head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok now in desperate need of a victory at home to Chiang Mai next Saturday.

  1. Buriram draw a blank

Two points in the first two games is not the tally the reigning champions were hoping for but Buriram United’s goalless draw at Suphanburi sees them four points off top spot. The bonus for them is that the sides sharing first place are unlikely to maintain a challenge to take their title but these are slightly worrying times for Bozidar Bandovic’s men.

This was a chance to repair the damage done by letting a winning position slip against Chonburi’s 10 men last weekend but Buriram failed to break down a Suphanburi defence that gives little away. Buriram now travel to Japan for Wednesday’s AFC Champions League opener at Urawa Reds a little low on confidence.

Suphanburi, meanwhile, have to work out how to get their strikers into the game. Cleiton Silva and Jonatan Reis were again seen dropping deep in an attempt to get involved due a lack of service in the danger areas. The War Elephant will be happy to have taken a point against the champions but they need to show much more in attack if they are to improve on last year’s performance.

  1. City slickers see off Sharks

Samut Prakan City made it six points out of six as Ibson Melo’s double earned them a 2-0 win at Chonburi. The newly-formed club is clearly benefiting from the continuity provided by the core of the Pattaya United squad, while new signings like centre-back Aris Zarifovic and Ibson are making positive contributions.

It is clear that the upheaval of taking over a club and relocating it under a new name has not yet had an adverse effect.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

However, Chonburi’s promising work in the 2-2 draw at Buriram last weekend was undone by a failure to build on it with what appeared a very winnable home match. The Sharks again kept new striker Patrick Cruz on the bench, while their strongest centre-back Kim Gyeong-min was also a substitute.  Fellow South Korean Park Hyun-beom was not even in the squad.

Chonburi appeared to be putting together a more formidable team unit than last year but on the basis of Saturday’s performance, much work is yet to be done to have them develop the consistency that was sorely missing in 2018.

  1. No sign of second-season syndrome for Prachuap

 Promoted sides who do surprisingly well in their first season in the top tier often struggle in their second year. Nakhon Ratchasima made a strong start to life in the top flight with an 8th-place finish in 2015 before dropping three places and 14 points in 2016. Sukhothai were the surprise package as they finished 7thin 2016 but they dropped to 15thspot the following year.

Ubon UMT United were the top performing promoted side with a 10thplace finish in 2017 but they were relegated in 17thplace last year.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Prachuap’s outstanding performance in 2018 saw them end the season in sixth place, picking up some stunning results on the way, most notably the 6-1 victory over Muang Thong United. But, having lost their two top strikers – Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya – it seemed reasonable to suggest that they might follow fellow promoted clubs in having a tough second season.

It certainly hasn’t worked out that way so far. They followed up last week’s 1-0 win at Muang Thong with a 2-0 victory at home to PTT Rayong, as Matheus Alves’ penalty got him off the mark and Caion added a second. Two wins and two team sheets represent an excellent start and a strong indication that they may on their way to bucking the trend.

  1. VAR controversy mars Port victory

Ratchaburi Director of Football Robert Procureur cried foul after Port FC sealed a 1-0 win over the Dragons at the PAT Stadium. Dragan Boskovic’s second-half penalty settled the match, but Procureur was furious at the award of the spot-kick after a VAR call.

Ratchaburi had a claim turned out after the referee had looked at the replay in the first half, but only having bowed to pressure from the away bench. When Port’s claim arrived, play continued for some time and even after the ball had gone out and come back into play. With the home fans chanting ‘VAR’, the referee eventually opted to have a look and awarded the penalty for handball against Philip Roller.

In the aftermath, Procureur claimed that Yannick Boli was kicked in the head by a Port player. However, like a nightclub bouncer who has no interest in knowing the aggressor and victim in a fight, the referee booked both Boli and Sumanya Purisai when it seemed apparent the cards were for involvement and no known offences.

It was an evenly matched game with both sides fully committed, but yet another botched use of VAR left a sour taste. The referee has very little control and reviews seem to come from external pressure and not advice from colleagues. The Thai FA should consider suspending its use indefinitely on this evidence.

Big guns fail to find winning formula on Thai League’s opening weekend

It was a difficult opening to the 2019 Thai League (T1) season for the biggest clubs as last year’s top five all failed to get off to a winning start.

Buriram United, Bangkok United, Port FC and Chiang Rai United all had to settle for a point, while Muang Thong United went home empty-handed.

It was encouraging to see the level of competition and it should certainly ensure that the title favourites know the new 16-team format might make for a tougher league.

Here are five thing we saw on T1 Matchday One.

  1. Sharks expose Buriram vulnerability

Chonburi are expected to have a good year as their young talents develop and some new signings add strength.

It was the brightest of their young stars – Worachit Kanitsribampen – who opened the scoring at Buriram United just before the hour mark as the Sharks threatened an upset. However, the game was turned on its head within 10 minutes.

First, Nattapong Pephat received his second yellow card before a quickfire double for Supachok Sarachat put the hosts 2-1 up.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

It looked like the champions would go on and seal the three points but Kroekrit Thaweekarn fired home from close range to equalise. The Sharks ended the contest with nine men, with Lukian following Nattapong, but the visitors held on.

To fail to beat 10 men from a winning position at home was an unusual indication of weakness from Buriram. But Bozidar Bandovic’s men can take comfort from the fact that Matchday One 2017 ended in a 2-2 home draw with Chonburi. At the end of the season, they were champions.

  1. How soon is now for Bangkok United?

The slogan for the 2019 campaign is ‘The time is now’, but there have been few signs so far that this will be Bangkok United’s year.

Unimpressive pre-season form and an AFC Champions League qualifying defeat seem to have dented morale and Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Sukhothai was another disappointing episode as they failed to take advantage of Buriram’s Saturday slip-up.

Sukhothai can be a tough place to go but the torrid time that John Baggio et al gave the visitors was another sign that the Bangkok Angels’ new signings have yet to gel.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

Tristan Do’s deflected opener after half-an-hour came against the run of play but Kongnateechai Boonma’s late leveler was no more than Sukhothai deserved.

Holding out for the three points would have been the kind of victory that champions are made of. As it was, only the dropped points from their title rivals gave Bangkok United some kind of consolation.

Next week’s home match against Muang Thong United is already shaping up to be hugely significant just two games into the season.

  1. Prachuap put Muang Thong to the sword again

Prachuap FC earned their third straight victory over Muang Thong United, proving again that a well-drilled team unit can be more than a match for a collection of some of the country’s best attacking talent.

Thailand’s two best strikers – Teerasil Dangda and Adisak Kraisorn – started along with Myanmar’s biggest star Aung Thu and Heberty Fernandes, scorer of more than 100 T1 goals.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

But Caion’s first-half penalty was enough the send the Prachuap fans home happy and to leave Muang Thong’s new head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok reflecting on how to get the best from the players he has at his disposal.

Sarach Yooyen was forced to sit deep, when he is at his best as a box-to-box midfielder. Adisak was often forced out wide but he is not a winger.

Pairoj is lucky to have many of the players he has but he must now show he knows how to use them effectively.

  1. Chiang Rai dig deep again

Chiang Rai United had played for 120 minutes in an AFC Champions League playoff in Japan on Tuesday, hardly the best preparation for an opening day clash against the side that finished two places above them last year.

But Chiang Rai again proved that they can rise to the big occasion as they stifled Port FC and held them to a 0-0 draw.

A point at home may not appear the perfect result to open their campaign but in the circumstances, it was a decent effort and a demonstration that Chiang Rai will again be formidable opponents.

Port will not be too unhappy with the point in a tough away fixture but late red cards for David Rochela and debutant Go Seul-ki will be more of a concern.

  1. It’s tough at the top for new boys

The three newly promoted teams all went home empty-handed, but all after pushing their opponents all the way.

The strongest looking of the new sides, PTT Rayong, went all the way to the 90thminute before succumbing to Leandro Assumpcao’s strike. It was rough on the hosts as they were more than a match for Nakhon Ratchasima but failed to break down a typically resolute Swatcats defence.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

Trat FC saw an impressive debut from Lonsana Doumbouya but he was outshone by Ratchaburi’s Yannick Boli who netted three times to the former Guinea striker’s two. The Dragons won 3-2 in an exciting contest as the visitors ran out of steam in the second half.

Chiang Mai threatened to spoil Samut Prakan City’s opening night as they twice levelled the score before Aris Zarifovic netted a late winner for the new club.

It’s a steep learning curve moving up a division but all three clubs were competitive if ultimately pointless.

Bangkok United suffer disappointment but not disaster in ACL defeat

Bangkok United’s lineup may have been significantly different from the one that took the field against JDT two years ago, but it was the same story as they exited the AFC Champions League (ACL) in Preliminary Round 2 – this time against Hanoi FC.

However, not too many comparisons should be made given the very different circumstances. In 2017, the Bangkok Angels were clear favourites and dominated the match before losing in a penalty shooutout.

This year, Hanoi FC posed a very different challenge, with the Vietnamese champions fielding a team containing many of the Vietnam side that reached the quarter-final of this year’s Asian Cup, including the mercurial Nguyen Quang Hai.

Two years ago, overcoming JDT would have been an important statement in the club’s development and the disappointment was huge. This year, progress in the ACL felt very much like a secondary aim, with the Thai League (T1) title the priority.

In the end, the home side fell to a soft late penalty, converted by Nguyen Van Quyet at a time when Bangkok United were looking stronger.

Here are three ways in which Bangkok United can learn from the defeat to make a strong bid for the 2019 T1 title.

  1. Put the pressure on

Everyone knows that Bangkok United like to play expansive, attacking football and they have made a lot of fans as a result. However, the match against Hanoi suggested the need to do more off the ball to protect their own goal.

Hanoi looked like they had done their homework and, as Bangkok United tried to build, they constantly harried them into mistakes in a torrid first half. As the home side, it should have been Mano Polking’s side who were taking control, but they allowed themselves to be dominated by the visitors for much of the opening 45 minutes.

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Photo credit: Hanoi FC

The formation is very much designed to facilitate an attacking game but, when under pressure, there must be a different gear that allows the players to adopt a more aggressive approach to counter their opponents.

Hanoi managed to slice through the home defence time and again in the first half and only heroics from goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard kept Hanoi out. The Vietnamese side may be better than most teams Bangkok United will face in T1 but lessons must be learned.

  1. Find your range and support the strikers

When Hanoi tired in the second half, they fell deeper and deeper back, but Bangkok United’s passing accuracy began to desert them and many moves broke down due to stray passes or a failure of the midfielders to get forward in support.

On the occasions when Tristan Do managed to make progress down the right wing, he often lined up a cross to see only Nelson Bonilla surrounded by several defenders, with little else to aim at. The result was sometimes a cross easily dealt with by the defence or the need to turn back and build again.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Vander Luiz and Bonilla were both very lively, while Anon Amornlerdsak had some good moments in the first half. The three of them will cause a lot of headaches for T1 defences on this form. However, when faced with a packed defence, the midfielders need to offer more support to occupy defenders and provide alternative options.

Fitness issues kept Sanrawat Dechmitr out of the starting lineup and he will provide an added dimension, but it is clear that these players need more time to get to know each other’s games.

  1. Look on the bright side

After the defeat to JDT in 2017, Bangkok United suffered a hangover that seemed to last for the first third of the season. Having been T1 runners-up in 2016, another title challenge was the goal, but hopes quickly disappeared with five defeats in the first 12 games.

They proceeded to win 12 of the next 13 but it was too little, too late as Buriram strode to another title. Polking is very conscious of how things went after that loss to the Malaysian side and is determined to prevent a repeat.

The players would do well to look at the positive side of this defeat. There will be no arduous trip to China ahead of T1 Matchday One’s tricky visit to Sukhothai on February 24th. The rigged ACL draw would probably have ensured that the playoff against Shandong Luneng – featuring Graziano Pelle and possibly Marouane Fellaini – would have ended in defeat.

Achieving the aim of becoming champions of Thailand will mean direct entry to the group stages of the 2020 ACL and no need for the qualifying hurdles that ultimately place Southeast Asian teams at a huge disadvantage when it comes to the one-off matches away to sides from stronger leagues.

This defeat was disappointing and exposed some weaknesses in the side. But defeat in Sukhothai would be far more damaging in the grand scheme of things. It is time to turn full attention to what really matters this year.

Referees take centre stage as T2 gets off to controversial start

Two weeks ahead of the big kickoff in Thailand’s top tier, Thai League 2 saw its opening weekend somewhat overshadowed by refereeing controversies.

There were ugly scenes in the match between Udon Thani and JL Chiang Mai United, with players and coaching staff getting into the referee’s face. Rayong FC midfielder Thiago Santos was left bemused as he picked up a yellow card after being on the receiving end of a reckless challenge against Police Tero.

And Air Force United felt hard done by when they had what would have been an equalising goal disallowed for offside in their 3-1 defeat at Army United.

Much has been made of the work put into training referees and trying to ensure more appropriate behaviour from players and staff. However, it quickly unraveled when the action got underway, underlining the scale of the challenge facing the governing bodies in addressing poor refereeing standards and bad behaviour.

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At Army Stadium, the home side took a first-half lead when Mongkol Tossakrai set up Rennan Oliveira but Air Force levelled through a fine Kayne Vincent strike at the start of the second half. The hosts regained the lead when Tanakorn Dangthong headed home but the visitors were furious when the linesman’s flag went up to deny Greg Houla a second equaliser.

Rennan added his second of the night to seal a 3-1 win for Daniel Blanco’s side but Air Force head coach Jason Brown was left frustrated by what he felt was a poor decision with his side 2-1 down.

“We’re going to talk about refereeing decisions,” said Brown. “Goals change games. We go 2-2, we go on and win the game. Day one of the season and we’re talking about a highly controversial decision.

“If it went to 2-2, we were in the ascendancy, we were going forward, we were attacking. But those who haven’t seen Air Force have seen some fantastic young talent. My team fought, dominated possession but ultimately there’s one statistic that counts.”

Another source of frustration for Brown was that the referee seemed to have already forgotten one of the rules the men in the middle insisted would be applied this year.

“We had a meeting with the referees on Wednesday and the referees made it abundantly clear that anyone who kicks the ball away will be yellow-carded,” said Brown. “It happened three times and there were no cautions.

“We all want Thai football to get better. These rules are set by FIFA so if the referees don’t clamp down on it in the games and the players do the same in international games, they’ll get a yellow card.”

Although he saw much to be pleased about in defeat, Brown acknowledged that his youthful side could have made better use of their possession.

“We could improve our use of the ball,” said Brown. “You see us getting into some fantastic positions, you see the intent to make the pass but the quality sometimes isn’t there.

“But if you’re a neutral, you want to watch us play. If we continue to play like that, it will turn and the results will come.”

At the end of an eventful first weekend, BG Pathum United top the table following a 4-0 win at MOF Customs. No one would be surprised to see them in the same position after Matchday 34.