Gama torments Buriram again as Chiang Rai go top

Alexandre Gama was once again a thorn in the side of his former club Buriram United as Muang Thong United convincingly beat the champions 3-1.

Since being dismissed by Buriram, Gama has come back to haunt his old employers several times – first with Chiang Rai United and now with Muang Thong.

Chiang Rai took advantage of Buriram’s slip-up and beat Trat to go top of the league, while there were some big results at the other end of the table.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 26.

  1. Gama outwits Buriram once again 

Muang Thong fans will be wondering about what might have been after watching their team dismantle Buriram to make it nine wins in 13 T1 matches for Gama. In a season in which the leaders have consistently had a win percentage of around just 50 per cent, a 69 per cent winning record suggests that the Kirins may have been better off pursuing the Brazilian instead of Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok in the close season, and that he would also have been a better option than Yoon Jong-hwan, who replaced Pairoj.

A disastrous start to year meant that Gama’s main goal was to lift Muang Thong out of relegation trouble but he has done so much more than the bare minimum.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

On Saturday, he showed again that he had the measure of Buriram in terms of his tactics and the commitment of his team to performing their tasks. Many of the players who floundered under Pairoj and Yoon have thrived under Gama, while the mid-season signings of Bruno Gallo and Derley were inspired.

Despite winning a domestic treble in 2015, Gama was sacked by Buriram just months into the 2016 campaign following a dreadful AFC Champions League (ACL) performance and a poor start to the T1 season. Bozidar Bandovic may have led Buriram to consecutive titles and a place in the last 16 of the ACL but he will know that a failure to lift the T1 title this year may well spell the end of his tenure.

Footage of Bandovic’s angry post-match rant at his players in the dressing room was curiously released and Gama will surely sympathise, having been unceremoniously shown the door by the club where sustained success is a requirement.

  1. Chiang Rai go top after late drama

Buriram United’s defeat had left the door open for Chiang Rai United to take over top spot, with the Beetles sitting just a point off the lead going into Sunday’s match at home to Trat. But the hosts would not be taking the visitors lightly, having been soundly beaten by them earlier in the season – a match in which they were 3-0 down by half-time.

Chiang Rai had already survived a few scares when Phitiwat Sukjithammakul put them ahead with a stunning strike in the 41st minute. But T1 top scorer Lonsana Doumbouya levelled with a looping header in the 72nd minute and it looked the like the Beetles might blow their big chance.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Two goals in the final 10 minutes from Piyaphon Phanichakul and Akarin Sawasdee ensured that Chiang Rai finished the job and ended Matchday 26 two points above Buriram.

The Beetles now have their fate in their own hands and can complete an unlikely title win if they can match or beat Buriram’s finish to the season. The biggest obstacle may come next weekend with a trip to Bangkok United. The Bangkok Angels may be out of the title race but they will be out to prove they have the quality to beat anyone on their day and make it two wins from two against Chiang Rai.

  1. Babalj keeps Chainat hopes alive

A defeat at home to Sukhothai was unthinkable for Chainat. The Hornbills were sitting three points behind their opponents and a defeat and a six-point gap would have sent them further towards T2.

It was a good time for Eli Babalj to finally make an impact as his header proved the difference between the two sides. While Chainat remain in the relegation zone, they are behind the Firebats on goal difference only and Nakhon Ratchasima are just a point above them.

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Photo credit: Chainat Hornbill FC

It was a good time for Chainat to face Sukhothai – whose talisman John Baggio was suspended – and it was the perfect time for Australian Babalj to net his first T1 goal. There was further good news for the Hornbills as other relegation rivals Suphanburi and Chiang Mai both lost.

Teams from 11th spot and above look relatively safe so there is going to be a huge scrap between the bottom five – separated by just four points – in the final few games of the season.

Muang Thong ready to derail Buriram’s title challenge

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

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

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

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

  1. Muang Thong aim to damage Buriram hopes 

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

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

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Photo credit: Changsuek

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

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

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

  1. Desperate times for Chainat

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

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

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Photo credit: Chainat FC

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

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

  1. Life after Joksic begins with a tough test 

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

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

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

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

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

Port come up short again as Vander inspires Bangkok United

Port FC blew a chance to close the gap on Buriram United at the top of the Thai League (T1) as Bangkok United once again beat them on Matchday 25.

Mano Polking’s side edged to a 2-0 victory that moved them just two points behind Port, while Buriram United stayed at the top of the league despite drawing at home to Sukhothai.

At the other end of the table, Chainat sank into deeper trouble with what could be a costly defeat at Ratchaburi.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 25.

  1. Port meet familiar fate

The form book suggested that Port FC were favourites going into Saturday’s match at Bangkok United but history suggested otherwise. Nine years had passed since their last league win over the Bangkok Angels and that will become 10 after the hosts raised their game following a run of just one T1 win in six.

Bangkok United were boosted by the presence of Nelson Bonilla and Tristan Do on the bench, while Peerapat Notchaiya made his first start in several weeks following his own injury absence.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

It was Bonilla’s deputy Chananan Pombuppha who opened the scoring early in the second half while Everton’s late header sealed the victory. But the star man was Vander Luis, who set up both goals and tormented the Port defence in the second 45 minutes in particular.

With Bonilla and Do both making appearances from the bench, Bangkok United can look ahead to their FA Cup semifinal against Port with increased optimism. Meanwhile, Choketawee Promrut’s side will have to consider what might have been after falling five points off top spot.

  1. Late penalty saves Buriram

Last week’s 6-0 victory over Ratchaburi suggested that Buriram United may be ready to romp to the title. Saturday’s stuttering performance at home to struggling Sukhothai suggested it might be more of a crawl.

Buriram remain top of T1 despite a win percentage of just 52 per cent as all of their challengers have stumbled and fallen in their pursuit. The Thunder Castle are on course to retain their title in spite of themselves and because the teams around them have apparently failed to seize the day. However, Chiang Rai United’s victory at Chonburi moved them just a point off the top again to keep Buriram looking over their shoulder.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

The Firebats almost took a much-needed three points at the Chang Arena, having held on to the lead given to them by Iain Ramsay until added time. When Jung Myoung-oh blocked a shot from close range, a penalty was awarded and the spot-kick was predictably tucked away by Andres Tunez.

Television replays failed to confirm whether the ball struck Jung on the arm or side, but Buriram were grateful for the reprieve, as they were to Bangkok United for keeping Port FC at a distance.

  1. Boli brace lifts Dragons

A defeat would have sucked Ratchaburi back into the relegation scrap but a 2-1 over Chainat put eight points between them and their opponents. It has been another tough season for the Dragons, who have swapped stability for chaos off the pitch, resulting in erratic form on it.

The attacking talents at the club look to have done enough to secure another season in T1 and it was Yannick Boli’s second-half double that sealed the three points here. Chainat had opened the scoring through Ricardo Santos’ penalty but, like last week at home to Samut Prakan City, they failed to hold onto a lead.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

The Hornbills have now lost four of the last five and face a monumental clash at home to Sukhothai on Matchday 26 after the international break. The Firebats now sit three points above Chainat with a much superior goal difference, so anything but a win would see Dennis Amato’s side staring relegation in the face.

Ratchaburi, on the other hand, can probably start planning for another year in the top flight and they would do well to consider the formula that saw them finish between fourth and seventh from 2014 to 2017. The chopping and changing of head coaches in the last two years has undermined their credibility and they need to have the conditions in place to match their ambitions.

Port FC aiming to lay Bangkok United bogey to rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Port FC

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

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

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

  1. Buriram aim to hammer home advantage 

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

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

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Photo credit: Buriram United

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

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

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

  1. Crunch time for Chiang Mai and Swatcats 

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

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

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

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

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

  1. Ratchaburi looking for more Langil magic 

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

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

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

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

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

Buriram hit six of the best to edge closer to yet another Thai League title

Buriram United finally pulled clear at the top of the Thai League (T1) as they thumped hapless Ratchaburi 6-0.

With second-placed Chiang Rai United dropping two points at home to Sukhothai, the champions opened up a three-point gap and few would bet against them staying on top.

Meanwhile, Bangkok United signaled their surrender with a limp display at Prachuap, while Port FC kept up their challenge with a win at Suphanburi.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 24.

  1. Buriram blitz sends out a message 

Ratchaburi’s erratic form makes it difficult to know what to expect from them but, without the injured Steeven Langil and the ineligible Javier Patiño and with Lossamy Karaboue curiously left on the bench, they were short of three of their key attacking weapons at Buriram on Saturday.

Buriram United took advantage by brushing their opponents aside with some devastating finishing. 17-year-old Suphanat Mueanta opened the scoring with a nicely cushioned volley before Andres Tunez converted a penalty.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

In the second-half, Rattakorn Maikami scored a rare goal with an excellent finish with the outside of the boot, though the best was yet to come as Suphanat fed the ball inside to his older brother Supachok Sarachat. Supachok lined up his shot and smashed the ball into the top corner from distance.

Narubadin Weerawatnodom’s thunderous effort from a narrow angle was the first of two added-time goals, with Nacer Barazite grabbing the other. It has been a long, stuttering journey to get Buriram into this position, but we are now surely going to see Bozidar Bandovic’s men secure a sixth T1 title in seven years.

  1. Bangkok United raise the white flag 

It was a season that began with such high hopes for Bangkok United as Nelson Bonilla, Tristan Do, Peerapat Notchaiya, Anon Amornledsak and Mike Havenaar looked set to be the final parts of a jigsaw that would turn the club from nearly men into champions.

None of these five players were in the starting lineup when the Bangkok Angels faced struggling Prachuap FC on Saturday. Do missed his seventh game of the season through injury, while Bonilla was unavailable for the sixth time. Notchaiya – who has failed to win back his place in the starting lineup after injury – was on the bench, alongside Anon.

Havenaar’s failure to adapt to the Thai climate and footballing style saw him cut from the squad mid-season, replaced by 33-year-old free agent Jaycee John, who has failed make an impact.

Poor on-field discipline has seen an eight-game suspension for creative midfielder Sanrawat Dechmitr and two recent red cards for Pokklaw Anan – one for dissent and one for a petulant kick.

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

Despite a massive drop-off in performance from Buriram, Bangkok United have failed miserably to take the best opportunity they may ever have of breaking the dominance of the Thunder Castle.

Saturday’s listless performance in the 1-0 defeat at Prachuap saw them slip nine points off top spot to finally confirm that they are no longer contenders for the title. The Killer Wasps showed more energy and appetite despite having played 120 minutes in the midweek League Cup victory over Chiang Rai United. Supot Jodjam’s first-half goal settled the match and the visitors rarely looked like leveling the score.

Bangkok United can still end the season on a high with an FA Cup victory but on the evidence of this performance, few would expect them to lift a much-coveted trophy.

  1. Port stay in touch at the top

Port FC’s resurgence under Choketawee Promrut continued as they ended Suphanburi’s seven-game unbeaten run with a 3-1 victory away from home.

Not only did they inflict a first defeat on the War Elephant in seven games, but they also scored as many in 90 minutes as the total other opponents had managed against the same side in that seven-match run.

Sumanya Purisai’s early injury gave Rolando Blackburn an opportunity from the bench and his acrobatic effort put Port in front. An own goal made it 2-0 before Miki Seroshtan pulled one back and ensured a nervous finish.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Nurul Sriyankem’s added-time goal sealed victory and the winger was ecstatic in his celebrations, having endured a difficult season due to injury and then seeing his path back into the starting XI blocked by Bordin Phala’s outstanding form.

Port stayed four points behind Buriram and, with the two clashing in Buriram on the penultimate match of the season, there is much to play for in the next four games to set up what could be a winner-takes-all match.

Suphanburi seek killer touch while rejuvenated Port target title again

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

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

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

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

  1. Suphanburi need wins not draws 

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

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

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

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

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

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

  1. Sharks lie in wait for under fire Milos

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

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

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

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

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

  1. Prachuap look for a lift after cup boost 

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

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

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

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

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

Port brush aside Muang Thong challenge as title bid gets back on track

Port FC cruised to a 2-0 victory over Muang Thong United and quashed any hopes that the Kirins might pull off a miracle and win the Thai League (T1) title.

As the Top Five sides were dropping points with reckless abandon, Muang Thong’s 22 points from eight games had taken them from the relegation zone to within touching distance of the top.

However, this defeat kills off their unlikely challenge, while Samut Prakan City’s loss at home to Chiang Rai United confirmed the end of their T1 hopes.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 23.

  1. Port put brakes on Muang Thong

Form coming into this match suggested that this could be a very tight game between two well-matched sides. In reality, it turned out to be a straightforward victory for Port even if it took until the 89th minute for Josimar’s clinching goal to give the match a scoreline that reflected the balance of play.

Port played with aggression and intensity, full of menace on the counter attack, while Muang Thong were surprisingly flat and lacking in creativity. The Kirins may have been knocking on the door of the Top Five before the match but they ended it 11 points off top spot, while Port FC stayed in touch with leaders Buriram.

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Photo credit: Port FC

It took an hour for Sumanya Purisai to make the breakthrough, but despite tactical changes from head coach Alexandre Gama, Muang Thong never built up a head of steam and repeatedly found Elias Dolah a formidable barrier in the heart of the Port defence.

The energy of Nitipong Selanon on the right flank kept the visitors on the back foot and there were also fine performances from Bodin Phala and Martin Steuble. With the managers of the Thailand and Philippines national sides looking on, they chose a good time to impress.

For Port fans, however, the main thing was to see their recent dominance over Muang Thong continue. Their T1 record over the past three years now reads W4 D1 L1 and this was their first home win over the Kirins in 10 years.

  1. Samut Prakan’s slump continues

Samut Prakan City’s fine season is in danger of finishing ignominiously as they were once again taken apart at their own stadium on Sunday. Chiang Rai United recovered from a couple of disappointing results to defeat the Sea Fang 3-0 and remain just one point behind leaders Buriram United.

The decision to recall Ekanit Panya from his loan at Chiang Mai was again vindicated as he smashed home the opener before William Henrique added a second.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

The current malaise at Samut Prakan was summed up by Chiang Rai’s third. Kim Ho-yeong dallied in possession on the halfway line and was robbed by William. The Brazilian ran clear before finishing with a sublime chip over Kampol Pathomattakul.

Thet makes it four defeats in a row for Samut Prakan, conceding 15 goals in that time. They next face two away fixtures against clubs fighting for their lives, so things aren’t about to get any easier. Meanwhile, Chiang Rai’s title challenge stays on course with seven games remaining.

  1. Trat fall in mud bath farce

Playing during rainy season in Thailand poses a number of challenges. Sudden and intense storms can render a pitch unplayable in a matter of minutes and fans can see their plans disrupted by the resulting traffic chaos. It is, however, the duty of the league to ensure that matches at this level are played on surfaces that allow for a fair contest, with due consideration for the safety of the players.

On Sunday, the league again failed in this duty, just two weeks after Chonburi and Bangkok United played out a match on a waterlogged pitch. Trat’s match at home to Buriram United was delayed as the officials hoped for the rain to ease off and for the pitch to drain reduce surface water levels.

In many countries, referees use the bounce test as one way to determine if a game can go ahead. They would not have got much bounce on many areas of this pitch as the whistle blew for kickoff in this one.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

With six minutes remaining of a mud wrestle, Buriram’s quickly taken free kick created the chance for Nacer Barazite to once again make a decisive contribution from the bench and score the game’s only goal. Trat – still smarting from defeat to the same opponents in the FA Cup on Wednesday – complained bitterly that the free kick had been allowed to be taken in this manner, but they would have been better off staying focused on the ball.

The hosts’ temporary refusal to continue was an embarrassing throwback to the days when such throwing of toys from prams was more commonplace and Bireme Diouf’s manhandling of the referee surely merits a suspension.

The referee was not wrong to allow the goal, but he or whoever made the final decision was wrong to allow the game to be played in the first place.

Resurgent Muang Thong have bitter rivals Port FC in their sights

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

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

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

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

  1. Muang Thong aim to turn tables on Port 

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Buriram United

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

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

  1. Samut Prakan need to stop the rot

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

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

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

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

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

  1. Swatcats hoping to keep Suphanburi at a distance 

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

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

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

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

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

Buriram and Muang Thong benefit as Chiang Rai slip up

Chiang Rai United failed to make the most of a big opportunity as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Ratchaburi on Thai League (T1) Matchday 22.

Just four days earlier at the same venue, the Beetles had stunned champions Buriram United by thrashing them 4-0. But they failed to hit the same heights, and failed to hold onto top spot in the league.

Muang Thong United continued their winning streak and Buriram leapfrogged Chiang Rai at the top, while Bangkok United fell further behind.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 22.

  1. Bill’s late strike saves lacklustre Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai United’s 4-0 win over Buriram United on Wednesday was one of the most stunning results of recent years. Not only were the champions humiliated, but Chiang Rai went top of T1 and appeared to have given themselves a realistic chance of winning the title.

However, just four days later, Ratchaburi proved a tougher nut to crack and only an injury-time strike earned them a fortuitous point, the visitors having taken the lead through Lossemy Karaboue.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai’s title challenge was always unlikely but with a solid team unit, it had started to look increasingly realistic. But they fluffed their lines somewhat as their time as league leaders ended after just four days.

Karaboue has been outstanding since his arrival in mid-season and his strike looked to have secured three points for the Dragons until Bill smashed in the equaliser deep into added time. Chiang Rai remain just a point off the top but this match was a quick lesson about the pressures of leading from the front.

  1. Heberty double keeps Muang Thong moving in right direction

Muang Thong United’s seventh T1 win in eight games continued their incredible revival and took them just two points behind slumping Samut Prakan City and Bangkok United as they close in on the Top Five.

Heberty Fernandes once again came up with the goods, netting for the fifth time in three games to keep alive hopes of the most amazing title triumph in T1 history.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

With every victory, the Kirins fantasy edges closer to a possibility and they can move within a point of bitter rivals Port FC with a victory at the PAT Stadium next weekend.

Head coach Alexandre Gama has revitalised players like Charyl Chappuis and Heberty, while showing that he is not scared to drop established names like Teerasil Dangda, Sarach Yooyen and Adisorn Promrak.

Muang Thong have taken 22 points from the last eight games. Another 22 from the next eight could see them crowned T1 champions.

  1. Suphanat makes crucial contribution at just seventeen

While some of Buriram United’s established stars were rested, Suphanat Mueanta put down another marker in his breakthrough season as he scored the winning goal at PTT Rayong.

The striker turned 17 this week and marked the milestone with his sixth T1 goal of the year to move his club back to the top of the T1 table. Nacer Barazite and Rasmus Jonsson were brought in during the transfer window to provide the goals that would push the Thunder Castle to a third consecutive title.

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However, it is the Thai prodigy who is making the biggest difference as the season enters the final stages. With Teerasil Dangda looking increasingly as if his powers are on the wane, Thailand are desperate for a quality striker. Given his youth, it is too early to say if Suphanat will be a worthy successor, but all the signs point to a player that has a big future in the game.

  1. Pokklaw sees red again and Bangkok United pay the price

It had been a slow-burner of a match, with Bangkok United the dominant side at Suphanburi, as the hosts’ defence held firm. However, when Vander Luis’ cross evaded everyone and landed in the net, it gave the visitors a deserved lead and a lifeline in their fading bid to stay in the title race.

Just three minutes later, Pokklaw Anan kicked out at Alvaro Silva in retaliation and his recklessness was punished with a red card.  It had been a solid and professional performance from Bangkok United until that point but this handed the hosts a route back into the game and Kim Sung-hwan’s equaliser extended the War Elephant’s unbeaten run to six games.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

United’s under pressure head coach Mano Polking had been given the vote of confidence this week and the response had been good until Pokklaw’s red mist undid all of the good work and let the club down badly. The Bangkok Angels are surely now also-rans in the title race.

As is depressingly familiar, the refereeing left much to be desired and Bangkok United can justifiably point to some decisions that went against them again, particularly when Vander should have been awarded a penalty before Chutipol Thongtae escaped a red card for a wild challenge on the same player. However, the red card that probably cost them two points was an unnecessary act of self-harm.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Chiang Rai’s big chance 

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

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

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

  1. Last year’s heroes on the brink 

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

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

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Photo credit: Prachuap FC

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

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