Mano and Totchtawan feeling the heat ahead of crunch T1 clash

The pressure is building on several head coaches in the Thai League (T1) ahead of a break for the country’s New Year celebrations.

Muang Thong United and Ratchaburi have already seen a head coach depart this year and there is definitely pressure on Bangkok United’s Mano Polking and Suphanburi’s Totchtawan Sripan after unimpressive starts to the season.

Two matches  from this weekend’s schedule – Chiang Mai Vs Chainat and Buriram United Vs PTT Rayong – have been postponed.

Here are four things to look for on T1 Matchday Seven.

Old rivals meet in difficult times 

Three years ago, Mano Polking and Totchtawan Sripan had a thrilling battle for the T1 title as head coaches of Bangkok United and Muang Thong United respectively. Muang Thong eventually prevailed after being pushed all the way by Polking’s exciting team, with the two teams sharing 11 goals in their two league games.

There’s a very different feel about Saturday’s clash between the two. With Totchtawan now at Suphanburi, there is no talk of them being title rivals but Bangkok United’s expected challenge to be champions is under serious threat after a series of poor results.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The Bangkok Angels’ 4-2 defeat at home to Chonburi in midweek was their third game without a win and only Buriram United’s own indifferent form ensures they remain just four points off the leaders.

Meanwhile, the wheels have come off at Suphanburi, with consecutive defeats by Trat and Chiang Mai following on from a four-game unbeaten start to the season.

Both head coaches find themselves under significant pressure ahead of this one. Whatever the result, Totchtawan is likely to keep his job but another slip from Bangkok United might cast doubt on Polking’s future after almost five years at the club.

Swatcats need more firepower to punish struggling Muang Thong 

It looks like the perfect time to host Muang Thong Utd, with the Kirins having lost their last two away games without scoring a goal. Muang Thong have failed to score in each of their four defeats this year.

However, Nakhon Ratchasima have their own problems in front of goal, having netted just once in the last three games. The arrivals of the attacking talents of Amadou Ouatarra and Henri Doumbia have yet to address the Swatcats need to balance a stubborn defence with an efficient attack.

Leandro Assumpcao will hope to pile on the agony for his struggling former side but a 0-0 score line would surprise few.

Chonburi looking for three in a row

In an incredible turnaround, Chonburi have gone from rock bottom to rising stars, having won two on the trot and scored seven goals in the process. They needed a late winner to beat Prachuap after blowing a two-goal lead while they had their share of luck against Bangkok United in midweek with two deflected strikes giving them a two-goal lead.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

The Sharks will hope that the change of fortunes continues this Sunday at unbeaten Sukhothai. The Firebats have drawn five of their six matches so far and on form, you have to say another draw would be on the cards.

But if the Chonburi that showed up at Thamassat Stadium in midweek are as focused on Sunday, we might just see a third victory in midweek in a row for Chonburi. 

Simone needs a quick rebound 

Much optimism was generated by Ratchaburi head coach Marco Simone’s debut win at home to Muang Thong Utd. But the feelgood factor was short-lived as the Dragons were defeated at Samut Prakan City in midweek, while some perspective on the victory over Muang Thong was provided by Chainat’s subsequent win over the same opponents.

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Photo Credit: Ratchaburi FC

As always, Chiang Rai Utd will pose a challenge and the Beetles have problems of their own having won just one match so far this year. The mood in Ratchaburi will soon turn dark if Simone cannot conjure up a positive outcome in this one, while the pressure will also build on Chiang Rai head coach Ailton.

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.

Muang Thong test awaits Marco as he aims to breathe fire into Dragons

Ratchaburi’s latest head coach Marco Simone has a tough task in his first match in charge of the Dragons as Muang Thong United visit the Mitr Phol Stadium on Thai League (T1) Matchday Five.

The AC Milan legend has had a modest coaching career to date and faces a big challenge in his attempt to outlast the previous five head coaches.

Here are four things to look out for on Matchday Five.

  1. Marco starts with Muang Thong test

The appointment of Marco Simone as Ratchaburi’s new head coach was met with understandable scepticism by many, with the very brief stay of Christian Ziege still fresh in the memory.

Like Ziege, Simone had an excellent playing career at several top clubs but has achieved little as a manager. With Ratchaburi on a three-game losing streak and low on confidence, the Italian must quickly lift spirits before in-form Heberty Fernandes takes aim at his former club.

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Dragons fans must hope that Simone’s fluent French can get more out of Yannick Boli and Steeven Langil, while Pairot Eiam-mak may well be replaced in goal following a series of howlers.

Not many expect Simone to see out a contract that lasts until the end of the season, but this game will give an early indication of what he might bring to a club whose ambitions have not been matched by performances over the past 18 months.

  1. Can Havenaar get Bangkok United scoring?

Mike Havenaar arrived at Bangkok United with a strong reputation but the former Japan international’s struggles to adapt to the climate and reach match fitness saw him left out for the first three games of the season.

The striker finally got a chance when his side fell behind to Buriram United two weeks ago. While it was too little, too late to save the game, he did enough in his brief cameo to suggest that he can be quite an asset in the games to come.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The Bangkok Angels have a reputation as a free-flowing attacking side but have found the net just three times in four games. Nelson Bonilla has scored two of them but after a trip the USA to play for El Salvador, head coach Mano Polking may be tempted to turn to Havenaar for his first start at Nakhon Ratchasima.

The Swatcats have yet to win at home this season and Bangkok United will be desperate to keep it that way after the dispiriting defeat at home to Buriram. Havenaar may just be what’s required to break down a resolute Swatcats defence as the visitors try and stay near the top of the table.

  1. Sharks need to get their bite back

Chonburi’s 3-0 defeat at Suphanburi two weeks ago came due to a listless performance from a team that has started to look very different from the one that drew at Buriram on Matchday One.

The Sharks are now bottom of the T1 table and host leaders Prachuap on Saturday, with another defeat unthinkable.

There must be room for change in the side that has been underperforming and goalkeeper Chanin Sae-ear’s position must be under threat after some uninspiring displays.

A victory in this game could relaunch the Sharks’ season and lift the players back to the levels they are capable of. A defeat would see them stay bottom and begin to seriously contemplate a season-long battle to beat the drop.

  1. Sukhothai out to prove more than a point

Sukhothai head coach Ljubomir Ristovski has not surprisingly toughened up a side that conceded 63 goals in 2018, with his new team losing just two goals this year. However, they have also netted just twice to leave them looking pretty toothless in attack.

The loss of the prolific Nelson Bonilla was always going to have an impact but Petar Orlandic looked a decent replacement, having played for Red Star Belgrade as recently as 2017.

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Photo credit: Sukhothai FC

The Montenegrin striker has struggled in front of goal so far, but he has been getting into the right positions. Fire Bats fans will be hoping that the near misses soon turn into goals.

Port FC will be a tough opponent on Saturday but the atmosphere at the Thung Thalay Luang Stadium can lift the home side as they seek to take their first win of the year.

Milan legend Marco has no fears as he enters the Dragons’ den

Marco Simone breezed into the Ratchaburi press room as the club’s new head coach without a hint of the nervous tension of someone who knew that he could be out of a job in a couple of months.

The former AC Milan star was relaxed, smiled easily and talked at length in English about the challenge that lay ahead.

He reminisced about a trip to Thailand with the great Milan side of the 90s a quarter of a century ago and joked that he was ready to don his boots again if his new club needed him.

The more serious questions about the possibility of quickly becoming the latest victim of Ratchaburi’s notoriously short patience were skilfully handled as he suggested that such impatience was a part of the game across the world.

He also seemed very laid-back about the possibility that his stay at the Thai League club could last either two months or two years.

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Such an attitude might just serve him well at a club that has gone from progressing and progressive to shambolic in the last 18 months.

The completion of the impressive Mitr Phol stadium was a testament to the club’s ambitions to be among the top sides in the country, while consecutive placings of 4th, 7th, 6thand 6th suggested the Dragons were consistent but just a little short of becoming title challengers.

Since Spanish head coach Pacheta led the club to the second of two sixth-placed finishes in 2017, the club have employed six head coaches. This sudden instability saw Ratchaburi finish the 2018 season just a point above the relegation zone.

Manolo Marquez Roca was appointed as the new head coach in November but left in January, without taking charge of a competitive match.

Christian Ziege’s brief stay at the start of 2018 showed clear issues with how he thought things would run and how things actually ran, but Simone gently dismissed any comparisons by stressing that every situation was different.

Simone learned to be philosophical during his highly impressive playing career when he often had to play second fiddle to the likes of Marco Van Basten, George Weah, Jean-Pierre Papin and Roberto Baggio at Milan. He watched from the bench as his team-mates won the UEFA Champions League in 1990 and 1994, as his great talents just fell short of some of the world’s best players of the era.

But racking up 145 league appearances and scoring 45 goals for the Rossoneri during the club’s golden age points to a player with considerable gifts and he went on to star at Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco where he was a more regular starter and goal scorer.

It remains to be seen if his charms will inspire this stuttering Ratchaburi side. They have plenty of attacking talent but it has been the defence and an error-prone goalkeeper that have let them down badly this year.

Simone has had a modest coaching career to date, his biggest job at Monaco coming when they were in Ligue 2. Spells with Lausanne, Tours, Laval and Tunisia’s Club Africain have followed but, now 50, the Italian’s chances of a high-profile career are diminishing.

A challenging first Thai League fixture awaits when Muang Thong United visit Ratchaburi on Sunday. Simone gently deflected the question of how he would prepare for the challenge of the Kirins by highlighting that he needed to get to know his own players before looking at his opponents.

Few people expect the Italian to stay long in Thailand, but if he can harness the laid-back approach he demonstrated in the press conference, maybe he will be well suited to the job.

Having such a decorated former player in the Thai game is always a boost for its profile but another unhappy ending after a matter of weeks or months would not be good for its credibility.

Let’s hope that Simone defies expectations and sees out the season at the very least and then perhaps he will be ready for his career trajectory to go in a new direction.

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.

Bangkok United face Buriram in what could be crucial early season showdown

Bangkok United host Buriram United in the big match of Thai League (T1) Matchday Four, with the champions taking on the team expected to be their number one challengers this year.

Buriram will be buoyed by the midweek AFC Champions League victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai but the Bangkok Angels know they could open up a five-point gap if they can beat the Thunder Castle for the first time in almost five years.

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

  1. Another early test for Mano’s men

Taking on your biggest rivals in the first few weeks of the season is tough, with new signings bedding in and fitness still to hit the top levels. Bangkok United overcame Muang Thong United a couple of weeks back and now face another team who usually get the better of them.

Mano Polking’s side have lost defender Mika Chunuonsee and playmaker Vander Luiz to injury, making an already challenging task even tougher. Centre-back Everton Saturnino will need to provide strong leadership at the back as they try and keep a third clean sheet in a row. Nelson Bonilla’s goals have won them the last two matches and all eyes will again be on him to make the difference.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

A slow start to the season had Buriram looking less likely to run away with the T1 title again but Wednesday’s victory over the K League champions completely transforms the morale of the team and they will approach the game with confidence.

There were signs that striker Pedro Junior is starting to hit his stride and Supachok Sarachat has made an excellent start to the season, with four goals already to his name.

This game could potentially have a huge impact on the direction of the title race and it is difficult to predict how it will go with neither side yet to hit top form. A draw would surprise few.

  1. Can JET defy low expectations?

When PTT Rayong signed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, much was made of his connections to Arsenal – a club at which he failed to make the breakthrough. A quick look at his Wikipedia page had many writing him off as another foreign has-been, coming to Thailand for an easy pay day.

But his performance in PTT Rayong’s 2-1 victory over Samut Prakan City last weekend has started to change perceptions. The English striker was in outstanding form as he scored the opener and set up the second goal.

He poses a challenge that defenders in T1 are unaccustomed to. He is obviously physically imposing and his schooling at Arsenal has clearly equipped him with the skills to effortlessly drift past defenders without appearing to change pace.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

Robbie Fowler, Jay Simpson, Jay Bothroyd and Leroy Lita are some of the English strikers who have failed to make a positive impression in the Thai League. At just 28, Emmanuel-Thomas is far from a jaded veteran and has the talent to revive his career with the right attitude.

Port FC host PTT without their top defender David Rochela and JET will fancy his chances. His strike partner Ariel Rodriguez was frustrated at the Englishman’s insistence on going it alone at times last weekend but if the two of them click, they could well form one of the top strike pairings in the league. 

  1. Suphanburi and Chonburi aim to put false starts behind them

Suphanburi and Chonburi were two teams that looked like they were better equipped to push back into the top half of the table after some promising close season acquisitions.

But both clubs have had underwhelming starts to the campaign, with neither having won a game yet. The War Elephant at least remain unbeaten but they show no signs of ridding themselves of their point sharing tendency, having drawn all three matches so far. They have scored just once – a penalty – but have looked solid defensively, conceding just once and that was a special strike from Sukhothai’s Kabfah Boonmatoon.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

It is Suphanburi’s attacking game that must improve if they are to start climbing the table. Cleiton Silva netted from the penalty spot last week but Jonatan Reis has rarely looked like scoring.

They may just have found the right opponent, with Chonburi’s shaky back line having conceded seven times in three games. Nevertheless, the Sharks proved unpredictable last year and sometimes performed well away from home when least expected. They won as many on the road as they did at home and the 2-2 draw at Buriram United on Matchday One has been their best result of this campaign.

This is another very tough one to call and neither side will wish to contemplate a defeat.

 

 

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.

Muang Thong must stop the rot as pressure builds on Pairoj

Just two games into the 2019 Thai League (T1) season, Muang Thong United head coach Pairoj is already the subject of speculation over who will succeed him

After two 1-0 defeats for the Kirins  at the hands of 2018’s 6th and 2nd placed teams, Thai football’s most eligible head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang was linked with the Muang Thong job, forcing him to dismiss the possibility.

While it is an absurd over-reaction to question coach Bae’s credentials so soon, it is clear that nothing less than a win is necessary when his team host Chiang Mai on Saturday.

Here are five things to look out for on T1 Matchday Three.

  1. Time for Teerasil’s return to scoring form

The return of Teerasil Dangda created much excitement for the Muang Thong United faithful in the close season. After a year on loan at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, the Thailand legend was back and it was the equivalent of signing a new top striker.

But after two games in which the overloaded Muang Thong front line has failed to deliver, it is surely time for Teerasil to unlock the opposition defence. When a combination of Teerasil, Heberty Fernandes and Adisak Kraisorn fails to provide goals, there is something amiss.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

Pairoj was seen as a safe but uninspiring choice of head coach when appointed. At the moment, he simply looks uninspiring. Goals from Teerasil may just help him start to turn things around.

  1. No room for Trat fall

 Bangkok United successfully negotiated a huge hurdle when they beat Muang Thong United last weekend. As well as earning three points against a potential title rival, they also rid themselves of a damaging psychological barrier with their first ever home win over the Kirins.

Now that they have reinforced their pretensions to be serious title contenders, Mano Polking’s side must ensure that they can travel to tricky places like Trat and come away with a victory.

The newly-promoted side proved a difficult opponent for Ratchaburi on Matchday One and were only denied victory last week by an added-time equaliser from Chainat. Lonsana Doumbouya will give the away side’s backline a challenge and a vociferous home crowd should be in attendance.

Title wins are built on wins in fixtures like this and this is Bangkok United’s chance to make an early statement.

  1. Buriram must take sting out of Killer Wasps

Thai champions Buriram United have made an inauspicious start to the T1 campaign, taking just two points from two games. They have also failed to score in the last two fixtures, having drawn 0-0 at Suphanburi last weekend and lost 3-0 to Urawa Reds in the AFC Champions League on Wednesday.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

On Sunday, they host T1’s joint leaders Prachuap FC, who have taken six points out of six without conceding a goal. With expected challengers Bangkok United potentially five points ahead of them by kickoff time, there is no margin for error for Bozidar Bandovic’s side.

Prachuap are looking good again and will approach the fixture without fear but this is surely the time for Buriram to flex their muscles.

  1. Dragons and Swatcats in early battle for supremacy

It may not be a fixture that immediately catches the eye but Ratchaburi vs Nakhon Ratchasima could be a hugely significant match for the sides involved.

The hosts’ excellent home record was severely damaged last year in a season to forget, while Nakhon Ratchasima’s positive start to 2019 was swiftly punctured by a home defeat to Chiang Rai United last week.

These are two clubs who aspire to be in the top half of the table and head-to-head clashes like this could be hugely influential in deciding which team is battling against relegation and which is sitting comfortably in mid-table.

Ratchaburi’s Matchday One hat-trick hero Yannick Boli was just about stifled by Port FC’s Elias Dolah last weekend. With Kang Soo-il fit again and possibly joining Boli up front, Swatcats defenders Chalermpong Kerdkaew and Lee Won-jae will have to be at their best to help their side take at least a point.

  1. PTT need to turn things around

Samut Prakan City sit on top of the T1 table alongside Prachuap FC – two unlikely pace-setters in a league with many twists and turns to come.

At rock bottom sit PTT Rayong – a club that’s invested much in ensuring that their second T1 adventure did not end like the last one – after one season.

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Photo credit: PTT Rayong

It is vital that PTT start to put points on the board to prevent the season becoming a slog to survive. With T1 champions like Anawin Jujeen, Koravit Namwiset alongside talents like Victor Cardozo and Ariel Rodrgiguez, PTT should be aiming for the top half rather than survival.

The visit of Samut Prakan City on Sunday is a challenge that could have a profound effect on the season ahead. A third straight defeat for the hosts would be hugely damaging, while a win could be the launchpad for better things to come.

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.

Bangkok United host Muang Thong in clash neither side can afford to lose

It is only Matchday Two of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season but a huge clash looms large as Bangkok United host Muang Thong United.

Both clubs made unimpressive starts last weekend and will be desperate to earn their first victory of the campaign.

Bangkok United were lucky to escape from Sukhothai with a 1-1 draw, while Muang Thong’s much vaunted strike force drew a blank in a 1-0 defeat at home to Prachuap FC.

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

  1. A match neither can afford to lose

Bangkok United have made no secret of their title ambitions and Saturday’s game at home to Muang Thong United is exactly the kind of fixture they must win to make their fans believe. They have a poor record of winning crunch games like this so a victory is essential.

A draw would be disappointing and a defeat would feel pretty disastrous in the context, with all pre-season optimism disappearing. On the other hand, taking three points from a close rival will instil belief that the team is finally coming together.

Muang Thong, meanwhile, are determined not to finish among the also-rans as they did last year and the returns of Teerasil Dangda and Mario Gjurovski energised the fans. However, head coach Pairoj Borwornwtanadilok was already having his tactical acumen questioned after he set up his team in a baffling formation last week, featuring four strikers in various forward positions.

The 1-0 loss came against a decent Prachuap side but it punctured some of the optimism that had been building.

The Kirins boss would probably take a draw but Bangkok Angels head coach Mano Polking must know that anything other than a win will see the pressure continue to build.

  1. Sharks face old foe in new guise 

Chonburi can no longer look forward to a derby clash with neighbouring Pattaya United now that Samut Prakan City have stolen their rivals and transported them to the outskirts of Bangkok.

It is still a local rivalry of sorts, with Samut Prakan province lying just a few kilometres from the Chonburi border, so it will be interesting to see the dynamic that develops over time.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

On the pitch, Samut Prakan may be sitting two points above their rivals after beating Chiang Mai at home last week, but Chonburi have taken great heart from a battling performance at Buriram. The Sharks were 2-1 and a man down at the home of the champions when Kroekrit Thaweekarn fired in an equaliser to earn a great point.

Patrick Cruz may be ready to make a start up front alongside the talented, if temperamental, Lukian and Worachit Kanitsribampen will again be a threat in attack.

Samut Prakan could stay top of T1 with a win but Chonburi have to be favourites to beat the club formerly known as Pattaya United.

  1. Weakened Port face Boli challenge

It is never a good time for Port FC to lose their top defender David Rochela to injury but it looks particularly poorly timed when one of T1’s top new attacking talents is coming to the PAT Stadium.

Yannick Boli took T1 by storm last Friday as he hit hat-trick that gave Ratchaburi a 3-2 victory over Trat to kick off their campaign. Boli’s movement and variety of finishing was the highlight of an otherwise patchy performance from the Dragons, whose backline was bullied by Lonsana Doumbouya.

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Photo credit: Ratchaburi FC

Steeven Langil also impressed with his skill and direct running, suggesting that Ratchaburi will be fun to watch in attack this year but may not be the strongest at the back.

Not only are Port without Rochela, but new midfielder Go Seul-ki also misses out after last week’s straight red card in Chiang Rai. Port dug in for a goalless draw in Chiang Rai  and they will have to keep things tight at the back again if they are to keep out Boli.

There should be a party atmosphere after the season launch festivities and the team will hope to keep that going with a home win.