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.

 

Suphanat’s brace punishes Samut Prakan as Buriram pull clear

Samut Prakan City’s Sarawut Kanlayabandit hit the self-destruct button as his red card helped Buriram United to a 4-1 victory on Thai League (T1) Matchday 20.

The surprise title contenders were 1-0 down but still well in the game when a moment of madness from Sarawut gave Buriram the edge and allowed them to pull three points ahead of their opponents.

Elsewhere, Bangkok United dropped two vital points, while Muang Thong United continued their recovery and Port FC finally won again.

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 20.

  1. Sarawut sees red and Buriram go clear

Samut Prakan City had started their match at home to Buriram on the front foot as they looked determined to make the most of their opportunity to become T1 leaders going into the final third of the season.

Even when 16-year-old Suphanat Mueanta opened the scoring against the run of play, the underdogs were not discouraged and continued to take the game to the champions.

However, the complexion of the game changed completely in the 39th minute. After Sarawut’s challenge forced Nacer Barazite to the floor, the defender inexplicably stamped on Barazite’s knee, prompting the referee to give a straight red.

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Photo credit: Buriram United

There were predictable protests but replays were damning and, on the club’s biggest game yet in front of a sellout crowd, Sarawut had effectively handed the game to the opposition.

Suphanat soon added a second and, while Ibson Melo’s goal early in the second half came as the hosts rallied impressively, goals from Supachok Sarachat and Barazite finished things off.

Samut Prakan remain just three points off the top of the table but they will be disappointed that they didn’t make more of this opportunity with 11 men on the field.

  1. Mano’s gamble backfires as Swatcats take point

With Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiya injured and Pokklaw Anan and Mika Chunuonsee suspended, it was a brave move from Bangkok United head coach Mano Polking to rest four more regular starters following the 120-minute League Cup battle against Buriram United last Wednesday.

It showed faith in the depth of the squad with a tough run of matches to come but, having fallen five points behind Buriram United, a victory was absolutely imperative when they hosted struggling Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday.

Even considering the risk of starting with a weakened lineup, there was no legislating for the misdirected header that gifted Henri Doumbia the opening goal before naive defending from Puttinun Wannasri gave the Swatcats a penalty that Doumbia converted to make it 2-0.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

Vander Luis and Nelson Bonilla had both come off the bench by the time the second goal had gone in, but it wasn’t until the 81st minute that Chananan Pombuppha pulled a goal back. Just three minutes later, Bonilla made it 2-2, setting up a barnstorming finish.

A winner for the home side seemed almost inevitable as the game entered seven minutes of added time but a combination of determined defending and inspired goalkeeping from Samuel Cunningham ensured that both sides took a point.

Bangkok United have now won just one of the last five and a season that promised so much seems increasingly destined to end in disappointment.

  1. Muang Thong close in on Top Six

Since Alexandre Gama’s losing debut as Muang Thong United head coach, he has taken 16 points from six games to move his side from relegation threatened to Top Five and maybe even Top Three contenders.

While the current Top Five have been unable to string together a strong run of results, Muang Thong have made their move up the table with a string of efficient but unspectacular victories.

On Saturday, they overcame Ratchaburi 2-1 in a fractious affair that saw the visitors’ star man Steeven Langil sent off before the hour mark. The referee had his hands full as the tedious spectacle of bad player behaviour was on show once again.

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

In the end, Muang Thong could look back on a job well done and the difference Gama has made has been significant. He has given Charyl Chappuis a regular start in midfield and has been rewarded with a string of impressive performances that may put the Swiss Thai in line for a recall to the national side.

Gama has also selected players based on form rather than reputation and this saw experienced internationals Teerasil Dangda, Sarach Yooyen, Adisak Kraisorn and Adisorn Promrak start Saturday’s match on the bench, while youngsters Patchrapol Intanee and Saringkan Promsupa started alongside the unsung Wattana Playnum and Sanukran Thinjom.

Now that the players know they cannot take their team in the lineup for granted, this Muang Thong side look like finishing the season strongly and setting themselves up for a much better 2020.

  1. Dolah puts Port back on track

It was hardly the resounding return to form that new head coach Choketawee Promrut might have hoped for but the result was always the most important thing. Elias Dolah ensured that Port FC won a T1 match for the first time in two months as his second-half header was enough to see off Sukhothai.

It is too early to talk of a renewed title bid but it was extremely important for Choketawee to make a winning start following the lacklustre form towards the end of Jadet Meelarp’s reign.

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Photo credit: Port FC

Port remain fifth in T1, five points off top spot, so there is still plenty to play for as the season approaches the final stretch. There are a couple of trips to the seaside ahead with matches at Trat and Prachuap before what promises to be a crunch match at home to rivals Muang Thong United on August 11th.

Samut Prakan aim to prove they have what it takes as Buriram come calling

Samut Prakan City face the ultimate test of their title credentials when they host champions Buriram United on Thai League (T1) Matchday 20.

The two clubs are in joint top spot – something no one could have predicted as we edge towards the final third of the season.

New head coach Choketawee Promrut will aim to get Port FC moving back in the right direction when they welcome Sukhothai to the PAT Stadium and there will be an interesting Lanna derby between two sides that have uncomfortably close links.

Here are three things to look out for on T1 Matchday 20.

  1. Samut Prakan’s chance to shine

When Samut Prakan City suffered a 3-0 loss at home to PTT Rayong two weeks ago, it felt like it may be the beginning of the end of their unlikely title challenge. No one had expected the newly formed club to perform at the same level as the top T1 side’s for so long and it wasn’t unreasonable to anticipate a dip in form.

But they bounced straight back with a 2-1 victory at Sukhothai, proving to the doubters that they will not be shaken off that easily. Now, they face another huge test of character when Buriram visit.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

The champions have been lacklustre all year and have only rarely shown the intensity that is usually associated with the team that has dominated Thai football for the best part of a decade. When they went to Bangkok and put then-leaders Port FC in their place with a dominant performance six weeks ago, it felt like a turning point.

However, Buriram soon slipped back into mediocrity, with only the shared mediocrity of their immediate challengers keeping them top. On Saturday, they again have the opportunity to swat aside an upstart. They will have been lifted by the midweek League Cup victory at Bangkok United, though such a grueling 120-minute tie will also have caused fatigue.

Samut Prakan have generally been a tight unit all year and the home defeat to an in-form PTT Rayong looks the exception rather than a sign of things to come. It’s a tough one to call and whatever the result, both sides will remain in title contention after the final whistle.

  1. Decisions, decisions ahead of Lanna derby.

Do you try and save a relegation-threatened side or try and keep a club’s T1 title bid alive? These are the questions facing the club directors at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai United, ahead of the season’s second northern derby.

The two clubs already enjoyed a close relationship before Chiang Mai’s recent move to share a stadium when theirs closed for renovations. Now, with many Chiang Rai players on loan at the Lanna Tigers, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other apart from their shirt colours and their positions in the table.

A sign of priorities was perhaps seen when Chiang Rai recalled Ekanit Panya from his loan spell, depriving Chiang Mai of one of their top players. Ekanit went on to score the winning goal in his club’s midweek League Cup victory at BG Pathum United.

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Photo credit: Chiang Rai United

Chiang Mai sit joint bottom, while Chiang Rai are just two points off the top spot and this game will go a long way to determining the fates of both clubs. A defeat for Chiang Mai could see them slip as much as six points from safety, while defeat for Chiang Rai may result in them dropping five points off the T1 leaders.

The presumed unavailability of the players Chiang Mai have borrowed from the Beetles automatically weakens them, so a home win seems the more likely outcome. However, do the clubs’ sponsors want to see both these clubs in the top division next season?

  1. Can Choketawee turn it around for Port?

After Port FC’s fading title hopes were dealt yet another blow with defeat at PTT Rayong last weekend, time was called on Jadet Meelarp’s reign as head coach. Form over the past two months has been that of a side headed for relegation but Port remain just five points behind leaders Buriram United.

Jadet’s successor Choketawee Promrut now has the opportunity to start afresh and make a renewed push for the T1 title, starting with a home match against struggling Sukhothai on Sunday.

The new man in charge is not an inspiring appointment given his lack of success at club level. His most notable achievement as a coach is winning SEA Games gold for Thailand U23s in 2015, but he has failed to impress anywhere since.

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Photo credit: Port FC

He was recently assistant to Thailand’s interim head coach Sirisak Yodyardthai with the Thai national side, but things didn’t end well after poor performances at the Kings Cup in May.

At 44 years old, this is a huge opportunity for Choketawee as he takes charge of one of T1’s most talented squads. If he gets things right, he may well be at the start of a very rewarding career. If not, he might just join the well-established Thai coach merry-go-round. This may ensure he is rarely out of work, but also that he achieves little of note.

The first assignment is to inflict another damaging defeat on Sukhothai but the Fire Bats are unlikely to make it easy as they battle for survival.

From Barcelona to Bangkok: Thailand youth coach Salva Valero targets U17 World Cup

From the footballing hotbed of Barcelona to steamy Bangkok, Salva Valero is aiming for the world stage as he attempts to lead Thailand to the 2021 FIFA U17 World Cup.

The latest step in that journey begins in Chonburi on July 28th as his current side compete in the AFF U15 Championship.

Their Group B campaign kicks off against Laos and they also face Brunei, Cambodia, Australia and Malaysia as they bid to reach the final stages.

Valero is well aware of the high expectations placed on the hosts but is at pains to stress that they are building towards bigger things that this particular regional competition.

“Of course, we know that in Thailand, everyone expects us to be the champions,” said Valero. “But we have to think more of the long-term process than the short-term. Our target is going to the U17 World Cup and to go to the AFC U16 Championship and be in the Top Four because the AFC U16 tournament is the bridge to the World Cup.

“That is our main focus and we have to prepare for that. If we only think about winning this tournament, we are incorrect. The point of this tournament is to prepare for the AFC qualifiers in September and of course the final round of the AFC next year.

“We are preparing the team and thinking more of the process than the final result. This process is training well, playing the way we want to play and that will make it easier to reach our targets.”

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Valero is one of many modern coaches who travel from one side of the world to the other on their professional journey.

As part of the Ekkono group, he joined the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) two years ago as the Spanish coaching team was entrusted with the development of younger age groups.

However, he soon found out that there could be knee-jerk reactions rather than long-term strategy in his new working environment.

“Ekkono arrived in April 2017 in Thailand,” said Valero. “Initially, we were going to be responsible for the age groups from U21 and below. We worked for six months like that but after December, the U21 side lost against Myanmar and Vietnam in a tournament in Vietnam and that caused a dramatic reaction, so the FAT changed our duties to focus only on age groups below U16.

“At that moment, we started building up the generation 2004, which is the one that will play in the next AFF tournament – the one I’m in charge of. The target is to prepare a team that will go to the U17 World Cup.

“The first step is the AFC qualifiers in September and we are now preparing for the AFF tournament at the end of this month in Chonburi.”

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Valero is just 26 years old but has amassed over a decade of experience in coaching, starting out in his home city of Barcelona at the age of 15.

“I coached in some of the best academies on Barcelona for eight years before coming to Thailand,’ he said. “I coached in the top U16 league with different teams, including Cornella and Gava, playing against Barcelona and Espanyol in the Catalonia top division for U16s.

“I started to be a coach when I was 15 because at that time I realized that as a football player, it would be difficult to reach the top level. I was playing but I wasn’t at the top level in my generation so I decided to focus on becoming a coach.”

Not surprisingly, Valero’s early years saw him influenced by the team that play at the Nou Camp stadium, but he also developed an admiration for coaches who plied their trade abroad and at home.

“I went to Barcelona’s stadium from the age of three with my father and I started to support Barcelona at that time,” said Valero.

“Apart from Barcelona’s influence, when I was a teenager, Mourinho started to manage Chelsea and then went to Inter. I liked his personality and especially the way he controlled his teams. He was a big influence for me in how he managed.

“For example, when Inter played against Barcelona in the 2010 AFC Champions League semi-final, he had Samuel Eto’o play at left-back and it worked. The way he made his team fight for each other and the way he created team spirit impressed me a lot. I liked Mourinho not so much from the tactical side but from the way he developed team spirit.

“Nowadays, Diego Simeone has the same idea of creating a strong group at Atletico Madrid. I like the kind of coaches who can create this environment in the team, where even the most talented players are fighting for the team and are sacrificing their own egos.

“In terms of football, my main influence is Barcelona, but in terms of managing and how to create team spirit, I like Mourinho and Simeone.”

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It has long been observed that Thailand’s young players are blessed with plenty of skills but often fail to fulfil their potential as they develop into adult professionals. Valero believes that the problems lie not only off the pitch, but also in the lack of intensity in training and in games.

“In Thailand, on the technical side, we have good players,” he said. “If you compare us to the top academies in Barcelona where I coached, we could be better than some of the teams technically, but we lack organisation.

“Off the field, there is a lack of attention to lifestyle and professionalism. We are trying to educate our players about how to behave as football players, e.g. how to rest, how to eat. This is a big issue with Thai players, not only at youth level, but also at the professional level.

“To reach the standard of European countries is not about the technical side, but the lifestyle and the way you live football, the way you compete.

“When I watch the youth leagues and see the training at some academies, I think they lack intensity and competitiveness. In general, we lack that. We hope that with this generation we can change that but in Thailand it is a big issue.

“Coaching this generation from the age of 13, we have done the scouting and some training camps. Now they are 15, so we have worked them for two years, educating them on their behaviour on and off the pitch.”

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Valero remains hopeful that the work done over the last two years can help this generation to adopt the right mentality as they seek to make a living from the game. He is hopeful that fans will turn out in numbers to back the team in Chonburi and thinks they could be rewarded with a style that might not be unfamiliar to followers of the English Premier League.

“Since we started with this generation, we realized that we have very talented midfielders. For sure, we will have a lot of possession,” said Valero.

“We have the identify of being a high pressing team. We will be focused on playing with the ball, trying to build up and switch to find an advantage, and also to do some counter pressing.

“We will be very intense when we lose the ball to react as fast as possible to recover the ball and continue attacking. That will be our aim – between Man City and Liverpool, we want play like that.”

Buriram hold off Bangkok United challenge to stay top of T1

Buriram United clung on to the top of the Thai League (T1) table by holding Bangkok United to a hard-fought 1-1 draw on Matchday 19.

The champions’ winless turn stretched to four games but they remain leaders, ahead of Samut Prakan City on goal difference.

Meanwhile, Port FC’s defeat at PTT Rayong spelled the end of head coach Jadet Meelarp’s reign, while Suphanburi remain bottom despite a fourth game unbeaten.

Here are three things we saw on T1 Matchday 19.

  1. Bangkok United fail to take their chance

There may never have been a better chance to beat a vulnerable Buriram on their own patch, with their two new strikers still struggling to find their feet and Bozidar Bandovic’s men failing to hit consistent form.

In 2018, the Thunder Castle dropped just 15 points across a 34-match season. So far in 2019, they have dropped 22 points in just 19 games. However, Bangkok United have chosen this of all years to be equally profligate. They have already let 24 points slip – just seven points fewer than in the 34 matches in 2018.

On Sunday, Bangkok United’s failed attempt to play out from the back put them in trouble and Nacer Barazite opened the scoring for Buriram. Everton Saturnino’s thumping header levelled the score on the stroke of half-time and set up what promised to be a thrilling second half.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

But the second 45 minutes didn’t match the quality of the first half and moves broke down with misplaced passes and poor decisions, or when there was a whistle from an increasingly erratic referee.

As frustration spilled over after yet another dubious call in added time, Pokklaw Anan was sent off for his second yellow card in the space of a minute, apparently both for dissent. Given the amount of dissent that referees routinely tolerate, it seemed a strange decision, especially given the absence of aggression from Pokklaw.

The outcome leaves the title face wide open, with a two-point gap between Buriram and Bangkok United remaining, while even crisis-club Port FC remain firmly in contention despite their wretched form.

Buriram travel to face surprise joint leaders Samut Prakan City next weekend in a clash that will surely have a significant impact on the outcome of the season.

  1. Murillo magic sinks slumping Port

On May 29th, PTT Rayong beat Chonburi to take a much-needed three points, and earn just the third win in their first 12 T1 games of the season. On the same day, top-of-the-table Port FC defeated Chiang Mai 3-1 for their eighth victory.

On Saturday, a wonder strike from Dennis Murillo was enough for PTT to seal a 1-0 win in a tight game. It was the home side’s sixth victory in the last eight games, pushing them just two points behind their opponents. Port, meanwhile, have failed to win a single T1 match in the six fixtures since that win over Chiang Mai.

It could be argued that the rot had set in before the club started making some interesting recruitment decisions, but surely no one can seriously consider Tanaboon Kesarat as a better option at centre-back than David Rochela.

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Photo credit: Port FC

And would it not have been better to keep Dragan Boskovic and play him alongside an out-and-out striker rather than putting all the pressure on the veteran to rediscover the scoring form of 2017 before dropping him from the squad?

This latest defeat was the final nail in head coach Jadet’s coffin and he makes way for Choketawee Promrut. It is not exactly an inspiring choice given Choketawee’s very modest CV but things clearly weren’t working under Jadet, who is known more for his affable nature than his coaching ability.

Time will tell if Port can recover from this mid-season slump and at least match last year’s third-place finish, while perhaps winning the FA Cup. The contrasting fortunes of these two sides demonstrate the crazy unpredictability of this season so far and anything seems possible.

  1. Suphanburi extend unbeaten run but stay bottom

If you are unbeaten in four games and have conceded just one goal in that streak, you might expect to be doing better than joint bottom of the table. Suphanburi seem to have rediscovered their early season form in defence but their continued failure to score goals may yet see them relegated.

The War Elephant conceded just once in their first four games this year, but proceeded to ship 10 in the following three matches. The haul of six points in the last four matches equals that earned in the first four games but taking just five from the 11 in between has left them in a precarious position.

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Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Chonburi was their sixth goalless draw of the season. They were kept out by Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool after the goalkeeper made the switch to the Sharks last week. While picking up points at places like Buriram and Chonburi are decent results, they desperately need wins to move them up the table. Dragan Boskovic seems to have turned down a move to Suphanburi and they have turned to another former player – Guilherme Dellatorre – to provide the goals in their battle for survival.

Chonburi, meanwhile, remain just three points above the relegation zone after just one win in five. The mid-season scattergun recruitment drive has yet to pay dividends.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Bangkok United bid to seize control of their fate

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

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

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

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

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

  1. Port aim to make most of reprieve

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

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

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Photo credit: Port FC

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

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

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

  1. Muang Thong under renewed pressure

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

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

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Photo credit: Muang Thong United

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

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

Port fans lose patience while Bonilla rescues Bangkok United

Another weekend, another disappointing result for Port FC as Chonburi held them to a 2-2 draw at the PAT Stadium on Thai League (T1) Matchday 18.

There was even a rare show of dissent from the Port fans, especially when winger Pakorn Prempak showed his displeasure with them.

Muang Thong United had their growing momentum punctured by Chiang Mai, while Samut Prakan City suffered a shock 3-0 defeat at home to PTT Rayong. And Bangkok United managed to overcome Trat to move two points off leaders Buriram United, who drew 0-0 for the second week in a row.

Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 18.

  1. Worachit shines as Port struggle again

Port’s latest bout of transfer activity was presumably designed to prevent their fading title hopes from being completely extinguished. The arrivals of strikers Rolando Blackburn and Chenrop Samphaodi were a sign that the club was not satisfied with the depth of the squad, despite having also brought Tanaboon Kesarat, Martin Steuble and Josimar Rodrigues on board.

Of this quintet, only Josimar and Steuble started Saturday’s match against Chonburi, and it was the visitors’ attacking midfielder Worachit Kanitsribampen who stole the show as the Sharks, coming off six away games without scoring, took the lead twice in the opening 45 minutes.

Worachit’s opener was a wonderful effort, his first touch on the turn putting Elias Dolah off balance, before skipping past Tossapol Lates and firing into the corner. Chonburi could have been 2-0 up after just 11 minutes as Worachit’s perfectly-timed through ball put Panupong Phonsa through on goal, but the midfield man’s effort struck the post.

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Photo credit: Chonburi FC

After Siwakorn Jakkuprasat had levelled the score, Worachit laid the ball into the path of Caion to put the Sharks back in front with an excellent strike before Sergio Suarez equalised just two minutes later.

There was no further scoring in the second half but it was notable for the discontent that echoed around the stadium when Bordin Phala was replaced by Nurul Sriyankem. The unrest grew when Josimar was withdrawn and Port reverted to the 4-6-0 formation that had failed in last week’s draw at Ratchaburi. There was then incredulity when, with Chenrop and Blackburn on the bench, defensive midfielder Tanaboon was brought on as the final substitute with Port needing a goal.

Finally, Pakorn’s gesturing further enraged an already frustrated home support. They may remain just four points off top spot, but one win in eight games is relegation rather than title winning form and Port’s next T1 clash is a trip to in-form PTT Rayong.

  1. Bonilla brace helps Bangkok United close in on Buriram

As has been the case in many games this year, Bangkok United did not have an easy time in a fixture that looked a safe bet for three points.

At home to Trat FC, they fell behind early in the second half and had to rely on a Nelson Bonilla double strike to earn a much-needed win. Without regular wing-backs Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiya, the hosts lacked the width that often forms part of their attacking arsenal.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The winning goal came from a straightforward ball over the top that was brilliantly taken down and finished by Bonilla.

With Buriram United dropping more points in a 0-0 draw at Prachuap, Bangkok United can now leapfrog the current league leaders with victory at the Chang Arena next weekend.

Incredibly, just four points separate the top five teams in T1, so the title really could be won by any team in that group.

  1. Chiang Mai bring Muang Thong back to earth

Muang Thong United’s three-game winning streak ended on an emotional occasion as Chiang Mai played at their home stadium for the final time this year.

The Lanna Tigers were looking doomed a matter of weeks ago but a three-match unbeaten run has given them hope that they can still survive. On Friday evening, Chotipat Poomkaew put them in front with a beautiful shot on the turn and when Adisorn Promrak was red-carded before half-time, it looked like a huge upset was on the cards.

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Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC

But this is not the Muang Thong of earlier in the season and they got to grips with the game in the second half, finally equalising through substitute Sanukran Thinjom in the 86th minute. Such was the pressure on the home side towards the end, the team with 11 men were the more relieved to hear the final whistle as they claimed what could be another precious point.

However, Chiang Mai make the move to Chiang Rai for the rest of the season as their stadium is upgraded. While it may be almost 200km away, the surroundings will at least be familiar to the many players on loan from Chiang Rai United.

Next week, they travel to Ratchaburi for a huge match against a side that is also in the thick of the battle against relegation.

  1. Aris in blunderland as Samut Prakan exposed 

Given the nature of the club’s establishment, Samut Prakan City’s unlikely title challenge can hardly be considered a potential fairytale but their consistent form marked them as dark horses in a season in which the usual challengers have been unusually vulnerable.

But when PTT Rayong visited on Saturday, Samut Prakan’s pretensions were ruthlessly exposed as centre-back Aris Zarifovic had a night to forget. With goalkeeper Patiwat Khammai and skipper Peeradol Chamratsamee injured, Saharat Kanyaroj gave early indications of the visitors’ burgeoning confidence as his effort from his own half had Anurak Chompoopruk scrambling to push the ball wide before the same player smashed a shot off the bar from the edge of the box.

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Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

When Zarifovic headed into his own net, it was down to a misunderstanding with Anurak, though the defender was clearly the one to blame. Zarifovic then fluffed a clearance to allow Saharat to prod home the second minutes later.

The Slovenian’s nightmare continued when his headed backpass fell for PTT’s Apiwat Pengprakone and the in-form striker’s lob made it 3-0.

Samut Prakan remain very much in contention, but any more performances like that will see them lose more often than they win between now and the end of the season.

  1. Leandro joins the century club

In his ninth year in Thailand, Leandro Assumpcao netted his 100thThai League goal as Nakhon Ratchasima fought back to claim a crucial point in a 3-3 draw at home to Ratchaburi.

It looked as if his strike would be in vain as, after having levelled the score following Lossemy Karaboue’s sensational strike for the visitors, Steeven Langil’s double put the Dragons 3-1 ahead.

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Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC

But Henri Doumbia’s 90th-minute strike unsettled Ratchaburi and Amadou Ouatarra took advantage of some tired defending to smash home an equaliser in added time.

Leandro became the fourth Brazilian to make it to 100 T1 goals, following in the footsteps of Cleiton Silva, Diogo Luis Santo and Heberty Fernandes. The Swatcats are the 33-year-old’s sixth Thai club and, in a country where clubs are wary of recruiting foreign players edging towards their mid-thirties, he still has plenty to offer.