It was a difficult opening to the 2019 Thai League (T1) season for the biggest clubs as last year’s top five all failed to get off to a winning start.
Buriram United, Bangkok United, Port FC and Chiang Rai United all had to settle for a point, while Muang Thong United went home empty-handed.
It was encouraging to see the level of competition and it should certainly ensure that the title favourites know the new 16-team format might make for a tougher league.
Here are five thing we saw on T1 Matchday One.
- Sharks expose Buriram vulnerability
Chonburi are expected to have a good year as their young talents develop and some new signings add strength.
It was the brightest of their young stars – Worachit Kanitsribampen – who opened the scoring at Buriram United just before the hour mark as the Sharks threatened an upset. However, the game was turned on its head within 10 minutes.
First, Nattapong Pephat received his second yellow card before a quickfire double for Supachok Sarachat put the hosts 2-1 up.
Photo credit: Chonburi FC
It looked like the champions would go on and seal the three points but Kroekrit Thaweekarn fired home from close range to equalise. The Sharks ended the contest with nine men, with Lukian following Nattapong, but the visitors held on.
To fail to beat 10 men from a winning position at home was an unusual indication of weakness from Buriram. But Bozidar Bandovic’s men can take comfort from the fact that Matchday One 2017 ended in a 2-2 home draw with Chonburi. At the end of the season, they were champions.
- How soon is now for Bangkok United?
The slogan for the 2019 campaign is ‘The time is now’, but there have been few signs so far that this will be Bangkok United’s year.
Unimpressive pre-season form and an AFC Champions League qualifying defeat seem to have dented morale and Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Sukhothai was another disappointing episode as they failed to take advantage of Buriram’s Saturday slip-up.
Sukhothai can be a tough place to go but the torrid time that John Baggio et al gave the visitors was another sign that the Bangkok Angels’ new signings have yet to gel.
Photo credit: Sukhothai FC
Tristan Do’s deflected opener after half-an-hour came against the run of play but Kongnateechai Boonma’s late leveler was no more than Sukhothai deserved.
Holding out for the three points would have been the kind of victory that champions are made of. As it was, only the dropped points from their title rivals gave Bangkok United some kind of consolation.
Next week’s home match against Muang Thong United is already shaping up to be hugely significant just two games into the season.
- Prachuap put Muang Thong to the sword again
Prachuap FC earned their third straight victory over Muang Thong United, proving again that a well-drilled team unit can be more than a match for a collection of some of the country’s best attacking talent.
Thailand’s two best strikers – Teerasil Dangda and Adisak Kraisorn – started along with Myanmar’s biggest star Aung Thu and Heberty Fernandes, scorer of more than 100 T1 goals.
Photo credit: Prachuap FC
But Caion’s first-half penalty was enough the send the Prachuap fans home happy and to leave Muang Thong’s new head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok reflecting on how to get the best from the players he has at his disposal.
Sarach Yooyen was forced to sit deep, when he is at his best as a box-to-box midfielder. Adisak was often forced out wide but he is not a winger.
Pairoj is lucky to have many of the players he has but he must now show he knows how to use them effectively.
- Chiang Rai dig deep again
Chiang Rai United had played for 120 minutes in an AFC Champions League playoff in Japan on Tuesday, hardly the best preparation for an opening day clash against the side that finished two places above them last year.
But Chiang Rai again proved that they can rise to the big occasion as they stifled Port FC and held them to a 0-0 draw.
A point at home may not appear the perfect result to open their campaign but in the circumstances, it was a decent effort and a demonstration that Chiang Rai will again be formidable opponents.
Port will not be too unhappy with the point in a tough away fixture but late red cards for David Rochela and debutant Go Seul-ki will be more of a concern.
- It’s tough at the top for new boys
The three newly promoted teams all went home empty-handed, but all after pushing their opponents all the way.
The strongest looking of the new sides, PTT Rayong, went all the way to the 90thminute before succumbing to Leandro Assumpcao’s strike. It was rough on the hosts as they were more than a match for Nakhon Ratchasima but failed to break down a typically resolute Swatcats defence.
Photo credit: PTT Rayong
Trat FC saw an impressive debut from Lonsana Doumbouya but he was outshone by Ratchaburi’s Yannick Boli who netted three times to the former Guinea striker’s two. The Dragons won 3-2 in an exciting contest as the visitors ran out of steam in the second half.
Chiang Mai threatened to spoil Samut Prakan City’s opening night as they twice levelled the score before Aris Zarifovic netted a late winner for the new club.
It’s a steep learning curve moving up a division but all three clubs were competitive if ultimately pointless.