Chiang Rai United have a great opportunity to consolidate their position at the top of the Thai League (T1) when they face demoralised Bangkok United on Matchday 27.
The fixture in Bangkok looked like the trickiest of the Beetles’ run-in, but Bangkok United’s gut-wrenching FA Cup final defeat to Port FC on penalties on Wednesday will surely boost the league leaders’ chances.
In the relegation zone, Suphanburi need to defeat buoyant Ratchaburi to keep their survival hopes alive, while Sukhothai can pull away from Chainat again if they beat Muang Thong Utd while their rivals lose at Buriram United.
Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 27.
- Chiang Rai’s perfect chance to stay ahead
When Chiang Rai took over at the top of T1 last week, it looked like the lead might last just one week, with the Beetles set to travel for a tough match at Bangkok United, while second-placed Buriram United hosted relegation candidates Chainat.
FA Cup defeats for both Bangkok United and Buriram in midweek completely change the dynamic and Chiang Rai are now clear favourites to win against a team that have nothing but pride left to play for after a dismal campaign.
Photo credit: Chiang Rai United
Many people’s favourites for the title at the beginning of the year, Bangkok United now have a fight to finish in the Top Five. In Wednesday’s match against Port FC, the absence of top scorer Nelson Bonilla was keenly felt as they struggled in the final third.
For a team that has become accustomed to near misses, this was yet another devastating result to digest and Chiang Rai may well exploit the dark mood at the club by earning the win they need to keep them ahead of Buriram.
- Suphanburi running out of time
In contrast to Chiang Rai, Suphanburi are facing a side high on confidence as Ratchaburi stunned Buriram on Wednesday to reach the FA Cup final. For completely different reasons, this may work in the War Elephant’s favour as the Dragons’ focus switches to the end-of-season showpiece.
Last weekend’s loss at PTT Rayong was another damaging result and only a victory will do here if Suphanburi are to maintain their place in T1 for an eighth year.
Photo credit: Suphanburi FC
Ratchaburi will be basking in the glory of their cup victory and, with T1 survival almost certain, they may rest some key players to keep them fresh ahead of a more important challenge.
In what has been a desperately disappointing season for Suphanburi’s star striker Cleiton Silva, it is perhaps time for the Brazilian to step up and prove that he is not a spent force.
- Sukhothai hopes rest on Baggio
Things might have been looking different for Sukhothai had John Baggio not been suspended for last week’s defeat at Chainat. Instead of pulling six points clear of the Hornbills, Sukhothai ended the weekend a place above the relegation zone on goal difference only.
The energy and skill of Baggio has made him a handful for T1 defences for the past four years and he is the main reason why the Firebats remain in the top tier. He may not be a prolific scorer but his all-round game makes him a menace to any opposition.
Photo credit: Sukhothai FC
But Baggio will need all of his teammates to be at their best as they host a Muang Thong United side that is buzzing after their convincing victory over Buriram last week. Alexandre Gama has made such an impact at the club that they can still finish in the top three despite winning just three of their first 14 games of the season.
Muang Thong’s 10 defeats have been costly and they have lost three more matches than Sukhothai. But Sukhothai’s 15 draws have prevented them from reaching a safe position.
Firebats head coach Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok started the season very poorly at Muang Thong and quit after just five T1 games. He will hope to finish strongly and keep Sukhothai up, just as he managed to help Suphanburi beat the drop last year.
- Buriram must stop the rot
It has been one of the worst weeks in Buriram United’s short history. Last weekend saw them humiliated at bitter rivals Muang Thong United – a defeat that was to cost them top spot in the league. On Wednesday, Ratchaburi pulled off a big upset as they defeated the T1 champions in the FA Cup semifinal.
Despite being below par all year, Buriram can still win two trophies but they may have to string together four T1 wins for the first time this season to retain their league title. Chainat are Sunday’s visitors and they will be fighting to climb out of the relegation zone.
Photo credit: Buriram United
The Hornbills won the reverse fixture and should not be overawed by a team that has lost much of its ability to intimidate. With Buriram centre-back Andres Tunez suspended, Chainat will target the centre of an unusually vulnerable defence.
Buriram will have to rely on their formidable attacking talents to get them back on track and to keep them breathing down Chiang Rai’s necks.