Port FC face a defining moment on Sunday when they take on Buriram United in a match that could decide the destiny of this year’s Thai League (T1) title.
With Buriram aiming for a sixth title in seven years, Port have an opportunity to end a duopoly (with Muang Thong United) that has lasted over 10 years.
Chiang Rai United also have a strong chance and a win for them, combined with a Port win or a draw in Buriram, would leave them one victory away from becoming champions.
At the other end of the table, five clubs are battling it out to avoid relegation and this week we will surely see at least one team confirmed for the drop.
Here are four things to look out for on T1 Matchday 29.
- Port’s moment of truth
It has been a strange old season for Port FC’s followers. The Port Lions’ strong start to the year marked them down as serious title contenders.
However, a 3-1 home defeat to Buriram in June precipitated a collapse that saw them take just two points from six matches. In any other season, a similar run would have seen their rivals move out of sight.
But this has been a season like no other, with Buriram struggling and Bangkok United failing to reach the heights of the previous three years. Muang Thong United’s shocking start ensured their recovery came too late and, almost by default, Port could lift the title by beating Buriram on Sunday and then beating Samut Prakan City at home.
Photo credit: Port FC
Port’s form against fellow Top Six sides has been poor, however. While they have yet again put Muang Thong to the sword, they have taken just two points from six matches against the other four.
To make history, Port will need everything to go their way on Sunday, but the absence of influential midfielder Go Seul-ki – on loan from Buriram – is a blow.
The visitors have won their last three T1 matches, scoring nine goals without conceding, so they are in a good place form-wise. The big question is whether or not they can keep their heads in the type of match Buriram have been winning for years.
- All eyes on Chiang Rai’s Ekanit
Thailand hailed a new hero on Tuesday after 19-year-old Ekanit Panya put in a match-winning performance as the War Elephants defeated the UAE 2-1 in World Cup qualifying.
The attacking midfielder made the first goal and scored the second in an eye-catching display that has apparently brought him to the attention of Japanese clubs.
Photo credit: @Changsuek
Chiang Rai United will hope that he has enough energy left to keep their title bid on track in a match at home to Prachuap FC. The Beetles lost control of their own fate with a draw at PTT Rayong last time out, but a win here would ensure they still have a chance and if Buriram drop points, they will be back in the driving seat.
On paper, it looks straightforward against a side with nothing to play for. But the League Cup winners are on a seven-match unbeaten run, conceding just three goals in that spell.
A game-changer like Ekanit may be what is required to unlock the organised Prachuap defence and keep Chiang Rai United’s title dream alive.
- Swatcats face battle to survive
Since beating Chainat 2-1 in June, Nakhon Ratchasima have won just two T1 matches, a slump that sees them sitting just four points above the Hornbills going into Sunday’s return match.
The good news for the Swatcats is that Chainat’s form has also been miserable, winning just one of the last eight fixtures and losing six of them.
Nakhon Ratchasima’s plight is bad news for the fan base that makes them the second-best supported club in the league. There is vast potential in this northeastern city but the limited investment in the club has prevented it from competing with sides with far fewer supporters.
Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima
On the pitch, the Swatcats will be nervous about facing their relegation rivals on their home pitch, given its reputation for throwing up some surprise results in the hosts’ favour.
Chainat’s recent form may have been poor but they have lost just one of their last seven home matches. For this one, they will need to rediscover the inspiration that saw them beat Buriram United, Bangkok United and Muang Thong United in April and March.
A victory for the visitors would put them in a very strong position but there would remain the matter of a home match against fellow relegation strugglers Sukhothai next week. Depending on the outcome of other games, that could yet be a winner takes all affair.
- Suphanburi and Sukhothai in familiar positions
On Matchday 28, Suphanburi and Sukhothai looked set to clinch significant victories as, at home to opponents with little to play for, they both took a first-half lead.
But Prachuap fought back to earn a point at Suphanburi and Sukhothai needed an 89th-minute equaliser to rescue a 2-2 draw with Ratchaburi.
This weekend, Suphanburi travel to Samut Prakan City – a side whose unlikely title bid has long since ended – while Sukhothai host Trat, who have already clinched T1 football in 2020.
Photo credit: Suphanburi FC
If the War Elephant and the Firebats cannot earn victories in matches like this, they simply don’t deserve to stay up.
Suphanburi may be the fourth-best supported club in the league but they have endured a miserable time since consecutive Top Six finishes between 2013 and 2015. Meanwhile, Sukhothai have flirted with relegation in the three seasons since an impressive T1 debut year in 2016 saw them finish seventh.
On the balance of probabilities, one of these two teams is likely to go down and this weekend will go a long way to deciding which one.