Buriram United edged to within three points of the 2019 Thai League (T1) title as they ended Port FC’s challenge with a controversial 3-1 victory on Matchday 29.
Sergio Suarez gave Port the lead but the challengers were soon behind and the champions ended the evening in a very strong position.
Chiang Rai United ensured the title race would go to the final day as they thrashed Prachuap 4-1, while the relegations of Chiang Mai and Chainat were confirmed.
Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday 29.
- Referee takes centre stage as Buriram all but wrap up title
Going to Buriram needing a victory is a tall order for any side and Port FC knew they would be up against it, despite the fact that the hosts had had a disappointing year by their standards.
Suarez rose to the occasion by firing the visitors ahead from distance but the Spaniard was soon baffled when he was yellow-carded for an innocuous coming together with Hajime Hosogai. Tanaboon Kesarat followed Suarez into the book for an equally innocuous challenge.
When Nacer Barazite levelled the score from an offside position, Port fans began to feel that the trip to the northeast might have been doomed from the start. Supachok Sarachat soon put Buriram ahead with an excellent finish after a smart counter attack and the home side were looking ominous.
Port tried to battle their way back into the game but again felt hard-done by when Sasalak Haiprakhon appeared to barge Suarez off the ball in the penalty area and the referee waved play on.
Photo credit: Buriram United
The most controversial moment was yet to come as, following a foul on Barazite on the edge of the Port penalty area, advantage was played with Sasalak in a good position. The Thailand international was left with a difficult angle and his powerful shot flew over. To the astonishment of Port players and fans, the home side were awarded the free kick for the original foul.
Kevin Ingreso netted from the free kick, though Port keeper Worawut Srisupha should have done better. Nevertheless, the goal had come from another controversial decision, with the end result favouring the hosts.
Despite some battling play from the visitors, Buriram controlled the remainder of the match in the manner of the serial champions they have become. However, the referee’s performance was the major talking point at the end of a game that effectively decided the destination of the 2019 T1 title.
It would be the biggest upset in Thai League history if relegated Chiang Mai were to deny Buriram the title by holding them to a draw or beating them next week.
- Sukhothai and Swatcats set up thrilling finale as Chainat are relegated
Nakhon Ratchasima will host Sukhothai next weekend in a match that could end with one, both or neither relegated.
The Swatcats need just a point to stay in T1 after winning 3-1 in Chainat – a result that saw the Hornbills relegated, having failed to make the kind of great escape that kept them up last year.
Photo credit: Nakhon Ratchasima FC
Sukhothai, meanwhile, saw off Trat with a 2-1 home victory and travel to Korat next week, needing to win while also hoping that Chiang Rai United take at least point off Suphanburi.
A Firebats win coupled with a Suphanburi victory would send the Swatcats down in what is probably the least likely outcome.
With Chiang Mai and Chainat both having their T2 fates sealed this weekend, the final relegation spot will be taken by one of three teams.
- Kasidech keeps Suphanburi in control
He may have been used sparingly this season but Kasidech Wettayawong’s first goal of the campaign may turn out to be Suphanburi’s most important.
Having fought back from 1-0 down to lead Samut Prakan City 2-1, the War Elephant’s bid for survival was on track until Teeraphol Yoryoei equalised for the hosts.
Photo credit: Suphanburi FC
With time running out, substitute Kasidech took aim from 20 yards and sent a floating shot into the top corner. Understandably wild celebrations followed as Suphanburi ensured that they retained control of their own fate going into the final match of the season.
A home match against Chiang Rai United will not be easy, with the Beetles still in with an outside chance of becoming champions but at least Suphanburi know what they have to do rather than relying on results elsewhere to secure an eighth consecutive year in T1.
- Chiang Mai go down fighting
For the past couple of games, Chiang Mai seemed to have raised the white flag before a ball was kicked as they sent out a starting XI that did not feature several of their better players.
Top striker Eliandro was inexplicably left on the bench again, while key defender Evson was not even in the squad. However, Caique returned up front and Mustafa Azadzoy was back in the midfield for a match Chiang Mai has to win at PTT Rayong.
Photo credit: Chiang Mai FC
Two goals from Dennis Murillo had the home side 2-1 up with 10 minutes remaining but substitute Eliandro struck twice to give the away fans an uplifting victory. With Suphanburi and Sukhothai both winning, the victory was in vain and Chiang Mai will be back in T2 in 2020. As it took Eliandro just over 15 minutes to score his brace, things might have been so much different if he had been selected from the start in the previous two matches.
As this display showed, the team would have had a fighting chance of staying up had they gone with their best players every week, not to mention playing in their home stadium rather than moving 200 km away halfway through the season. The fans deserved better.