Chiang Rai United won their first ever Thai League title in the most dramatic style as a late goal from Chiang Mai’s Caique denied Buriram United a sixth championship in seven years.
Chiang Rai fulfilled their duty as they thrashed Suphanburi 5-2 to ensure Buriram needed to take three points. The striker they sent to Chiang Mai on loan then did his parent club a huge favour by netting the goal that saw the Top Two finish level on points, meaning the Beetles became champions courtesy of their superior head-to-head record.
The home defeat to Chiang Rai meant that Suphanburi finished in the bottom three as survival expert Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok steered Sukhothai to safety with victory at Nakhon Ratchasima.
Here are three things we saw on a dramatic T1 Matchday 30.
- Chiang Rai finish with a flourish
When former Chiang Rai striker Cleiton Silva put Suphanburi 1-0 up in the 13th minute of Saturday’s match, it would have taken a brave person to predict that the Beetles would be crowned as Thai champions by the end of the evening.
It took until the 44th minute for Siwakorn Tiatrakul to equalise but by the time William Henrique and Ekanit Panya had completed the turnaround, Buriram had taken the lead at Chiang Mai.
Tanasith Sripala pulled one back for the home side before Nattapong Samana’s red card gave the momentum back to Chiang Rai and a strong finish saw Bill add a fourth from the penalty spot.
Photo credit: Chiang Rai United
After Phitiwat Sukjithammakul added a fifth in the 90th minute, there was a nervous wait before the club from the north were confirmed as champions.
Chiang Rai had started the season behind Bangkok United and Port FC as the side most likely to end the Buriram-Muang Thong United duopoly that has lasted 10 years but a talented squad with the same core as last season managed to battle through an unusual season to end on top of the pile with a win percentage of just 53 per cent.
The Brazilian trio of Brinner, Bill and William were important, Phitiwat’s form saw him establish himself in the national team and Siwakorn also had excellent season. Recalling Ekanit from his loan at Chiang Mai midway through the season may just have given the Beetles the additional edge required to become champions.
Under Alexandre Gama, Chiang Rai won two FA Cups and a League Cup but they failed to mount a sustained title challenge.
They can now look forward to the AFC Champions League group stages in 2020 and they will hope to keep as many of these players together after lifting four trophies in three years.
Suphanburi, meanwhile, face dropping into T2 unless the anticipated withdrawal of PTT Rayong grants them a reprieve.
- Buriram blow it
Buriram United title wins have become fairly routine. Despite the fact that Bozidar Bandovic’s side had been thoroughly unimpressive for most of the year, they entered the final day of the season as T1 leaders and needing to beat already relegated Chiang Mai to become Thai champions for the sixth time in seven years.
Chiang Mai’s uncomfortably close relationship with Chiang Rai suggested the home side might have an unusual incentive for a relegated tea. A return to their home stadium after months away added extra spice and a huge crowd reflected a sense of occasion.
Buriram’s plodding first-half performance was familiar but when Nacer Barazite gave them the lead early in the second half, it looked like they would win the title despite themselves.
Photo credit: Buriram United
However, Chiang Mai were determined to give the home support something to shout about and Buriram had survived some nervous moments before Caique rose to head home from a corner with just three minutes remaining. The Brazilian was so delighted to help his parent club that he ripped off his shirt and promptly received his second yellow card.
An onslaught from the visitors followed and there were several near things before the referee blew for full-time after five additional minutes.
The Buriram players slumped in despondency while Chiang Mai bafflingly celebrated like a team that had won a trophy rather than a side that was heading for T2.
Overall, it has been a year to forget for Buriram, with several of the older guard running out of steam while the recruitment of four foreign strikers failed to come close to providing adequate quality to replace Diogo Luis Santo and Osvaldo. Significant changes can be expected at the club by the time the 2020 season kicks off.
- Pairoj engineers another great escape
Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok started the season as head coach of Muang Thong United but soon discovered that he didn’t have a head for heights at a club used to challenging for trophies rather than battling relegation. He quit the Kirins after just five games in charge that included three defeats.
Pairoj then found himself back at Sukhothai – the club he saved from relegation in 2017 before achieving a similar feat at Suphanburi last year.
He went into Saturday’s match at Nakhon Ratchasima knowing that a victory would be enough to keep his club in T1 given that it would take the Firebats above the Swatcats on the head-to-head record.
Photo credit: Sukhothai FC
Kabfah Boonmatoon’s stunning opening strike set the visitors on their way and he added a second to put Pairoj’s side in control. But a Rudolf Basna own goal and a Chtichanok Xaysourinthone effort from close range levelled matters to put Pairoj’s reputation as a survival expert at risk.
But Basna redeemed himself by putting Sukhothai back in front before Irvin Herrera made it 4-2 to make the points and the club safe.
Suphanburi’s failure to beat Chiang Rai United ensured the Swatcats stay up for another year. Pairoj quit his job at Sukhothai following the completion of his duties and rumor has it he will join Nakhon Ratchasima for the 2020 campaign.