My review of the 2019 Thai League (T1) season continues with a look at the teams who finished from 9th to 12th.
9. Prachuap FC
Predicted finish: 12th
Best Player: Artyom Filiposyan
A revelation in 2018, Prachuap kicked off 2019 with no sign of second-season syndrome, racking up four wins in the first six matches. However, the loss of prolific strike pair Lonsana Doumbouya and Jonatan Reis eventually kicked in.
Caion made a reasonable, if inferior replacement, but Matheus Alves failed to match the high standards of his predecessors. A 5-0 thrashing at Port FC on Matchday Seven marked a sharp downturn and the Killer Wasps won just two of the next 17 matches to slide into the relegation battle.
Photo credit: Prachuap FC
Ironically, it was the return fixture against Port that kickstarted the revival that would see them survive. A 1-1 home draw on Matchday 22 was the start of a seven-game unbeaten run in which they conceded just three goals.
That spell coincided with a historic League Cup success as what had threatened to be a disappointing campaign ended in triumph.
- Trat FC
Predicted finish: 14th
Best player: Lonsana Doumbouya
A team cobbled together just before the season started looked ill-equipped to begin their first ever T1 campaign. Favouring revolution over evolution, Trat were a completely different side to the one that had been promoted from T2.
The arrivals of various loan players and veterans looked uninspiring but they made a promising start with a battling performance in a 3-2 defeat at Ratchaburi on Matchday One.
Photo credit: Trat FC Fanclub
The signing of Lonsana Doumbouya – who ended the season as T1’s top scorer – was inspired while veterans like Bireme Diouf, Baihakki Khaizan and Pichit Jaibun made valuable contributions. Nigerian winger Adefolarin Durosinmi saw his career revived with some scintillating performances, particularly in the destruction of eventual champions Chiang Rai Utd.
It will be interesting to see how they manage playing resources in the close season, with loan players set to return to parent clubs and the men in their mid-30s not getting any younger.
- PTT Rayong
Predicted finish: 8th
Best player: Apiwat Pengprakone
These T1 newcomers looked well prepared for life in T1, with many of the squad having experience at some of the top clubs. Anawin Jujeen and Korawit Namwiset had won titles with Buriram, Victor Cardozo had won two cups at Chiang Rai United and Costa Rican international striker Ariel Rodriguez had starred for Bangkok Glass.
Former Thailand internationals Suttinin Phuk-hom and Sarawit Masuk were two other eye-catching signings alongside the wildcard Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, once a very promising young talent at Arsenal.
It took a long time for PTT to get going and it looked like they would be in a relegation battle rather than shooting for the top half of the table. Like most English strikers who have played in Thailand, things didn’t work out for Emmanuel-Thomas and his contract was soon terminated.
Photo credit: PTT Rayong
The turning point came in the middle of the year as a run of six victories in eight matches saw them shoot up the table. However, they soon lapsed into mediocrity again, winning just one of their final 11 games to finish just three points above the relegation zone.
It was a disappointing campaign with a squad of such experience and quality. Sarawut was in and out of the side, Ariel’s fitness was an issue and Cardozo failed to find the goalscoring form of previous seasons. Journeyman striker Apiwat Pengprakone was an unexpected inspiration and arguably the club’s most consistent performer for the first half of the year at least.
Things got worse as the season ended, with the news that the club would be withdrawn from T1 due to a lack of investment from the sponsors. Another sad ending for a Thai club
- Sukhothai FC
Predicted finish: 11th
Best player: John Baggio
Another season, another relegation battle. Sukhothai were certainly a tough team to beat in 2019 but they found it very difficult to beat their opponents. Under Ljubomir Ristovski, the Firebats began the season with an eight-match unbeaten run, but seven of those matches ended in draws. After Ristovski was sacked, they had to win on the final day of the season to seal another year in T1.
Sukhothai ended the season having lost just eight games – more than only Chiang Rai United, Buriram United, Port FC and Bangkok United. On the flip side, they won just six times – fewer than any other club. The sixteen draws they had were down to the defensive head coaches they employed, survival specialist Pairok Borwonwatanadilok having replaced Ristovski..
Photo credit: Sukhothai FC
Just 37 goals conceded pointed to evidence of the solid shape they often had but the absence of a reliable striker was the difference between mid-table security and a battle to survive. John Baggio was again their most important player after Montenegrin striker Petar Orlandic proved unable to fill Nelson Bonilla’s boots.
If they can hang on to Baggio, they can hope to have a better campaign in 2020 but they need to recruit wisely to avoid another season of struggle.