Thai League’s (T1) traditional big two were both beaten on Matchday One as the 2020 campaign got off to a thrilling start.

Muang Thong United and Buriram United shared all 10 titles between 2009 and 2018, but Chiang Rai United’s 2019 title win broke the duopoly, and a poor start to 2020 suggests that their era of dominance may be over.

The reigning champions could only manage a draw at Samut Prakan City, while there were important wins for Bangkok United and Port FC. 

Here are four things we saw on T1 Matchday One.

1. Houla stays grounded after Tero victory

Police Tero striker Greg Houla played down the importance of a stunning T1 Matchday One 1-0 victory over Buriram United.

A wonderful free kick from Narong Jansawek gave Tero three points against a Buriram side that had familiar problems.

“It’s a great victory against one of the biggest teams in the Thai League, and we will savour it,” Houla told ThaiFootie. “But it’s just the first match of the season and there are many more to come, so the hard work is just beginning.

“We had a great season last year that saw us get promoted. Our only target this year is to finish as high up the table as possible. We have a good team in which everyone works hard for each other.”

On an evening in which Houla and his fellow striker Arthit Butjinda stood out, head coach Rangsan Viwatchaichok’s uncomplicated game plan was key to stifling Buriram.

“As we were up against a very strong team, he (Rangsan) told us to stay compact and that’s what we tried to do and I think we did it very well,” Houla added. “We showed the level we are capable of reaching, but we must now reproduce that form.”

Buriram’s performance bore striking similarities to many of their off-days last year. They were too easily exposed in defence, while they struggled to create clear chances and squandered the few that came their way.

2. High farce at LEO Stadium as VAR takes the spotlight

It was inevitable that the ill-advised decision to reintroduce VAR to T1 would be a disaster but to have such a shocking display of incompetence so soon was worse than anyone could have imagined.

When Muang Thong United striker Derley converted a penalty given for a deliberate handball, things all seemed to be in order before spectacular collapses in judgement from those in the VAR booth and the man in the middle.

First, BG Pathum United defender Irfan Fandi jostled with Saharat Kanyaroj and when the Muang Thong playmaker fell, Fandi stepped on his back. The guys in front of the screen could have given it a quick playback and seen that it was impossible to conclude that it had been a deliberate stamp.

Instead, the referee was called into the debate and inevitably brandished a red card. Clear and obvious error – absolutely not – but the VAR guys just need to justify their existence.

In a classic case of evening things up, Sarach Yooyen’s completely accidental and inconsequential handball in the second half was punished with a penalty and a second yellow card. This was even more obviously the wrong call and Victor Cardozo slotted home the penalty.

Photo credit: BG Pathum United

Finally, Barros Tardelli had a stunning goal chalked off because there had been a coming together between Sorawit Phanthong and Sumanya Purisai in the build-up. Again, there was no clear and obvious error, and if there had been a foul, it was impossible to ascertain which player had committed it.

Then we had sockgate. Several Muang Thong United players apparently had issues with their socks, which led the referee to send them to the sidelines to sort them out without stopping play.

Thitipan Puangchan’s winning goal for BG was almost a footnote in a match that will be remembered for another nightmare refereeing performance, aided and abetted by the moster that VAR has become. 

3. Nattawut hits the ground running after return from Tokyo

With Nelson Bonilla ruled out for the first half of the season and his replacement Brenner not ready to start, Nattawut Suksum was given his big opportunity as Bangkok United’s lone striker. The 22-year-old had spent the 2019 campaign on loan at FC Tokyo U23 and was determined to show that it had been a fruitful experience.

It took just 12 minutes for Nattawut to make an impact, slotting home a composed finish in a slightly chaotic start to the match at home to Prachuap FC.

Prachuap’s misery was then compounded when Adul Muensamaan turned the ball into his own net, setting Bangkok United well on the way to a rare opening day victory.

Photo credit: Bangkok United

The hosts endured a difficult second half as Prachuap pushed to get back in the match, but Bangkok United were also extremely wasteful, squandering many opportunities against Prachuap’s porous defence. Brenner’s appearance as a substitute saw him miss a couple of easy headers, but it was promising to see him getting into the right positions. 

William Henrique was full of energy as usual, but Prachuap’s big signing spent far too much time on the floor, appealing for free kicks.

For the notoriously slow starting and injury-depleted Bangkok Angels, the three points were very welcome, but performances will have to improve. 

4. Honours even as champions strike back

The timing of Chiang Rai United’s opening fixture was awful, coming two days after returning from Melbourne on a nine-hour flight. Samut Prakan City took just three minutes to give them a wake-up call through Aris Zarifovic’s header.

The home side had the champions on the ropes for a while, but Chiang Rai United’s renowned fighting spirit came to the fore and they came back into the game. Piyaphol Phanichakul was the unlikely scorer of the equalizing goal and, in the end, both sides had their share of chances to take the three points. 

Photo credit: Samut Prakan City

New signing Mailson remains on the periphery for Chiang Rai, being left on the bench again, despite not starting in the AFC Champions League match in Melbourne on Tuesday. Samut Prakan’s Brazilian striker Pedro Junior looked short of match fitness, his touch letting him down on many occasions. 

Both of these teams will have better days and both will have been happy enough with a point.