2016 Season Review: Great Expectations

A disappointing 2015 saw Port relegated to Division 1. 2016 started off with some impressive signings and a heady confidence that we wouldn’t be in the second tier for long. The first and most impressive of the signings was Thiago Cunha (10) from Chonburi, he was joined by two Brazilian Midfielders Maranhao (29) and Wagner (35). Along with Pakorn (9) Pinyo (21) and Tana (5) from Division 1 championship winning Police United. Looking at the squad list on day one Port had assembled the best group of 35 in the league.

 

Port had a great start with 9 wins and 4 draws. We were top of the league and looked like favourites for the Division 1 championship, but other teams also had impressive records. Ubon UMT held Port to a draw in Ubon and were the main early contenders for the title. Port’s results were good, but often revolved around a few bits of great individual play. This Port team looked great at times but disjointed at others. We had enough good players to beat average Division 1 teams but the drawn matches showed this team was not going to walk the league. The Division 1 championship was going to be decided by which of the top 5 or 6 teams dropped the least points in a top heavy league. Port’s first loss away to Ang Thong FC flagged them up as possible promotion challengers. Thai Honda joined Ubon UMT with decent early form.

 

After the loss to Ang Thong and a draw against Rayong FC worse was to come. Port went on to throw away a two goal lead to last placed Bangkok United. Serious questions being asked about whether Port had any chance of winning the Division 1 title. Then came the first home loss of the season to a well organised but mid-table Prachuap FC. This probably sealed manager Wada’s fate. He’d done a reasonable job at the back end of last season and the beginning of 2016, but it wasn’t going to be enough to save him from Madam Pang wielding the axe. His results weren’t dreadful, but with the squad available Port were underperforming.

 

New manager Jadet Melarp came in and secured an FA Cup win against BEC Tero. Under Jadet Port went on to beat promotion rivals Ang Thong FC when they visited PAT Stadium. He’d knocked a few heads together and the future looked rosy for Port.

 

Unfortunately the next game saw Jadet make the odd decision to switch a winger in to defence exposing an already troubled back line. The strong Thai Honda attack really shut down any chance of a win for Port. We should have been aiming for at least a draw against Honda but the result showed that Port were vulnerable against the top clubs. With this win Honda took control of the race for top spot. The next Port loss 5-1 away to Chiang Mai sounded serious alarm bells back at the PAT. Chiang Mai had a reasonable side, but Port were looking to take 3 points from this game. They ended up being battered 5-1. It was a body blow for Port’s promotion hopes. Coming in between the two mid-week cup games Port were paying the price for a good run of form in both cups. Tired legs and a long trip up North to Chiang Mai did for Port, they never got into the game.

 

Port’s Cup form was a highlight of the season. Beating a decent Bangkok Glass team 1-0 at home, Navy away and Sisaket back at the PAT. Port had developed the infuriating ability to turn it on against the big clubs, then falter against average league opposition.

 

Thai Honda and Ubon UMT weren’t dropping many points towards the end of the season. Port’s championship bid slowly turned into a chase for the last promotion place. Ang Thong, Songklaa and Air Force were all within striking distance of Port if they slipped up. A 6-2 demolition of Samut Songkram set up a promotion clash against Air Force, lead by everyone’s favourite Ex-Port manager Sasom. He had just seen his side dispatch Bangkok United 5-0 and announced in the press he believed Air Force were going spoil Port’s promotion hopes. Port had only narrowly beaten Air Force away. This game would be a chance to control our own destiny in the promotion race or get dragged into a tight four horse race with Air Force, Ang Thong and Songklaa.  In a close game Port beat Air Force 2-0 and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. There was a party atmosphere at PAT as it looked like the job was nearly done. But before Nakhon Pathom in the league there was Muangthong away.

 

In the first leg of the league cup semi-final Port looked solid only losing by one goal to a Muangthong side dominant in the TPL. The second leg of the semi-final saw a tight game with Muangthong holding on for a 1-1 draw getting them through to the final. The match saw some serious fan violence after the game. With these incidents it’s always difficult to tell who started and who retaliated. Both sets of fans were at fault at different times. The beating of a lone Port fan near the exit road of the away end, was probably the key trigger to the ensuing violence. The violence meant both sets of fans would be banned from the stands for the last 5 games of the season.

 

Port still had a crucial game in the league three days later. Another win and promotion would be nearly certain. Next up were a lackluster Nakhon Pathom side that Port had beaten 6-1 at home and hadn’t won in their last five. Three points in the bag for sure, unfortunately Nakhon Pathom hadn’t read that script. They ran a shocked Port side around chalking up a 2-1 win, they could’ve easily scored a few more. Maybe the aftermath of the Muangthong game affected the players, I think it was more likely the highly charged atmosphere and the come down from such a close defeat against the top side in the TPL. This shattered side sleep walked into Nakhon Pathon expecting to be handed the three points.

 

Reflecting on the loss to Nakhon Pathom and the pummeling in Chiang Mai, Jadet played a weakened side away to Sukothai in the FA Cup. A team half starters half subs bowed out of the FA Cup in the quarter finals. This set up a real test of a home game against an already promoted Ubon UMT. A nervous make or break game for Jadet and Port. It was a quiet day at PAT stadium with only Ubon UMT fans allowed in, and Port fans watching the match at the Port Futsal stadium on the big screen. The Futsal Stadium is essentially a warehouse with four big fans plonked in it. The event was a cross between viewing a football match and a 1980’s rave. As Port went 3-1 up flares were lit up, and everyone ended the night all loved up. This win put Port safely in third place. Port needed only one point from the last two games to make promotion a mathematical certainty.

 

On 13th October 2016 King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at the age of 88 after a long illness. The death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej meant the whole country entered a period of mourning. The Thai F.A. decided to end the 2016 season early cancelling the last two fixtures for all clubs. This left Port in third place promoted along with Thai Honda first and Ubon UMT second.

 

 

Dominick Cartwright

Dominick Cartwright

Originally from London, Dominick has been teaching English in Bangkok since 2006 and has been following Port FC since 2011.

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