With six games of the season played, the powers that be have decided it’s time for a three-week break for international fixtures. Quite why Thailand need three weeks off to prepare for a dead rubber with Saudi Arabia, and quite why our next game is a 17:45 Monday evening kick off (vs Ubon, 3rd April), god only knows, but as flies to wanton boys are we to the fixture list compilers; they piss us around for their sport.
So now seems like a time to pause for breath and reflect on Port’s season so far, the wins and the losses, the dizzy highs and the desperate lows, the champs and the chumps. On a purely statistical level, Port are 9th in T1, exactly halfway, with 8 points from 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 defeats. 8 goals scored, 14 conceded. But of course, there’s a whole lot more behind those numbers…
Your opinion of Port matches this season rather depends on which matches you’ve watched. If you’ve only seen home games, you’ll be very happy – Port appear pretty much unbeatable at the PAT, even by the mighty Buriram, and play with an intensity that is exhausting to watch, and the games against Suphanburi and Buriram in particular were the kind of full-on, balls-out performances that make you proud to be a Port fan. If you’ve been to the away games, and seen Port ship 11 goals (including 5 to the somewhat less than mighty Thai Honda), you’ll probably have a more realistic view of the team’s chances this season.
Basically, if Port are to have a successful season, by which I mean anything other than a relegation battle, they need to sort out their hangup about playing away from the PAT. Whereas they begin home games by steaming into the opposition with gusto, they begin away games looking like condemned men. Yes, the PAT atmosphere is a huge home advantage, but given the number of Port fans who travel to watch the team, and given the poor home crowds at many Thai stadiums (particularly our first two away opponents, Bangkok Utd & Honda) playing away shouldn’t be the calvary that it has so clearly become for the team. Time to bring in a psychologist!
Given that coach Jadet (or whoever it is who picks the team – opinion seems to be divided) has been out-tinkering Ranieri this season, we’ve yet to see a settled Port side. Most of us seem to have a similar opinion on what the best starting XI is, but we’ve yet to see them play together. Jadet seems to think he’s coaching a kids’ Sunday league team, intent on giving everyone a chance, rather than picking his best XI for each game, and so results have been somewhat mixed. There were rumours before the Buriram game that his position was under threat, and whilst that performance – and his courageous 4-4-2 selection – means he’ll probably still be around after the break, any repeat of the Honda debacle could see him getting his cards.
In goal, young Rattanai (17) has built on his progress last season and made the keeper’s jersey his own, culminating in a dominant, authoritative performance against Buriram which will have made the rest of Thai football sit up and take notice of a major talent. Quite why he was dropped, and for Weera of all people, against Honda will remain a hopefully not-to-be-repeated mystery.
With 14 goals conceded in 6 games, it’s clear that Port’s problems lie in defence. Whilst cap’n Rochela (27) has been magnificent as ever, he’s often been left defending almost singlehandedly as Jadet struggles to put together a cohesive back four. Rochela’s new centre-back partner Dolah (4) has so far struggled to make the step up to T1, particularly when faced with pacey forwards running at him, and it was no surprise to see Todsapol (6) restored against Buriram. Panpanpong (19) has made the left-back position his own despite not really impressing so far, and whilst Nitipong (34) has had a newsworthy start to the season, his attacking instincts mean he too often neglects his right-back duties. His natural replacement Meechok (20) didn’t help his own cause with that performance at Honda last week.
In midfield, Jadet inexplicably continues to ignore the claims of Tachanon (39) to the DM slot; in the one game he started, at home to Navy, he put in a MOTM performance and seemed to be exactly what Port had been missing all season, so it’s insane that he hasn’t appeared since, unless he’s injured. Admittedly, Adisorn (13) has done a decent job filling in for him, particularly against Buriram.
Siwakhorn continues to work his balls off in midfield and lead by example, but his much-hyped midfield partner Suarez (5) hasn’t quite lived up to expectations and needs to calm down and focus on playing football rather than committing, and claiming he’s been on the receiving end of, fouls. Currently there is no link between central midfield & attack, meaning there’s no threat down the middle and the strikers are often stranded. If only there was such a player – a quick, skillful, committed Brazilian perhaps – on the club’s books…
On the wings, Pakorn (9) and Nitipong have both made excellent contributions on the right, whilst Genki (18) continues to run himself into the ground on the left, though what with neither he nor Panpanpong being particularly great crossers, Port’s threat down the left side has been minimal.
Up front, Port continue to lack a goal threat. Kaludjerovic (10) is clearly still acclimatising to the heat and has looked off the pace so far, contributing just one goal (a tap-in against Suphanburi). Josimar (30) looks more like the real deal, but in his first 3 games he’s been somewhat starved of service. You get the impression that when he does finally score the floodgates will open. Veteran Tana (99) has scored twice without contributing anything else and in this writer’s opinion it’s time he was put out to pasture.
The club’s target is a top half finish and, so far, they are on course to achieve that. I think before the start of the season most of us would’ve been happy with 8 points from the first 6 games – an average of 1.33 points per game which, if maintained over the rest of the season, would give Port 45 points, which would’ve been enough for a mid-table finish last season. And I don’t think anyone can complain about the entertainment on show – if you’ve attended every game so far, you’ve seen 22 goals in 6 games, which is great value.
If Jadet can start picking his best team, if the defence can play consistently as well as it did against Buriram, if Suarez can play to his potential, if our strikers can find their shooting boots, and if the team can overcome their fear of away games, then a top half position could and should be maintained. Whatever happens, the evidence so far suggests that it’ll be a lot of fun to watch.