Port welcome Police Tero to PAT Stadium on Sunday in a clash between two of this season’s surprise packages. Neither side were expected to be in the top 6 after 10 games, but that’s where they both find themselves. With Tero on 18 points in 5th place, and Port on 17 points in 6th, expect a close and hard-fought game, with home advantage probably making Port slight favourites.
Players to Watch
Cheeky rascal that I am, I was intent on doing two separate ‘Players to Watch’ lists. One for players acquired from Muangthong since 2016, and one for Tero’s other players. By presenting these lists as such, I thought, I would subtly undermine the reliance of The Fire Dragons on Muangthong cast-offs, reducing them to the status of a mere feeder team without stooping to the level of direct criticism. Unfortunately, in my sweet naiveté, I hadn’t bargained on just how many of the bastards there would be, and so with my dreams of an indirect yet stinging criticism in tatters, I thought “Sod that. Let’s just get stuck in!”
So, first on the list of former Muangscum is former national team captain Datsakorn Thonglao (7). Probably one of the top 5 most talented Thai players of all time, the 33 year old central midfielder has enjoyed stints in Germany with Kaiserslautern Reserves, and Vietnam with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai. After realizing that his best days were behind him, Muangthong put him out to pasture at Tero where he will likely score some spectacular free-kicks, pick up a boatload of cards and generally saunter about the place exhibiting the gratuitous hot-headed arrogance he could only really get away with while he was still good.
Mario Abrante (6) is the second over-the-hill former Muangscummer on the list. The Spaniard has one hell of a resume, littered with spells at a few La Liga teams, as well as representing Spain at all youth levels. Last season most fans at the SCG were impressed by his strong but calm leadership at the back, although management didn’t think highly enough of him to keep him on in 2017. Think of him as an older, less talented and less good-looking Rochela.
Michael N’Dri (9) makes the third thirty plus on my list, but this Muangthong failure still seems to be somewhere near the peak of his powers. Unfortunately for him, it’s not a particularly high peak. Brought in to challenge Cleiton Silva for a starting berth at the SCG, N’Dri never came close to making the Brazilian sweat. 8 goals in 27 games are the kind of numbers that will see you shipped straight off to Tero, and so it went. However, since becoming a Fire Dragon, N’Dri has racked up 6 goals in 9 games, indicating that perhaps he has found his level in a top-half but not title-challenging side. N’Dri is quick, skillful and good in the air, but seems to need an awful lot of chances to score.
Stop the press. It’ a miracle! I’ve found a Tero player who isn’t a former Muangscummer. After wading through Datsakorn (7), Mario (6) and N’Dri (9) I then encountered goalkeeper Witsanusak (1), defenders Suporn (3) and Weerawut (11), and midfielders Kasidech (24), Seksit (17) and Atit (8), who you may remember from his loan spell at Port last season. But I’ve finally found one who, against the odds, has never played for Muangthong. He’s hard to miss, to be fair. Kalifa Cisse (20) is a beast of a central midfielder who at his peak represented Reading 75 times in the Premier League. Moves to the MLS and then the Championship preceded the 6 foot 2 Malian’s move to Bangkok, where he has played for United, Glass and now Tero. On his game he’s practically unplayable, dominating the midfield with Vieira-like strides and Keane-like strength. OK, so maybe I’m giving him a little too much credit, although the comparison to the former destroyers stands up more on the disciplinary side. 3 yellows and a red card so far this season for Cisse indicate that he likes to get stuck in a little too much. With Siwakorn (16) fresh back from suspension, expect a foul-off in midfield. Maybe if he and Adisorn (13) go for one leg each, they might be able to bring him down!
Tero have a lot of quality in their squad, and uniquely with so many new arrivals they have gelled quickly largely based on the fact that they’ve almost all played together at the SCG. It’s not a complete surprise to see them in 5th place in the league table, although most would have had them a few places further down.
This is probably mostly because they’ve had a relatively easy time to date, facing just 2 teams in the top 9, and 8 teams in the bottom 9. Port, by contrast, are just a point and a place behind Tero, but have played 5 of the top 9, and 5 of the bottom 9.
In more potentially positive news for Port, Tero are poor on the road, having managed just a solitary victory away at Super Power so far in 2017. In terms of their recent form, The Fire Dragons are unbeaten in April, with wins against Bangkok United and Honda and draws with Navy and Suphanburi.
The only change since Sunday’s away win at Sukhothai is the return of midfield maestro Siwakorn (16) from suspension. In an unexpected tactical maneuver, Jadet chose to replace Siwakorn by shifting Genki (18) to central midfield, with Tana (99) coming into the side on the left wing. Whilst Port got the 3 points, it’s unlikely that this system will be employed against The Fire Dragons, although it is possible that Tana will be preferred to Genki on the left after impressing in the second half against Bangkok Glass and having a hand in 2 of Port’s 3 goals against Sukhothai.
I expect to see the same XI who have performed so well in recent weeks with the possibility of Tana being given a start in place of Genki.
I’m not going to lie; this is getting scary. Currently on 3 yellow cards – one away from suspension – are Rochela (22), Dolah (4), Nitipong (34), Adisorn (13), Suarez (5) and Tana (99). Whilst these suspensions will inevitably happen at some point, Port are in the precarious position of 3 of the back 4 potentially being ruled out simultaneously. Don’t all get booked at once, chaps! With a tricky away trip to Chonburi on the horizon, we’ll need our defence as intact as possible.
The midfield is set to be the key battleground on Sunday. Kalifa Cisse (20) will be tasked with doing the dirty work for Tero, whilst Datsakorn (7) will – if selected – take up the creative burden. Interestingly, Datsakorn was on the bench for The Fire Dragon’s 3-2 win against Honda, although it seems more likely that the veteran was being rested rather than dropped.
For Port, Adisorn (13) will try to use his high-energy pressing to make life difficult for Datsakorn, whilst Siwakorn (16) will attempt to move the ball through midfield and start Port attacks. Whether or not the skinny wizard will be able to do that could depend on how much help he gets from Sergio Suarez (5). The more robust Spaniard will have to harry and disrupt Cisse to give Siwakorn a chance, as the Malian man-mountain will simply dominate the tiny Thai if they are left to slug it out one on one.
Teamwork is the name of the game for Port. They will need to stick together and fight for every ball in midfield if they are going to overcome their stronger and more experienced opponents.
The match will be shown live on True Sport 6 at 18:00 on Sunday 30 April, 2017