The Dolphins swam into Khlong Thoey this evening, no doubt expecting a tough game, only to be pleasantly surprised when an out-of-sorts Port side not only handed them 3 points on a plate, but also threw in brandy, mints and a taxi home.
Jadet – or whoever picks the team – stuck largely with Port’s regular starting XI in a game they would’ve expected to win fairly comfortably. The only changes from Wednesday’s narrow defeat at Chonburi were Elsie Tana (99) coming back in for Genki (18), thus replacing a guy who can run for hours and sweat blood for the shirt with a bloke who visibly does not give a shit; and LB Pinkong (19) dropped in favour of Piyachart (23), for reasons best known to Jadet himself.
When we interviewed Josimar a few weeks ago, he made the telling observation that whilst Port play well against better teams, when they can soak up pressure and attack on the break, they struggle when they’re required to take the game to inferior opponents, and tonight’s performance bore that out. Right from the start it was obvious that Port had no gameplan – they were even struggling to take goal kicks in the first 5 minutes. Pattaya’s strategy seemed to be to confuse Port by playing a high line to prevent them from calmly beginning attacks from their own half, and it worked like a dream for the first 20 minutes, with Port unable to retain the ball for longer than a few seconds and the Dolphins’ big midfielder Wellington providing the kind of calm head in the middle of the park that Port lack.
From the 20-minute mark Port started to impose themselves on the game, with Josimar (30) coming closest to scoring when fed in by Suarez (5) down the left, but chances were few & far between. Piyachart and the typically lethargic Tana offered little threat down the left, and the absence of the suspended Nitipong (34) deprived Port of the usual dynamism down the right, meaning Port were more often than not going down the middle, where Suarez was ineffectual yet again. When he’s on his game he’s unplayable, but his problem is he’s not on it nearly as often as Port need him to be and once again I found myself pining for Maranhao.
The half finished 0-0 and I hoped that the break would see the most obvious change, ie Tana replaced by Genki; however the same XI emerged from the tunnel for the second half, as did the same shortcomings.
The game changed during a 5-minute period near the hour mark. Firstly, Suarez fed Josimar (30) on the edge of the box and the big Brazilian decided not to shoot but to check back and play a marvellous ball to Tana, who only had to sidefoot it over the line to give Port the lead. So why he decided to chip the keeper, and spoon it into Zone B, only he knows. I apologise to those around me for the torrent of abuse that flowed from my mouth at that point (the kind of Russell meltdown not seen since the dark days of Brent McGrath in 2015) but I’ve been saying since early last season that Tana is a waste of space, and once again tonight he proved it. There are limbless beggars on Sukhumvit Road who would’ve stuck that chance away.
Minutes later Pattaya caught Port on the break and a cross from the right found Picha who, unchallenged, slotted it past Worawut to give the Dolphins the lead.
Port belatedly introduced Genki but for Pakorn (9) who went down with a knock just as Tana’s number appeared on the board, and the Japanese winger’s energy livened up Port’s attack considerably, but there was simply no invention, no creativity, and no gameplan for dealing with highly mediocre opponents who had found themselves a goal up and intended to stay there. But it would be unfair to say that Pattaya simply parked the bus; they were dangerous on the break and hit the crossbar twice in a matter of minutes, whilst Port could’ve played for another hour without creating a scoring chance.
On 92 minutes, another Pattaya break led to another cross, from the left this time, which found that man Picha on the far post where, once again unchallenged, he nodded it easily into the Port net. Whether anything of note happened after this I cannot say, for I was out of there and heading for the taxi home.
A sobering defeat – against one of the poorest sides we’ve played this season – after the euphoria of recent weeks, and one which, following the defeats to Bangkok Glass and Chonburi, suggests that Port aren’t quite as good as we – or they – think. Good players – Hansson and Tachanon, to name but two – are being left on the bench, whilst players who simply aren’t good enough for this level – Tana, Piyachart – are starting games. Playing with a lone striker is fair enough when you’re playing Buriram, but not at home against the likes of Pattaya, where attacking should mean more than leaving Josimar to feed off scraps. And what Port really miss in games like this is a calm head in midfield – Siwakorn and Adisorn’s bustling style is great when you’re up against it, but not required when the opposition are clearly there for the taking. And Port’s “big” players, such as Suarez and Pakorn, just aren’t consistent enough. Yes, 8th after 13 games is a fantastic start but we should be building on it, rather than – as looked to be the case tonight – stepping back and admiring our handiwork.
With two tough away games coming up – Nakhon Ratchasima and Muangthong – Port’s season is in danger of fizzling out into mid-table obscurity or worse. One can only hope that the mid-season break will see Port’s somewhat unimaginative midfield and attack given a bit of spark. Maranhao and Asdrubal are both waiting in the wings and one – or both – are sorely needed right now.
Man of the Match – Genki Nagasato
Not many contenders for the MOTM award tonight – even Rochela was out of sorts. But at least the Genk livened things up when he came on and tried to make things happen. It must kill a player with his commitment and workrate to be sitting on the bench watching a player like Tana play in his position, and when Genki came on, he straight away showed what Port had missed in the first hour of the game. No, he didn’t set the game alight, create any good chances or score, but he was the best of a very bad bunch.
Photos by Tim & Linny Russell