Zico’s tenure at Port finally moved out of first gear with a 3-1 victory over Thai Honda. Port were in cruise control at 2-0 up, Honda pulled within a car-length before Port applied the nitrous to win comfortably. The feeling of relief was palpable at PAT Stadium, as Zico got his first win as boss and Port put a little more daylight between them and the strugglers, going in to a very tough run of games where points will be at a premium. Honda were, as my preview suggested they would be, pretty awful. Rafinha (7) was their only legitimate threat, with new signing Roninho (77) playing like a one man team and Jesus (9) confined to the bench.
Zico chose not to continue with his back 3 experiment, and his switch back to a system that the players are more comfortable with turned out to be the right decision. That’s not to say that a back 3 isn’t a good option going forward – looking at Port’s personnel it could well be – but it takes time for the players to adapt to a new system like this. Zico went with the system most likely to yield 3 points on the day, and it did just that.
There were a few interesting decisions to be made with the starting XI, mostly centred around what to do about the absence of Josimar (30). Zico chose to go back to the future, employing an almost identical system to the one Port started the season with against Ratchaburi on the first day of the T1 season. The only change from the XI that started that game was the inclusion of Panpanpong (19) ahead of the departed Piyachart (23, who scored a belter of a freekick for Ubon by the way) showing just how much Port’s squad has been improved since the start of the season. Erm, yeah. That would be not at all.
Nevertheless, with the limited options available, Zico acted decisively, bringing in both Suarez (5) and Kaludjerovic (10) from the cold, as well as giving a start to Piyachat (88) who displaced Adisorn (13) from the starting XI for the first time in what seems like forever. With a goal apiece for Port’s two forwards, it’s hard to argue with his decisions.
The game started fairly evenly, with neither side holding back on the attack. Port were the first to create a clear chance, when on 5 minutes a devilish Pakorn (9) cross was flicked on by Kalu in to the path of Genki (18). With about a yard between him and the goal it only needed a touch, but as he did last week against Bangkok United, Genki failed to make contact and the chance went begging.
On 15 minutes, Pakorn fired narrowly over from a free-kick, and 5 minutes after that Kalu almost made a fortuitous breakthrough when he blocked a clearance and the ball ballooned on to the top of the bar and over.
Honda’s next chance was probably the best move of the first half, and it deserved a better finish than the one applied by defensive midfielder Silva (33). Rafinha (7) and Roninho (77)
combined well to send their fellow Brazilian through, and Silva shaped to curl the ball in to the far corner, but struck the ball so poorly that the curl never came and the ball went behind harmlessly for a goal kick. Honda kept the pressure up, with their long-throw expert Meedech (26) showing almost Delap-like technique in his delivery in to the box. He was starved for targets, though, and with Dolah (4) maintaining aerial dominance and Rochela (22) sweeping up everything on the ground Honda could not find a way through.
It was Port who broke the deadlock, but from a very surprising source! Siwakorn (16) received the ball in the middle and played it square to the advancing Panpanpong (19), who looked for all the world as if he was going to cross. I’m sure even his biggest fan wouldn’t have been advising him to shoot, but from all of 30 yards the left-back struck it hard, kept it down and hit the target. The fact that it dipped in front of the keeper made it a little tricky for him, but the ball definitely seemed to be well within reach of Buncha (24) when it went past him. That’s not to take anything away from the left-back, though. It was a superb strike, and is most certainly in contention for a spot in our Goal of the Season short-list.
Port had to be happy with their half-time advantage, but a better performance was going to be needed to secure the points in the second half. Pakorn set about completing the task with some absolutely scorching deliveries. He was finding the danger area with unerring regularity, and more often than not it was Kalu on the end of his crosses. The Serb certainly has a nose for where to position himself to get on the end of balls in to the box, and on 53 minutes he was in prime position to head home a Pakorn free-kick, but somehow contrived to hit the bar from 6 yards.
A minute later Genki made a dog’s breakfast of a half-chance after the ‘keeper got himself in to trouble, leaving him an empty net albeit from a very tight angle. It would have been stunning if he’d found the target, but he should have certainly done better than whacking the ball straight out of play!
In the 59th minute, Suarez almost got a goal worthy of his excellent performance. With fellow midfielders Siwakorn (16) and Piyachat (88) keeping play ticking over, Suarez had been spreading the play well with some superbly struck cross-field passes. The ball sat up nicely for him and he struck a gorgeous volley, which looked to those of us behind the goal to be sailing in to the top corner but for the intervention of Kalu’s back. Having missed a sitter and prevented a teammate scoring, and seemed it was not going to be Kalu’s day.
On 63 minutes, Port went 2-0 up. Another swashbuckling Pakorn delivery caused a headache for the ‘keeper. He seemed undecided whether to block with his hands or feet, and ended up doing neither. The ball fell straight in to the path of Suarez, who calmly slotted home his fourth goal for Port. The visiting group of Suarez groupies wearing Las Palmas shirts erupted in to celebration, as did the rest of the stadium. Unfortunately though, when Port go 2-0 up trouble is usually just around the corner.
This time it took just 5 minutes for Port to blow their two goal advantage. Dolah (4) lost his balance trying to stop a ball coming in from the left, and when substitute Jesus (9) laid it off to Rafinha (7) there was no stopping his quickly taken strike in to the bottom right corner. Honda kept their foot on the gas, creating a few chances from distance, but nothing they could muster troubled Rattanai (17), who gathered everything that came his way calmly.
In the 78th Port did something completely out of character – they made the game safe! It was another cross from the right, but this time it was Nitipong (34) who found the perfect ball in. Kalu was once again in the right place at the right time, and this time headed the ball down, past Buncha and in to the back of the net. He jumped in to Zone B to celebrate with the fans, where he may or may not have been touched by the hands of these particularly loyal friends we spotted behind the goal.
Although the outcome was almost certainly decided, there was still time for Honda striker Thawin (10) to miss an absolutely gilt-edged chance. A deflected strike from Jesus (9) fell straight to him, but somehow from 8 yards out he fired wide when it seemed easier to score than to miss. It was to be the last chance of the game, and a big roar of relief greeted the referee’s whistle. It was a must-win, and Port won. Job done!
Port FC Man of the Match
Lots of suggestions came my way for Man of the Match, but I’ve decided to go with Sergio Suarez (5). He clearly didn’t have 90 minutes in him, but the quality of his passing when he was on was a joy to behold. Zico-era Port have been switching the direction of play much more effectively than in the past, and Suarez is probably the best passer in the squad on his day. Honourable mentions must go to Rochela (22), who looked in control throughout, Nitipong (34) who put in a typically tireless performance, Siwakorn (16) who took on more defensive responsibility in the absence of Adisorn (13) and Pakorn (9) whose crossing was as good as it’s ever been.
Isn’t it nice to be spoiled for choice? Well played, Port. Let’s carry that momentum in to the tricky run of fixtures coming up. We can beat anyone on our day!