Port head North this weekend to face Ubon UMT. Both teams could be forgiven for “taking it easy” for the rest of the season as both the Eagles and ourselves have achieved target number one of all promoted teams and sit comfortably in mid table with that “peaceful easy feeling” any realistically chance of relegation has “already gone”. Whilst an assault on the summit of the table is realistically out of reach, even if either side were to “take it to the limit”in the remaining games. The Sanuk football revolution under Zico means that despite little to play for there’s little sense of “after the thrills is gone” about the remainder of 2017 for Port.
Of all our rivals, Ubon are a bit of a favourite of mine, akin to a Thai version of mid 90’s Bolton Wanderers. Unfashionable and with a reputation as big and strong battlers that belies what really is a very good footballing side. Throw in a manager, in Scott Cooper, who prepares well, plays to his squad’s strengths, a new stadium and for us metropolitan southern fairies a seldom visited northern location and it’s a simile that works for me, we just need Jay Jay Okocha to arrive on a “midnight flyer”. Along with Sukhothai last season, Ubon appeared to represent somewhat of a beacon for the future of Thai football, rather than vanity projects for megalomaniac owners or corporations keeping their name in the public arena whilst playing in front a few hundred. These clubs are well run and on the surface sustainable. 2016 saw this new breed succeed as Sukhothai more than comfortably stayed up and (kinda) won the FA Cup, while Ubon undertook the role many assigned Port preseason and won the title in the second tier.
Come the start of 2017 and things looked good. “New Kid in Town” Ubon entered the T1/Prem/mega league (I think it’s currently called one of these) with the opening of their new stadium (which had the possibly of being extended from its current 6,000 upwards as the fan base grew) they’d also held on to national team striker Siroch Chatthong and got busy in the transfer market strengthening their squad for a first season in the big time. Three games into the season they sat atop the table on goals scored. However, being Thai football, it appears all wasn’t quite as perfect as it seemed and there was some “heartache tonight”. On the field Ubon have fallen back to mid table and currently sit 10th, still somewhat better than expected. However, off the field rumours persist around ownership issues, attendance has been disappointing and relations with fans strained. Over the transfer window Siroch Chatthong found himself “In the City” after being sold to some club in Rangsit with a fetish for buying any available Thai national team player. Brazilian body builder/hulk impersonator and centre back Victor was linked with a move to Buriram, to attempt the impossible and replace Tunez, before Buriram remember they could just get the original back from Spain and left the Brazilian in Issan.
Recent form hasn’t been great since they followed Port with an equally enjoyable 3-2 win over the Lizards. After the mid season break Ubon limped back into action with a 1-0 defeat at Ratchaburi, before going goal and draw crazy. A 93rd minute penalty by Bangkok United’s league leading marksman Dragon Boskovic put a 3-2 blip in what would have otherwise been three back-to-back 2-2 draws. Before Wednesday saw that rarest of things, a night where “The Long Run” out to Ladkrabang wasn’t “Wasted Time” thanks to a 8 goal thriller. Having taken the lead though Thiago (7) the Eagles found themselves 3-1 down just before the hour, before their other Brazilians Carlao (83) and Victor (6) pulled them level, only for an injury time goal to seemingly allow Honda to claim the win. At which point the recent arrival from Port Piyachart Tamaphan popped up to restore the parity in the 95th minute.
Port head into this fixture on the back of a defeat to Buriram as a linesman’s “lyin eyes” were the only ones not to see that Coelho was clearly off side, meaning it was “one of these nights”. However, the performance – offside goal aside – away from home to what currently appears to be the best team in the league showed a lot of promise. The Zico era may have started with what appears a rather an uninspiring 4 points from 4 games but given that the two defeats have come against the league leaders and a Bangkok United team that gave Port there most comprehensive footballing lesson of the first half of the season and are on a run of ten games that has seen them win nine. The sole defeat being a single goal to defeat to Buriram (all the best teams do it apparently). Points were dropped away to Navy where all the boxes of a traditional Port blow up were ticked, 2-0 up away from home with over an hour gone, rather than shut up shop, the wheels feel off, and we were again the “victim of love” of giving away late penalties to make it 2-2. Change doesn’t happen overnight and we appear to be moving in the right direction.
Ubon will be a big test, they are as we know big, strong and well drilled, however they (like Port) suffer with issues of giving away late goals (especially penalties) and have drawn half their home games and too many overall recently. At the back, they are led by Victor (6) who put in an impressive showing in the 1-0 win for Port at the PAT. With Kalu (10) likely to start up front alone, the not-so-big Serb will need to be at his Youtube best to test the Brazilian and it will require assistance from the rest of the team. Blindly lumping it forward to the target man is unlikely to work. Also physically, we need to contend with Ubon collectively as we did in the reverse (I’m think Dolah and Rochela charging virtually the length of the pitch to back up team mates in the dying moments). Dolah excels at this, popping up to intimidate and man handle anyone attempting to bullying some of the slighter Port starters. Ubon also have the Albanian German Nebihi (8) who is top scorer with ten. He didn’t start when we last played and has been in and out of the team since the mid-season break. If he starts he will offer a range of creativity to compliment the Big Scary Foreign striker in the form of Carlao (83) or Thiago (7). Japanese midfielder Yamazaki (14) is suspended for the game so hopefully that allows Port to win the battle there.
Zico either likes to tinker or hasn’t yet decided what will be his go to starting line-up. The only major absence is Josimar (30) after pulling a “James Dean” lite, so Kalu (10) will be “Desperado” to take his opportunity and cement his place in the team for “the long run” with a goal or two. I’d expect “ol 55” Boonyong (shockingly 55) is to feature on the bench as Dolah (4) and Rochela (22) assume their normal partnership in front of Rattanai (17). With Pinkong (19) enjoying some reasonable form and the Nitipong (34) and Pakorn (9) partnership on the right developing with each match along with the Dirk Kuyt-esque hustle of Genki (18) always of worth in a battle away from home. It’s only in central midfield I can see any change. Suarez (5) had one of his least productive evenings away to that other exponent of “big and strong” football Honda and often struggles when a spoiler used to man mark him, however I’d expect him to start along with Siwakorn (16) which leaves the call on who partners him in the middle as the main choice I can see Zico confronted with Ittipol (7) appear to have edged ahead of Adisorn (13), however Adisorn had a great game in the reverse and his bustle and bite might just edge him into the starting 11 come kick off .“I can’t tell you why” Tana (99) keeps getting game time as its often “wasted time”. Let’s hope we’re “Glad all over” come Sunday night!
The match will be shown live on True Sport 2 at 19:00 on Sunday 9 July, 2017. For those who can’t make it out to Ubon, feel free to join us at The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13, where the match will be shown on a big screen with sound.