Port put in their best performance so far under new manager Zico, but came up just short against high-flying Chiang Rai. An inspired goalkeeping performance from Nont Muangngam (20) in the Chiang Rai goal and profligate finishing from Port’s forwards swayed a game which, had it been decided by any other metric, would have been a crushing victory for the home side. Unfortunately for Port goals win games, and Port’s ability to convert their chances was desperately lacking, as it has been for much of the season. We also bumped in to former Port *sob* now Police Tero defender Niran Hansson before kick-off, who told us he is getting along well at his new club. “Well, I’m playing!” he said. Quite.
Port started the game confidently, getting the ball wide quickly and efficiently, with Suarez (5) dropping back in to midfield where he is more comfortable and has more influence on the game. Ittipol (7) was also looking strong, but he was perhaps too strong in the tackle on Chiang Rai captain Tanaboon (17), who was stretchered off and taken straight to hospital after a clash with the veteran Port midfielder early on. Unfortunately, I am told it’s a serious potentially season-ending injury for Tanaboon, so we at The Sandpit wish the national team regular a speedy recovery.
In the 10th minute Suarez spread the play wide to Nitipong (34), who teed up Pakorn (9) for a trademark right-footed cross which Genki (18) headed over the diving ‘keeper and in to the net. The crowd went wild, Genki wheeled away in celebration and it was a few seconds before anyone realized that the linesman’s flag was raised. Replays showed that he was spot on, with Genki a fraction offside.
Port were undeterred though, using the same formula just a minute later. This time Josimar (30) couldn’t quite get a touch on Pakorn’s cross, but Genki followed up at the far post, and must have thought he’d scored with a well-struck right footed effort. Somehow, Chiang Rai’s 20 year old Thai-French ‘keeper Nont – a product of the AS Nancy youth system and a former Under 17 international for the Frogs – got some body part or other in the way (it looked like his head to me), and Port were again denied.
Next it was Chiang Rai’s turn to attack, and this time Worawut (36) in the Port goal was called on to make a flying save, denying midfielder Sivakorn (21, no, not our Siwakorn, their Sivakorn) with a superb reaction stop. The resulting corner – delivered by Sivakorn – was a lesson in set-piece organization from the visitors. Chiang Rai moved two attackers in front of Worawut, and with their markers that was 4 obstacles for Worawut to find his way past. The ball was delivered to an area Worawut may have been able to reach unobstructed, but with the traffic in his way he never stood a chance. He came halfway then stopped in no man’s land, but to be fair he probably wouldn’t have saved Prathum’s (5) header anyway, which was deposited with precision in to the bottom left corner.
With Port feeling like they could have been 2-0 up minutes earlier, the goal was a real gut-shot. Nevertheless, Port persevered and were quickly back on top. In the 42nd minute, Port won a free-kick within Pakorn range, but the winger’s effort missed to the left, with Nont looking like he had it covered anyway.
The second half started with some highly suspect defending from Panpanpong (19), who headed a ‘clearance’ straight up in the air. He was lucky Rochela (22) bailed him out with an aerial challenge on the line, and that was far from the only time El Capitan came to his left back’s rescue in the second half. Regularly caught out too far up the pitch, Panpanpong was slow to get back, and was probably the only member of the starting XI who had a bad game.
Pakorn, on the other hand, was having a stormer. His crossing was deadly and his forward runs were incisive and created real danger. He even put in a shift defensively! The rumours of Mongkol’s arrival at Port may well have been the motivation he needed to up his game, as he’s been superb ever since. In the 52nd minute, a jinking run from Pakorn gave him the chance to shoot from the edge of the area, but stretching slightly he didn’t quite catch it right and Nont made a fairly comfortable save.
Just a few minutes later, Port’s dominance finally paid off. Indecisive defending from former Port player Atit (2) lead to the ball bounced up on to his hand, and after a little hesitation, during which Josimar launched a shot on goal which was deflected over the bar – the referee pointed to the spot. At the time, I assumed that the penalty was given for the deflection on Josi’s shot, which would have been extremely harsh, but the original handball was clear from the referee’s vantage point, and he was absolutely right to award the spot-kick.
In the usual mess of whinging defenders that occurs whenever a penalty is awarded, Chiang Rai’s captain and goalscorer Prathum was in a particularly trollish mood. He stood in front of goal for ages for no apparent reason, during which time I may or may not have suggested that Dolah (4) take a particularly violent course of action against him. This may or may not have also been captured on video. Oh well, serves him right the cheeky git!
Rochela was far less flustered than me though, and slotted his penalty in to the bottom right corner. The diving Nont got a hand on it and wasn’t far from keeping it out, but Rochela – as usual – was not to be denied from the spot. Port were back on level terms with more than 30 minutes still to go, and were now favourites to take all 3 points. Port didn’t let up for a minute, and were straight back on the attack. The referee again found himself having to make a decision when Genki sped through on to Pakorn’s delightful lofted pass and was cynically brought down by a defender who was clearly caught the wrong side, and was making no attempt to play the ball. Port, however, were a victim of their previous penalty, as the referee wasn’t about to give a second within a couple of minutes of the first. According to research I have undertaken today, Port were denied by a little known law, found in Section W, Subsection E, Paragraph A, Line K, which is commonly applied by Thai officials.
In the 64th minute Port looked to finally have taken the lead when a cross from Genki was headed goalwards by Suarez. He couldn’t have done much better than heading it down towards the bottom right corner, but somehow Nont once again came to Chiang Rai’s rescue, palming it just wide of the post with Josimar lurking nearby ready to pounce on the rebound. Surely the breakthrough was coming…
Well, it was, but not for the team who deserved it. A cross from deep by Vander Luiz (10) was flicked goalwards by Felipe Azevedo (11), and this time there was nothing that Worawut could do. Chiang Rai had only a couple of chances, but had finished clinically, whereas Port had been creating chances for fun but hadn’t been able to seal the deal. Port weren’t done yet, though.
On 78 minutes, Siwakorn’s well-struck shot was deflected just over the bar, and Port came even closer from the resulting corner. Josimar connected sweetly with a powerful heard from Pakorn’s outswinger, and it took a combination of Nont and the crossbar to deny the Brazilian striker. A couple of minutes later, fantastic work in the build-up by Suarez ended with Josimar missing by what can only have been a couple of inches with a powerful left footed from the edge of the area. He looked as shocked and exasperated as us that he hadn’t managed to score with either of his chances, and with time running out for Port, it was starting to feel like we were heading for the most unjust of defeats.
Chiang Rai threatened to add insult to injury on the break, but the score was to remain 1-2 as Port failed to find the breakthrough in the last 10 minutes. That was no thanks to Tana (99), who for some reason had replaced Genki despite the Japanese winger looking threatening throughout the second half. Tana showed his national team striking instincts by standing about 2 yards offside on the left wing for no reason whatsoever before politely passing the ball to the goalkeeper to waste what should have been Port’s last chance for a goal after some excellent build-up play from Pakorn. Kaludjerovic (10), who had bafflingly replaced the excellent Suarez, could be seen violently gesticulating in his teammate’s direction. We feel your pain, Kalu, and whatever you shouted at him, I’m sure we on the terraces shouted far worse! *cough cough Tim*
Port FC Man of the Match
I haven’t checked, but I’m sure the official award went to Nont, who we will be seeing for Chiang Rai and probably Thailand for many years to come. For Port there are many excellent performances to choose from. Rochela was solid in defence, and should be thanked by Panpanpong for bailing him out on at least 3 occasions when he was caught out of position. Dolah was formidable as usual. Ittipol (7) looks a better bet in central midfield than Adisorn (13), although he only has an hour of football in the tank. Suarez was excellent in central midfield, dropping in and pushing forward at the right time, having one of his most influential games in a Port shirt. Pakorn once again provided the cutting edge, setting up several excellent chances that his teammates failed to convert.
After much head-scratching I’m going to give it to Pakorn, who for me probably had his most complete game for Port. Crossing, dribbling and tracking back were all there, with Suarez a very close second for similar reasons. Well played, lads! If we can reproduce that form just a few more times this season, we will have absolutely nothing to worry about.