As expected, Port dispatched T3 high-flyers Ayutthaya Utd at the PAT last night to take their place in the last 16 of the Chang FA Cup, with a dynamic attacking performance which, had the finishing been more clinical, could and should have produced a hatful of goals.
August 2nd is my dad’s birthday and were he still with us, he would’ve been 77 yesterday. So what better way to celebrate the birthday of the man responsible for so many of my formative footballing – and drinking – experiences by having a few beers and watching Port? It might’ve lacked the glamour and significance of our most memorable game together – Coventry v Spurs in the 1987 FA Cup Final – but as a man who played and refereed Coventry Sunday league football for over 30 years, I’m sure he’d have appreciated the earthiness of the surroundings, and the coldness of the Leo. I know I did.
Anyway onto the football. Zico once again showed that he’s up for the cups by picking a full-strength team, the only change from Sunday’s lineup v Chiang Rai being the return of Adisorn (13) for Ittipol (7). Ayutthaya, on the other hand, seem to be more focused on their T3 promotion battle so whilst star player Noah Chivuta started – and put in a performance that showed he truly belongs at the top level – last weeks MOTMs Jirawat and Kendall were rested. The sight of Ayutthaya’s team sheet led to excited predictions of 4-0 and 5-0 amongst the farang faithful, and in the first half Port did their best to make those dreams reality.
Because for the first 45 minutes, Port absolutely battered their opponents, with Suarez (5) and Siwakorn (16) bossing the midfield, Genki (18) charging down the left with his socks down a la Peter Barnes, and Pakorn (9) & Nitipong (34) rampaging down the right. Chance after chance was created, with pretty much every outfield player having a shot at some point without a single one hitting the target. Josi (30) in particular was having a right mare, missing an open goal midway through the first half and generally still looking out of sorts since his return from injury.
Ayutthaya did have a few chances, normally due to Panpanpong (19) once again not bothering to do his defensive duties and leaving acres of space down Port’s left. When will Zico realise that he simply isn’t good enough to play as a wing-back and replace him with Yossawat? With Chivuta pulling the strings in midfield and lively Brazilian forward Maraba keeping Port’s defenders on their toes, they frequently threatened an opening goal which, given Port’s wastefulness, could’ve been fatal to the home side.
Thankfully, 13 minutes into the second half Port got the goal their sparkling attacking play deserved. Nitipong fed Pakorn with a somewhat overhit pass down the right – a pass which, pre-monastery, the no9 might well have given up on. But the Midfield Monk is a player reborn and he kept the ball in, steamed down the right, and pinged in an inch-perfect cross right onto the head of Josi, who showed he can head the ball after all and buried it into the Ayutthaya onion bag for 1-0.
But any thoughts that this might open the floodgates were somewhat misplaced, as Port, seemingly torn as to whether to park the bus or go for a second, found themselves on the back foot for much of the last 20 minutes, with Worawut making a couple of smart saves and Ayutthaya grazing the crossbar on a couple of occasions.
On 90 minutes however, Ayutthaya, as they did last week, found themselves down to 10 men when one of their midfielders put the boot in on Prawinwat long after the ball had gone and was given his marching orders. A couple of minutes later, in the last meaningful action of the game, that man Pakorn skipped past two defenders and once again found Josi in the box, and the Brazilian had time to round the keeper and a defender before sticking it in the net for 2-0.
So, as with the Chiang Rai game on Sunday, Port looked very lively and played some wonderful attacking football, only to be let down by poor finishing. You can get away with that against T3 teams, but we’ll need to take any chances we get against Glass on Saturday. Still, we’re now into the last 16 of the FA Cup and have as good a chance as anyone of going further. With the team looking faster, fitter and more motivated under Zico, Josi finding his scoring boots again, and players like Pakorn and Suarez finally finding some consistency, the rest of the season should be a lot of fun to watch.
Man of the Match – Pakorn
There were a few contenders for the coveted Sandpit MOTM award last night. Suarez managed his third impressive performance in a row – a record for him; Genki put in one of those balls-out left wing shifts that made us all love him in the first place; Nitipong complemented Pakorn beautifully down the right; and Adisorn was the usual Tasmanian Devil-esque whirlwind of energy and tackling in midfield.
But once again, and for the third game in a row, the award goes to Pakorn. Whether it’s the influence of Zico or some higher power, the right-winger is finally fulfilling his potential and becoming the star player he’s always hinted he could be. Once again he provided both assists, and at one point he even got straight up after being tackled and carried on running, and you’d have got pretty long odds on that earlier in the season. The big question is – can he do it at Bangkok Glass on Saturday? He’ll need to if Port are to stand any chance of getting something out of the game.
Photos by Tim Russell