To paraphrase that keen observer of Thai football Oscar Wilde, “To lose one cup match may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” And so in the space of five half-arsed, lacklustre days, Port exited both domestic cup competitions on their knees, unable to blame tiredness or fixture congestion, or anything other than their Bangkok Utd inferiority complex and their chronic inability to close out games against inferior opposition. When Kayne Vincent is scoring against you, you know things just ain’t right.
Seen from a distance, Port’s season doesn’t look too bad, and if you’d told any of us back in February that we’d be safe with five games still to play and that we’d win at the SCG, I think we’d all have taken that. But of course that doesn’t tell the true story, which is of a team playing intense, committed, high-energy football and punching above their weight to garner 29 points in the first half of the season, only to be let down by a calamitous transfer window, a pointless managerial change, a bizarre attitude towards young (and old) players, and a startling ability on the part of the players to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. More of that in our end of season reviews of course, but being a Port fan is rather like being married to an abusive alcoholic – they convince you they’ve changed, that they’re off the bottle, and things go well for a while, until suddenly they crack, go out and drink ten pints of Stella and a bottle of Smirnoff, then come home and do unacceptable things such as knocking you about, shitting the bed, and playing Tana on the left.
So, with the cups done & dusted, and Port safe from the drop, the remaining five games of the season are effectively dead rubbers, though Muangthong still have something to play for (in a fixture we’re not allowed to attend) and Sisaket may still have a chance of survival when they come to the PAT. The performances against Bangkok Utd and Air Force suggest that many of the players have already mentally put on the flipflops and knotted hankies, with some planning their next moves and others planning for life after football. So what can we expect in the remaining games?
It was the club’s stated ambition at the start of the season to finish in the top half of T1, and with only a point separating Port from 9th-placed Pattaya, and 15 points still to play for, that is eminently achievable, particularly with home games against struggling Nakhon Ratchasima and Sisaket and an away game at whipping boys Super Power to come. Though let’s face it, I’m sure Super Power are targeting that game as their most likely source of a sole win this season, and as someone who has still never seen Port win an away league game, I’m relieved that I’ll be out of the country and thus unable to put the Russell jinx on the team. 9 points from those games should see Port finish in the top half, but the question is, is the desire still there?
And what of the team selection? Surely, with the club now safe, it’s time to start planning ahead for next season and start giving the younger players some game time? Rattanai is fit again, so let’s see him, rather than the somewhat shaky Worawut, in goal. Yossawat is good enough for the Thai U23s, so he should be good enough to fill Port’s left-back slot for the rest of the season. Tatchanon is twiddling his thumbs at Chonburi, so get him back and let him claim that troublesome defensive midfield position.
Of course, it won’t happen. Port’s management seem to see young players like the rest of us see other people’s children, ie entertaining in very small doses but not something you want hanging around all the time. Hansson, Tatchanon & Pinyo, players one would’ve expected at the start of the season to get plenty of game time, have all either been released or loaned out, whilst Yossawat, after a couple of very encouraging performances, seems to have become the invisible man. Meanwhile, the creaking Tana is still stinking out the place on a regular basis with his classic miss-an-easy-chance-then-pretend-to-be-injured routine, a predictable comedy staple on a par with Norman Collier’s broken microphone or Eric Morecambe’s brown paper bag.
With five teams going down, the 2018 T1 season will be the toughest yet, and radical changes in the playing squad are needed if Port are even to survive, let alone thrive. The preparation for next year should be starting right now. I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but, like the wife of the aforementioned alcoholic, I live in hope, and will be in Zone B when the Swatcats come to town on 14 October.