In the end, this was a thoroughly entertaining match to round off what has been, despite some frustrations, a solid season from Port. Any place from 10th–8th is now possible and would represent progress. The last time we went into a season sitting comfortably in mid-table with no excitement of promotion to look forward to, or relegation to fear, was in 2011! So, joining the rest of the Sandpit in Zone B in a carefree, happy, Leo enhanced mood was indeed a rare treat.
The Port line-up raised a few eyebrows but every cloud has a silver lining. Some players were being given, we suspected, a final run-out in a Port shirt, most notably, the often, deservedly maligned Tana (99) and he was certainly to live down to expectations. 33 year old Ittipol (7) is already confirmed to be on his way at the end of the season, and he was also given a final 90 minutes at PAT Stadium.
Apart from some typical left wing raids from Genki (18) and a header which went close from the same player, the opening half an hour was typical of Thai League football: great first touch, fast, neat, incisive passing, tricky wing play, rash tackles and the odd dash of theatrics but, like a Japanese tourist in a Nana Plaza pay-by-the-hour hotel, short on penetration.
It might be an age thing, but at times like this my mind does wander; random thoughts started to meander through my head, though still obscurely connected to the scene unfolding before me:
- Madame Pang’s legs are far too pale for her to be wearing skimpy shorts on a wet Saturday in November
- I wonder how much it would cost to rent a flat in the orange and blue painted apartment block behind Zone D
- I miss seeing the temperature updates on the old scoreboard
- Is Tana the square root of nothing?
Then, just as my thinking delved into the existential, a goal of infinite beauty, yet stark simplicity, lit up PAT Stadium in the 37th minute; Pakorn (9) delivering a defence splitting pass for Suarez (5) to race on to and power past the keeper. The Spaniard has been on fire recently and was having another of his better games.
Half-time did nothing to disturb Port’s new-found momentum and, after a couple of narrow misses, on 53 minutes, Genki Nagasato ran on to another through ball to the right of the penalty area and smashed in a shot off the post. Beats ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’, the Sandpit in Zone B reminded him. He had laboured hard for that goal and it was well deserved.
Three minutes later, Zone B was again in raptures when Todsapol (6) seemed the most likely scorer with a glancing header from a corner. At one point it appeared that Tana was about to claim the goal but the hapless midget would have needed a stepladder to have nodded that one in, so his celebrations were largely ignored.
Port were rampant now and chances came and went, at both ends of the pitch to be fair, with Rattanai (17), who had been superb, pulling off a couple of acrobatic saves to deny Sisaket a consolation goal. Then, in the 73rd minute, came possibly Port’s best worked goal of the season, Suarez expertly side-footing the ball into the net after a rapid exchange of passes in the box, the final assist from the recently introduced Ekkapoom (8): 4-0.
Sisaket pulled one back before the always energetic ‘Poom’, who adds more to our attack in two minutes than Tana (whom he replaced) does in 200, was to figure prominently for the 5th goal in the 85th minute; the Sisaket keeper bringing him down illegally after another burst into the box. As soon as the penalty was given, David Rochela (22, or David Roosevelt according to Google Translate) left his place at the back to assume his duties and, despite some muted protest from Josimar, duly dispatched it well out of the keeper’s reach.
And that, really, should have been it. Port were leading comfortably, and quite deservedly, after a compelling second half performance. But, just as if to remind us that old habits die hard, Port performed at their most Portsy in extra time, conceding two sloppy goals to give a slightly distorted look to the result. Still, none of us would begrudge Sisaket and their wonderful travelling fans this belated consolation.
So, some home comfort to send the fans away happy, which is more than I can say about the club’s, and Queen Bee Madame Pang has to be heavily implicated in this, feeble attempts to commemorate 50 years of Thai Port football and appropriately reward her worker bees. I did mention this in my match preview, but quite frankly, it has been pathetic. My memory may be playing tricks, but I am sure we have had end-of-season parties on the field outside the club shop in recent years, the two most memorable being the promotion party in 2013 and the relegation party (!) the season before. For various reasons I am sure, the turn out today was very disappointing, but those of us who were there deserved better.
Still, there was one supreme consolation at the end, which will live long in my memory certainly. King Leandro was in the Sandpit. And looking trim. He shook my hand, signed my shirt and said, in a warm, cuddly tone, “I remember you”. Amazingly, all this after we had just been discussing his Port career over post match beers. Those of you who have read my footballing love letter to him: ‘Leandro, Portrait of an Icon’ will understand my turning into jelly – it was man-love at its finest and no doubt cringingly embarrassing for those who witnessed it. I offer no apologies. Ratchaburi – here we come!
Tim’s Man of the Match – Sergio Suarez
OK, I hold my hands up on this one – I’ve spent most of the season criticising Suarez for only showing up for one game every 3-4, but in the last few weeks he’s been absolutely superb, and last night he was magnificent. Two goals, and bossing the game like no player I’ve seen since Zidane tearing Howard Wilkinson’s England a new one in 1999, or the peerless Berndt Schuster silencing Old Trafford for Atletico Madrid in 1991. Admittedly this is a slightly lower level than that but if he can keep up this kind of form then SS (er, maybe not) may be lining up in Port’s midfield next season. And maybe he’ll unblock the Sandpit on Instagram now…