The most hotly anticipated Port FC season in living memory kicked off at a jam-packed PAT last night with a win over a Pattaya side who were organised and physical but lacked a cutting edge up front. Stunning debut screamers from Boskovic (23) and Bodin (10) sandwiched a Suarez (5) goal to give Port just the start they wanted and to increase fans’ appetites for what is to come.
Ah, the first day of the season. The familiar taste of Leo and ice in a plastic glass. The meeting up with old friends. The unveiling of a rather tasty new shirt, then being told you can’t buy it until next month. Some things never change.
Quite why new Port shirts are treated with the kind of secrecy normally afforded to MI5 missions or buying beer on Buddhist holidays is a mystery; an even bigger mystery is how the club can spend over 100mBHT on new players but still not get the club shop stocked for the opening day of the season. Yes, I was given a free can of Leo with my season ticket, but I’d rather have had the option of BUYING A BLOODY SHIRT. Sort it out.
OK, rant over, because apart from the annual shirt debacle there was nothing whatsoever to moan about. The decision to put ModernDog on stage before the game was an inspired one, with their derivative but highly anthemic Thai rock music working the local fans up into a frenzy of excitement before kick-off. With Zone B visibly filling up, we took our seats 30 minutes before KO and found the stadium already full to the rafters, and Port’s performance will ensure that’s likely to be the norm this season.
Port, as expected, went at their opponents from the whistle, and although their first half performance wasn’t quite as fluid as it would become later in the game, the result should’ve been done & dusted by half-time. Boskovic in particular was serving notice that he’s here not just to score goals, and his all-round play, dropping deep or moving out to the wing to look for the ball, was a revelation to fans so long starved of a genuine Scary Foreign Striker. On 4 minutes, the bearded Montenegrin bombed down the wing, skinned two defenders and fired in a low cross, which rebounded off a Pattaya defender straight back onto his head, forcing the Dolphins’ excellent keeper into the first of many smart saves.
Port came closest to opening the scoring on 7 minutes when an excellent inswinging free kick from new left-back Kevin (97) found the head of Todsapol (6). Tossa directed his header into the corner but somehow the keeper pulled off a miraculous, Gordon Banks-esque save to keep it out. And on 15 minutes Pakorn (7), sensing that he’s no longer the only game in town when it comes to dead balls, hit the crossbar directly from a corner.
Despite their superiority, it took Port until the last minute of the half to break the deadlock. Suarez fed Boskovic down the left and he appeared to overrun the ball before cutting back, leaving two defenders for dead with a sublime bit of trickery, and firing an unstoppable strike into the top corner sparking scenes of delirium on the terraces. Port finally have a real SFS, one who can create goals out of nothing, and it feels damn good.
Half-time saw the kind of frenzied beer queueing not seen since the repeal of prohibition, so your correspondent decided to forego the usual HT bevvy and thus made the start of the second half. 10 minutes in the referee – who had a generally poor game – awarded Pattaya what I initially thought to be a highly dubious penalty. But after using the VAG system – Video Assisted Guesswork – I can see that Pattaya’s big no9 Lukian has a wrestle with Rochela (22) on the edge of the box, the cap’n goes down, then has a little kick at the Brazilian as he tries to get away. Well spotted ref, and it looks as if Port’s penchant for piffling penalties is continuing into 2018. Thankfully Worawut, with his only real action of the night, pulled off a stunning save to keep it 1-0, with Suarez amusingly appearing to tell the ref where he could stick his penalty.
This proved to be the first of two incidents that turned the game, the second being a red card for Pattaya on the hour mark after Nurul was – for the umpteenth time – upended on the edge of the box. It was now 11 v 10 and, with Nurul restored to his preferred position on the right, Port were playing some champagne football and looking dangerous every time they crossed the halfway line. And yet the next chance fell to Pattaya, with a cross from the left spectacularly volleyed over Worawut but against the Port crossbar.
On 73 minutes, Port finally got the second goal their football deserved. Pakorn picked out Nurul in the box and his shot was again brilliantly saved by the Pattaya keeper, only for the rebound to fall to Suarez who gleefully blasted it into the roof of the net for hopefully the first of many goals this season.
It was Pakorn’s last act of the game as he was replaced by new boy Bodin (10), who almost announced his arrival in the most spectacular fashion, smashing a shot against the post in the 76th minute. Five minutes later, Nitipong (34) went down in the box and the referee, for reasons best known to himself, decided it was a penalty (the VAG tells me Niti was going down before the defender, who played the ball, touched him). Rochela, still taking pens despite the arrival of Boskovic, stepped up to take it but his shot was weak and the keeper saved it comfortably.
Seasoned Port fans may have seen the penalty miss as the beginning of Operation Fuckup, that post-80th minute phenomenon that seems to kick in every time Port have a two-goal lead; but thankfully this team is made of sterner stuff and they put the game to bed on 89 minutes, with the boy Bodin curling a delightful free-kick into the top corner and celebrating with a funky dance routine in front of Zone C. Nurul then went off to a standing ovation and to have the rare experience of being replaced by someone smaller than him, with Terens ‘Flash’ Puhiri making a late debut. Sadly the popular Indonesian didn’t get a touch, but his time will surely come.
So a comfortable, and thrilling, 3-0 win to start off this most anticipated of seasons, and the job done in very impressive fashion. There wasn’t a weak link on the pitch, with the defence solid, the midfield quick and creative, and the forward players often dazzling. Pattaya may not have been the strongest opposition Port will face this season, and they offered little goal threat, but the way Port dispatched them – and, for once, closed out the game – bodes well for 2018. The four new players all made quite superb debuts, and the incumbents visibly raised their game to match their new superstar teammates. Jadet has the winning start he wanted – and needed – and with Kim Sung Hwan soon to take his place at DM, the future is surely bright for Port. Hopefully starting at Muangthong next week!
The Sandpit Man of the Match – Nurul
A very, very tough choice this week, with all 11 starters, plus Bodin, staking a claim for the coveted Sandpit MOTM award. I was initially going to give it to Rochela, who put in a masterclass in calm, unflustered defending, however his giving away a penalty at one end and missing one at the other mean he misses out. Boskovic was also a contender, as was Suarez, who revelled in his new free role. But the award this week goes to debutant Nurul who, particularly once he switched to the right, absolutely terrorised the Pattaya defence, drawing fouls, free-kicks and cards almost every time he got forward. Only a miraculous save from Pattaya’s keeper prevented him from scoring on his debut, and his partnership with Boskovic looks like a recipe for goals.