Purple Reign: Muangthong Utd 0-2 Port FC

 

Despite the absence of their usual vociferous away support, Port travelled to the Ballardian wastelands of Muangthong and, for the second season running, came away with a win, which takes them to the top of T1. A couple of thousand Port fans turned up to watch the match on the PAT scoreboard, and created probably the best atmosphere at any Thai league game this weekend.

 


 

The times they are a-changin’, and Port headed to the Theatre of Corrugated Iron with arguably the stronger squad, confident of getting a result against a Muangthong side whose star is definitely beginning to fade. Yes, they might have two of T1’s greatest SFSs (Heberty & Jaja), but when the best you can offer in midfield is professional model and occasional (and ludicrously overrated) footballer Charyl Chappuis, you’re in for a long old season.

Jadet made one change from last week’s win over Pattaya, replacing Adisorn with new Korean signing Kim Sung Hwan; but the formation remained an attacking one with Pakorn & Nurul on the flanks and Boskovic spearheading the attack.

The game kicked off in front of swathes of empty seats at the SCG (though it did fill up by half-time), and the atmosphere was certainly a lot better at the PAT, despite those of us unwisely choosing to sit in Zone B requiring the Hubble Telescope to see the screen. What followed was a classic, packed with action & incident, and a great advertisement for how far Thai football has progressed as a spectacle in recent years.

Port, sporting their new purple away kit, made the early running and should’ve taken the lead on 5 minutes when some lovely interplay between new boys Nurul (31) and Kevin (97) resulted in a golden chance for Nurul, but he fluffed his shot and it went straight to the keeper. But 2 minutes later Port got the goal their lively start deserved, in a goal rich in irony. Left-back Kevin had already been announced as a Muangthong player when Port stepped in & gazumped them, and Pakorn’s (7) excellent free-kick was nodded into his own net by Peerapat – who would’ve been on the bench had the Kevin deal gone through.

 

 

The early goal was just what Port needed for Jadet to carry out his tactical masterplan, and they began soaking up wave after wave of MTU attacks, with the brilliant duo of Kim (8) and Siwakorn (16) bossing the midfield, and Rochela (22) his usual calm self at the back. Muangthong’s much vaunted duo of Heberty & Jaja were barely getting a sniff, and last week’s hat-trick hero Chenrop spending more time in Kevin’s pocket than his phone. Even an early injury to Bumrungrad loyalty card holder Todsapol (6) couldn’t disrupt Port, with Dolah (4) seamlessly replacing him.

Muangthong did occasionally carve out chances, hitting the bar on 15 minutes and Worawut (36) spectacularly saving a long-range Heberty strike on 17, but the manner in which Port were managing the game, rather than running around like headless chickens as was so often the case last year, was very impressive indeed. They made it to HT with their lead intact, and for once Operation Fuckup felt like a distant memory.

As expected, Muangthong came storming out in the second half, and as we’d moved closer to the scoreboard, we could actually see what was going on, as Worawut (having possibly his best game in a Port shirt) made another flying stop from a 46th minute Sarach thunderbastard. But Port continued to threaten on the break and on 49 minutes Suarez, who was having one of his invisible nights, volleyed narrowly over the crossbar after being put through by Nurul. Kevin also tried the spectacular on the hour mark with a Roberto Carlos-style volley from far out left, which again only just cleared the crossbar.

Muangthong had been warned, and on 65 minutes Port’s grip on the game tightened with a beautifully worked goal. A long pass from Suarez found Nitipong (34) in acres of space on the right, and the little right-back skipped past an MTU defender before squaring a delightful pass back to the Spaniard who buried it in the back of the net, sparking euphoric scenes at the PAT. Like last season, Port were winning at the SCG; unlike last season, they were bossing the game and from this point the result was never in much doubt, and although Jaja had the ball in the net seconds later, it was correctly disallowed for offside.

Indeed, it could have been much worse for the hosts before the final whistle, with Nurul heading narrowly wide and Boskovic (23) being denied by the Muangthong keeper. Even Kim tried to get in on the act 3 minutes into stoppage time with an outrageous free kick attempt – not sure what the Korean for “taking the piss” is, but he was definitely doing it.

 

There ain’t no party like a Sandpit party

 

After the final whistle the Sandpit was the venue for scenes of celebration not seen at Port in a long time, with the farang and local fans sharing songs (they still haven’t learned “Shit on the Muangthong” yet but we intend to make it happen), beers and other intoxicants (let’s just say one of those beer stall guys is a marketing genius), in further evidence that, even when there’s no game on, the PAT is the best place to experience football in Thailand. I eventually found myself with fellow Sandpitter Tom Earls in a craft beer bar in the wilds of Punnawithi having utterly unnecessary late beers, and I awakened this morning with a throbbing head and a rasping voice. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

As for Port, something very special is happening here. The new players have gelled from the off, with the existing players raising their game to match them; but even more impressive was Port’s tactical mastery, sitting back, soaking up pressure, keeping Heberty & Jaja on a tight leash, and hitting MTU on the break time after time. Muangthong may have felt they were robbed last season, but they can have no complaints this time round. With Kim taking his place in the team the jigsaw is finally complete, and with Port sitting on top of T1 after 2 games, fans now have realistic hopes of them staying there for a good while longer.

 

Sandpit Man of the Match: Kim Sung Hwan

As with last week’s game there were MOTM performances all over the pitch. Keeper Worawut had an absolute stormer of a game; Kevin justified Jadet’s claim that he’s the best LB in Thailand with a stunning display (Panpanpong now seems just a bad memory); Pakorn was superb down the right; Rochela was flawless; and Siwakorn was his usual busy self in midfield.

But this week’s MOTM award has to go to Kim, who oozed class, authority and leadership from the whistle. Port have lacked a leader on the pitch for a long, long time, but in the big, physical, classy Korean they finally have one. He may not speak English or Thai but he certainly manages to tell his teammates where he wants them, and Port look like a different team with him sitting in front of the defence.

 

Tim Russell

Tim Russell

The founder and editor of The Sandpit, Tim has been in SE Asia since 2003 and in Bangkok since 2012, where he runs a travel tech business. Tim has followed Port FC since 2014, and is also a fan of his hometown club Coventry City, and French club AS St-Etienne. He has written for the likes of Football365, ITV.com, NME and The Quietus, and is a regular contributor to God Is In the TV. He's a keen photographer and his work can be seen on his website.

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