Port secured an important three points on Friday night against fellow top-five team and one of the home form teams in the league: Suphanburi.
With just two of us going we made our way to Suphanburi via public transport and allowed plenty of time for mishaps or a little sightseeing. There were mishaps aplenty but nothing too serious, it started small with an off-road detour though Chatuchuk Park as we made our way to Mo Chit Bus station. Upon reaching the station we quickly found a booth offering seats on a mini van to Suphanburi for 100 baht and were waved off in a general direction by the sales woman. After heading outside we were directed to the bus area by an official looking guy, we found a bus with our number on it and were told by the driver that she wasn’t leaving for an hour and to go to the row behind. There we moved from blue shirted driver to blue shirted driver, each sending us to a different location or colleague. At one point we spent 5 minutes on a bus with fellow passengers also going to Suphanburi, only to then be told it was going to a different Suphanburi and we had to get off and the process began again. With the weather closing in, we where taken under wing of a shouty woman under a parasol as it began to rain and eventually directed back to the sales window where it all started, where rather than being told we’d wasted our ticket money, we were met with a smile and informed that the sign for over there on this occasion means “stand here Farang muppets we’ll get someone to show you the odd place our buses depart” and so 50 mins later than planned and with the thunder getting heavy we were off and rolling. By the time we reached Suphanburi we had got ahead of the rain and arrived to see a 20ft Zico smiling down on us in the blazing sun.
We made our way to our hotel only to find it devoid of humans like the set of a post-apocalyptic film, eventually a maid approached us and via our limited Thai and her limited English assisted via google translate we established we weren’t expected and that “lungs don’t like pollution.” As Tim pointed out, it could have been worse. The word “cuddle” didn’t feature in any of the translations. Finally checked in the maid knocked to return my passport, looked at the picture page of both before handing me Tim’s, I guess to Thais us farangs really must all look the same. We made ourselves ready and headed into town, but sadly the rain we’d seen en route was now reaching Suphanburi, and as we left it started spitting. With us in the town proper and the rain now reaching downpour levels we decided to head for the first available place that looked acceptable for lunch. Upon entering there was a moment of panic as Mr Walker was handed a menu devoid of Leo. However, our waitress reassured us that The Sandpits cocktail of choice was served. And so, we settled in to see out the storm and put the world to rights, we were the only customers sitting outside on the veranda. As the customers inside left and new ones arrived it became clear we’d found our way to Suphanburi’s lesbian communities café of choice, complete with copies of playboy in the magazine rack. With kick off a couple of hours away and the rain virtually stopped we left and headed to the ground, only to find that the transport options in Suphanburi are close to nil. Eventually we flagged down the worlds smallest Baht bus, driven by a Benny Hill beret clad guy who had decided to complete his look with a Hitler moustache, who agreed to take us to the stadium, then attempted to deposit us at a McDonalds and bar en route before dropping us at the gates of Suphanburi Stadium.
The stadium itself is modern and impressive, were it not for the running track it would be rather good. The food and drink around were plentiful but they only serve Chang and the atmosphere was some what muted due to there being no entertainment and only a very small number of home fans.
The weather had settled for the evening drizzle more common for an evening game of an English autumn, even if the temperature was somewhat different. And so it remained for kick off. Port lined up with the Jadet standard line up of recent weeks.
The first chance of the game came after just 3 mins. Romulo (9) ran on to a ball down the right and fed the ball into the middle where Dolah (4) with time to deal with the ball choose to play it blindly into space behind him, where an unmarked Tanasith (11) was lurking but he sent the ball weakly towards goal allowing a combination of Dolah and Rattanai (17) to steer it to safety. It was the first of several Titus Bramble moments for the man who had looked to be moving ahead of Todsapol (6) in the battle to start regularly. Romulo was proving to a handful, shortly after a perfectly weighted chipped through ball from inside the Suphanburi half saw him get behind the Port defence, but fortune was on our side as the ball struck the back of his head, inches either side and the league’s second-best mop topped Brazilian would have been though for a one on one with Rattanai. A few moments later Suphan attacked again leading to two corners the second of which found Romulo, 10 yards out from goal and more importantly 2 yards in front of Dolah, the free header was grateful dispatched beyond the dive of Rattanai and inside the left post. 1-0 to the home side. They probably weren’t quite worthy of it, but equally you couldn’t massively begrudge them it.
So, the tone for much of the first half was set, played at an amble, spoiled by regular misplaced passes, each team probing. On occasions Kim (8) dropped back to play sweeper and allow Rochela (22) and Dolah to bring the ball out of defence, possibly to upset Suphanburi’s man for man system, whilst Dolah wasn’t having the great start defensively he was showing a higher level than normal with the ball.
For a moment there was a hope that the game might develop greater intensity as in the 29th min Pakorn (7) was clipped in the foreign land of the far end leaving both him and the defender on the ground and the referee allowed play to go on (something he had already done and would pleasingly do though out the game). Suphanburi won possession and showed no interest in stopping the game. The ball found its way to Romulo, whom Dolah had been taken an ever closer interest in as the game progressed, sensing he was about to be roughed up again the Brazilian flung his elbow out and made contact with the defender’s chest. A little shoving and pointing followed, and as ever Nurul was on hand with his Scrappy Doo “let me at em” impression whilst confronting someone double his size. Dolah v Romulo was now a running theme and would remain so for the rest of the match, its worth noting that whilst Elias the enforcer might not have had his best match of recent weeks, from the point he decided to get tighter on the Brazilian, Romulo went from the game’s stand out player to near ineffectual. Besides, watching the running battle provided an interesting aside to the football.
However, with 15mins left in the half the (very onside) Romulo would escape Dolah to attempt to reach a pacey through ball down the middle. He either didn’t quite have the legs or decided to leave it for Tanasith (11) coming in from a wide angle. Which allowed the diminutive wideman to slot the ball between a Rochela slide and Rattanai for a 2-0 lead. It looked to be game over before half time. The video screen behind us ran its silly goal video. The home fans erupted as much as a few hundred people per stand that can contain thousands can. And then there it was, the linesman’s flag standing proudly to keep Port in the game. Having seen a replay it’s hard to tell what the correct call was and thankfully VAR wasn’t available to waste 10 mins trying to decide before the ref had to get a coin out. End result: no goal, and Port still in with a shout of rescuing the game.
A moment later the largely anonymous Siwakorn (16) decided to remind us all that he was in fact taking part by taking a 10 yard run up before diving in studs up on Suban (23). quite why he felt it so important to suddenly up his effort and to do so in such a way to win the ball with such a low probability challenge, in a position it couldn’t harm us, is beyond me, much like Siwakorn’s place in the team of late. We really couldn’t have complained if the card had been red. There was still time for a Pakorn free kick to fly just over the bar and a Suarez header to fly wide of the post, yet the half ended without Port managing a shot on target.
The second half was to be somewhat different. Within a minute Pakorn crossed to Boskovic who under pressure from the keeper and defender had a shot deflected for a corner. Pakorn was again trotting about but it was a trot with more intent than recent weeks and at times threatened to even reach the canter of some of his better early season performances. Behind him Nitipong (34) sat deeper than normal and offered less going forward but put in a tighter performance defensively.
On the left Nurul (31) and Kevin (97) were full of vigour and bustle as normal. A Kevin burst out of defence resulted in a Siwakorn blocked shot. Nurul went through all his standard moves, when fairly tackled in the box he managed to exaggerate his fall (some would say into a dive) just in case the referee was in the mood to hand out a random penalty. They still hadn’t tested the keeper but the tempo from Port was already much greater than we’d seen in the first half. Dolah flattened Romulo to show there wasn’t a total change of approach. Siwakorn having been largely lost to the game in the first half had decided to get more involved and after a bright first few minutes began man-handling anything that moved.
Then something truly remarkable for Thai football happened. Nurul burst down the wing, pursued by Suban who soon trailed behind. He squared for the oncoming Boskovic, who was put off by a hip to hip challenge form Pitfai, which resulted in both challengers going down and the ball being cleared, in the process Suban collided with Pitfai and then Boskovic and stayed on the turf. The ball had been collected by Kim (8), who set Suarez (5) off on a burst though the middle (something he seems to be doing more regularly since return from injury), Suphan wanted the game stopped, Suarez shot and it was deflected for a corner. Firstly well done to the referee for again showing a level of common sense seldom seen in Thai football and secondly the behaviour of experienced Suphan keeper/skipper Sinthaweechai (18), who was pulling his own players away from the officials as they called this league’s most self defeating etiquette over the rules (it wasn’t the only time he did his, so he is officially added to the very short list of good blokes in Thai football not playing for Port).
The resulting corner was fired in by Pakorn to the near post where Rochela nodded it goalwards. It should have been Ports first attempt on target and an easy save for Sinthaweechai, but he decided to up the stakes on his good bloke standings by spilling the ball to Bosko, who smashed the ball home from a yard out. Whatever had been said to them at half time had certainly worked. In under 15 minutes of the second half the game had completely changed.
Port were now bossing the game, dominating possession but not working any openings of note. At this point Siwakorn had a moment, firstly giving the ball away, then having allowed Sirimongkhon (38) to get past him deciding to attempt some form of chin grab. It merited a yellow on its own and it was more than time he was given one for the official recorded “repeated fouling”. It had been inevitable for some time, and the only question is why he was left on the field long enough to allow it to happen, especially given his sub-par performance in the first half. So, with a probably 30 minutes to go the mood changed from ‘can we find the chance to win this?’ to very much ‘let’s try and hold on for a point.’ However, Port kept pressing and got their reward. A yellow dot at the far end brought down a dark blue one, the Suphan players, bench and fans appealed for a foul, the ref decided otherwise, Pakorn beat a man broke into a gallop, cut in from the right and over the half way line and played a peach of a through ball to Suarez, who bust though and drew Sinthaweechai to him, before smartly squaring to Boskovic who was just ahead of his marker to double his tally for the evening from about double the distance of his first. True fox in the box style from the… erm… Dragon. Suphan decided to moan maybe about the claimed foul, maybe about the possibility of offside. From our angle directly behind it and about 400 meters away to a man/woman/child the Port away following didn’t care and went into full party mode. A reasonable number had made the trip and now set about being the 11th man to pull the team over the line. It certainly wasn’t hard to win the battle of the fans against a disappointing, small and sparse home support.
After the goal it became backs-to-the-wall stuff as the ball spent ever more time being battled for by the small yellow and blue dots in the distance, the blues were taking control and in the 75th minute Chananan (10) curled a shot from the edge of the box that had Rattanai beat but not the woodwork. The ball stayed in play and seconds later the slightly taller yellow dot of Dolah had to head clear, which lead to a further cross which Rattanai collected. At this point, an offer of escaping with a point would have been gratefully accepted. Suphan were dominating, Port took to the dark arts, Rattanai made sure to end up on the floor pretty much every time he collected the ball, Suarez and Nurul cramped. Meanwhile the clock on the massive score board had ground to halt, each time l looked up after two minutes of play it answered that just 40 seconds had passed. Port occasional broke out but with little effect. The game was now all about the small dots at the far end. One attempt to break free saw Nurul body-checked by Suphan’s Suphan (26). As Paulo Di Canio once said, “To be sent off the opposition need to get a machine gun out and shoot Nurul down in the penalty box.” Yes he’s a diving git at times but week on week the guy is getting a rough treatment with little protection from refs and most weeks that includes at least one red card worthy incident (of which this was far from the worst).
The ball returned to the far end for the dots to battle over, Bodin (10) replaced Pakorn and the clock slowed some more. Every headed battle or 50/50 resulted in a worrying moment as the ball hung in the air, unclear if it would reach the ground revealing itself to be joyously closer to us or with the disappointment of more pressure. Suphan weren’t creating anything from their possession and territory advantage. Port spent a spell down to 9 men when the referee refused to allow someone straight back on after treatment for cramp. When Suphan did create chances, they were wasted. Suphan’s Suphan attempted an overhead kick well above the attacking paygrade of Thai centre backs. Chakrit (9) and Adisorn (13) prepared to come on but were sent on separately to waste a few more seconds, first Chakrit for Nurul. Then finally Suphan had their moment, a ball from just in the Port half was punted to the edge of the box and flicked on, Romulo escaped everyone and controlled with his right foot before swinging his left wildly from 6 yards and sending it wide. Suarez was booked for time wasting then replaced by Adisorn. Rattanai was booked for time wasting. And then finally it was over.
Its hard to know what to make of the result. Once Port got on top of Romulo, Suphanburi offered very little going forward, they are big strong and well organised but nothing special, due to the nature of it this goes down as a great snatch and grab and important away win, especially given their form and strength at home but l’m not entirely convinced that it will against a team that finishes in the top 6.
The normal fan/player post match singsong was a particularly happy one. Pretty much every shirt not swapped was sent into the away end. The players had clearly enjoyed their victory. The video footage of Dolah’s dad-dance is out there but he was joined by some youthful bouncing from Kevin and some Latin snake hip moves from Rochela, Kim, who had his best performance in a Port shirt for some time, was smiling.
And then we left hopeful of finding a taxi or lift back to town only to be disappointed. The home support had was almost entirely gone and there were no taxis or public transport, even in the day time it seemed. So, we were faced with a 6km walk back to town, upon which signs repeatedly told just how close Chainat was and yet it was a night when Chainat felt further and furtheraway.
The Sandpit Man of the Match: Dragan Boskovic
It seems quite predictable to give it to the player scoring both our goals, but it would seem equally contrary to not give it to him, especially on a night were nobody really stood out. Boskovic seems much improved since Suarez came back into the team and maybe we’re starting to see a partnership that develops to the level of his one with Mario last season.