Woooaahhh, We’re Halfway There: The Sandpit’s Review of the Season So Far

 

When Madame Pang began splashing the cash pre-season, cutting back on the new handbags and instead spending top dollar on the likes of Nurul, Bodin, Boskovic and Kevin, fans’ expectations for 2018 were raised considerably. But I don’t think anyone expected it would be this good.

At the halfway point, Port sit in third, on a run of 5 straight wins (including 3 away wins), and were it not for those slip-ups at Police Tero & Chainat, would be right up there with the top two of Buriram & Bangkok Utd. Port have scored an impressive 35 goals in 17 games and conceded only 22, and are playing some champagne football. With the two cup competitions starting soon, hopes are high that Port might finally bring some silverware back to the PAT.

So before we look forward to Port’s next game (a home match against some inferior club from the outskirts of Bangkok), here are the Sandpit team’s highlights of the first half of the 2018 season…

 

Best Match

Tim Russell

Although we lost 0-3, the best match for me so far was the home game against Bangkok Utd – without doubt the highest quality game I’ve seen in 4 years of watching Thai football. BU were very impressive, but for once Port almost matched them and but for a superhuman performance from Utd’s Danish-Filipino goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard, would’ve got the draw their efforts deserved. As a display of vibrant, fast, attacking football (and, in BU’s case, superb defending) it was unforgettable. And it also showed that, whilst Port aren’t quite at the same level as Thailand’s top clubs yet, we’re certainly going to have fun watching them get there.

Dominick Cartwright

Muangthong 0-2 Thai Port. Muangthong might not be the team they were 2 seasons ago but they still have an impressive line up. After a 9 year wait for a win I really thought two away wins at Muangthong on the trot was to too much to hope for. We only bloody did it. Get in.

Tom Earls

It was good against evil, heroes against villains, football against anti-football, and for about 94 minutes it was one of the worst football matches I’d ever seen. Then, justice was served. An out-swinging corner, the high-flying figure of a late substitute gliding through the air, the thud of forehead on ball, and finally an eruption of relief and schadenfreude as powerful as I’ve seen from the Khlongtoei faithful. You can love football for lots of reasons, but personally I can’t really see past that look on embarrassed, helpless cheats’ faces who have finally got their long-awaited comeuppance. Better still, Port’s 1-0 victory over Ubon started a win-less streak which remains unbroken at the mid-season interval.

 

Best Port Performance

Tim Russell

There are a few candidates here – the 7-1 win against Navy and the opening day demolition of Pattaya spring to mind – but I’ve gone for the 2-0 away win at Muangthong. Yes, winning at Muangthong is no longer what it was, and in fact we haven’t actually lost there since 2015, but it was the manner in which Port bossed the game that made this one so special. Even the most rabid Port fan would have to admit that last season’s 3-2 win was a little fortunate; this time, luck played no part as Port put in a disciplined and dominant performance, so good that even the Muangthong fans were singing “TARUA!” at the end.

Dominick Cartwright

Thai Port 7-1 Navy. All too often Port are a “Robin Hood” side we take points for to the top clubs then give them away generously to the bottom sides that we should beat comfortably. I don’t think it’s wild over confidence, more just a lack of concentration and letting game drift away. So I didn’t see Navy at home as a gimmie, I saw it as a potential banana skin. A chance for us to screw up the hard earned lofty position in T1. So this is why I loved this game, a confident Port scoring a hat full of goals. Putting the game to bed pretty much by half time then scoring for fun. That’s what is should be sometimes just fun, not measured and deftly controlled just a good laugh.

Tom Earls

Whilst Port performed superbly in beating formerly big club Muangthong on their own patch, I’m going to have to plump for the clinical 7-1 destruction of Navy. It’s very rare that Port, given an easy fixture against poor out-of-form opponents, do what is expected of them and register a comfortable victory. Not only did we manage that with time to spare, we also started pinging in Goal of the Season contenders like they were going out of fashion.

 

Worst Port Performance

Tim Russell

No contest here. Port’s 2-1 defeat at Chainat was the most pitiful, spineless display from a Port side I’ve ever witnessed, made worse by the quality that was out there on the pitch and by the fact that Chainat were awful themselves. But as we now know,  it was a watershed moment, and the post-match farang meltdown – Toby’s tirade of Spanish abuse, Machar’s sudden transformation into a Glaswegian at pub closing time, my less than constructive criticism of Boskovic – seems to have terrified Port’s players so much they’re making damn sure they never have to go through it again. Who says booing doesn’t work?

Dominick Cartwright

See above.

Tom Earls

Unsurprisingly, all of the top contenders were away from home. We were appalling for 45 minutes against Bangkok Glass, before turning in a reasonable second half performance; we were dire for 90 minutes against Police, before knocking in a couple of consolation goals; but the worst performance, and the one in which there was not the slightest bit of positivity to take out of the game, was Chainat. The players deserved all of the criticism directed at them after the game, but to their credit they took it constructively. Port have won 5 out of 5 since.

 

Best Goal

Tim Russell

Port’s goal of the season reel is already looking like something from 1980s Brazil; imagine what it’s going to look like in 5 months’ time. Port have scored some absolute beauties this season – Pakorn’s thunderbastards against Air Force & Navy, Bodin’s free-kick against Pattaya, Bosko’s debut goal in the same game, and Kim’s tiki-taka moment against Navy will all live long in the memory. But there can be only one, and for me it’s Pakorn’s 2nd against Air Force – a long period of controlled passing, culminating in some fast interplay on the edge of the box, a sublime assist from Nurul, and the Midfield Monk rounding off the move with a superb strike. Glorious football.

Dominick Cartwright

So may to choose from this season – Nurul beating his man and curling it into the top corner was for me one of the best goals I’ve ever seen at Port.

*The Maradona award for getting away with it, goes to Dolah for kicking the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands in the 7-1 demolition of Navy. They all count.

Tom Earls

Pakorn could quite easily have his own shortlist this season, whist Nurul, Kim and Boskovic have also supplied contenders. I’m going for Pakorn’s drive from the corner of the penalty area in to the top corner against Air Force for my first choice, Boskovic’s run, nutmeg and sublime curled finish against Pattaya takes second and Kim’s tiki-taka exchange with Suarez against Navy comes third.

 

Most Disappointing Player

Tim Russell

Usually this is the most fiercely contested award at Port but thankfully there aren’t many contenders this time round. If I’d been writing this in April, it would no doubt have been record signing Dragan Boskovic, who had failed to replicate his 2017 form and had only scored 3 goals all season. Thankfully Bosko has turned things around and has scored 6 goals in the last 4 games, and so the only other obvious choice is Korean midfielder Kim Sung-Hwan. Kim came to Port with a big reputation and an AFC medal, and whilst he has put in some good performances – most notably at Muangthong – he’s yet to show that he’s the dominant defensive midfield presence that Port have lacked for so long. Hopefully he’ll soon overcome his language differences and start to show what he can really do, and there have been signs in the last two games that he will shine in the second half of the season.

Dominick Cartwright

Kim. Port have been crying out for a strong midfield player to  pick up the oppositions second striker and to hold up the ball for Siwakorn and Pakorn giving them the freedom to bomb on and create stuff. So when this signing was announced it looked like we’d bought the ideal player. Kim is not bad, but far from ideal far from fully fit. When a player picks up a knock you can understand, but Kim like too many other signings Port have made came to us injured or prone to injury, Asdrubal and Thiago weren’t fully match fit when they came to Port. Kim does a job but he’s 70% of the player I thought we’d signed. He’s statuesque, but not in a good way.

Pakorn

(just so I’m saying something a little different)

Pakorn? But he’s got the most assists in the team Dom? His free kicks have saved us on many an occasion?

This is not the worst player category. It’s the most disappointing player. Pakorn son, I’m not angry with you, I’m just disappointed.

My Sandpit colleagues tell me he is arguably the best right winger in the country, but gets criminally over looked by the national team coach. Every national team coach always overlooks this player? Through his whole career no coach has noticed him? I hate to tell you, well no I don’t hate to tell you, I love a good disagreement, he’s just too selfish. Great players can be selfish, but they need to be so in proportion to their talents. Football is a team game and players that don’t understand that will never be great players. Even Pele used his immense talent to draw the game towards himself and then set other players free, Maradona was just so insanely talented this rule doesn’t apply – there are exceptions to every rule. Back to the real world of Port.   Leandro was selfish for Port but he was selfish in a team Dusit essentially built around him so it worked. Leandro scored some of the greatest goals and had sublime skill. But why was he a Portly Port legend and not playing for Porto? Well he too saw the game as a showcase for his own talent and not a chance to win a team game. Pakorn is not the best right winger in Thailand, the best right winger in Thailand is oddly on our left wing. If Pakorn could acknowledge this, work on his left sided game, and switch over wings more with Nurul we would have a great attack. Unfortunately Pakorn isn’t great when he switches positions, so we are stuck. Nurul is a lot better on the left than Pakorn. But Pakorn needs to switch more to give Nurul the opportunity he deserves. If Pakorn put some work in on playing left wing, if they shared the duties on the wings a bit more we’d be a lot better off. I’m not saying a 50% /50% split, but a 70% / 30% would work.

I don’t mind Pakorn going for runs, but he needs to do it a bit less and look at his own success rate. He basically needs to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror (I get the impression he already spends a lot of time looking at himself in the mirror – Ed). He’s not as selfish as he was two seasons ago, so hopefully he’s slowly seeing the light. We live in hope.

Tom Earls

It just has to be Kim, doesn’t it? An ACL winner, former captain of one of Korea’s best teams, but also apparently a bit of a blowhard whose own work-rate isn’t what he demands from those around him. Kim has shown glimpses of being the player we hoped we had signed, but it’s not been nearly consistent enough.

In clear second place is his midfield partner and fellow underperformer Siwakorn. With upgrades being brought in to the team right, left and centre, Siwakorn was given the chance to prove that he was a top 5 central midfielder. For me, he has failed. His discipline hasn’t improved, his shooting hasn’t improved and if anything his all-around game has regressed. From being widely thought of us Port’s most important Thai player in recent seasons, he barely registers in the conversation this season. Of course he hasn’t become a bad player overnight, but for a player who seemed to have the potential to be one of the best midfielders in Thai football, this season has to go down as a disappointment.

 

Best Player

Tim Russell

Thankfully there’s a lot of competition for this one! Boskovic & Suarez have weighed in with 18 goals between them, Pakorn has been our assist king as usual, Nurul has been a real livewire, Nitipong has been as consistent as ever and Rochela has been Rochela. But for me, the man who has made the biggest difference between Port 2018 and Port 2017 is new signing Kevin Deeromram. We thought we were about to go into the season with 2017’s weakest link – left-back Panpanpong – still in the team, but on the eve of the new season the Pangster gazumped Muangthong and snatched Kevin from their dirty, greasy mitts; he slotted straight in the team and has proved to be a massive upgrade. So far, Port’s most essential signing of 2018.

Dominick Cartwright

1) Kevin

Much like Kim, Kevin was brought in to fill a gap. Panpanpong was a reasonable defender but got caught out of position far too much and cost us matches. Kevin on the other hand has the ability to go forward at the right time and make sure he’s tracking back or got cover. Kevin is a top quality player. For the money we spent on him he wants to be. He’s shown a maturity well above his years on the pitch and quickly slotted into the team. He’s not just a pretty face.

2) Suarez

Suarez has been guilty of going missing in some games at Port. 2018 Suarez has massively benefited from having Boskovic attacking alongside him, one or two of those Suarez goals have been Boskovic thinking about the team and slotting it along to Suarez for a tap in. He’s shown he can score regularly and he’s got some crucial goals for Port. Suarez picked up the slack for Boskovic’s slow start to the season, now it looks like they both on form and ready to get a lot more. Port really looked a different team without him, he’s a vital part of the Port puzzle.

3) Rochela

Much like it’s easy to notice players who plugged gaps well, it’s easy to forget the old journeymen. Rochela has had another consistent season, taking care of business, putting in the tackles organizing the defence. He’s not a typical hard bastard central defender, the sort we are all used to cheering in England, but he is essential to Port’s success. All too easily overlooked, when he is suspended the defence looks suspect. He’s a strong defender who knows how to deal with top level T1 players. He’s not been better than last year, he’s been just as good. That’s why it’s easy to overlook him. For me still one of Port’s finest.

Tom Earls

Whilst Port have proved more consistent than I imagined possible this season, it’s pretty hard work finding a player who has shone throughout.

Boskovic leads the team in combined goals and assists but has had two many poor performances for him to be considered in this category. Suarez has really grown in to his position in attacking midfield, but whilst he has knocked goals in consistently, he hasn’t performed to the level he is capable of. Nurul and Pakorn have shone at times, but neither has kept up their performance level week in week out. So, who’s left?

The central midfield have been poor, the centre of defence good at times and at others very lackluster, and the goalkeepers pretty solid as usual. So, who’s left?

The last men standing, and the only two who have put forward consistently hard-working performances with regular quality: the full backs. Nitipong has largely cut out the silly errors that plagued him in 2017, and has finally found just the right balance between attacking and defending. On the other flank, Kevin has been a phenomenal improvement on Panpanpong, somehow managing to both attack and defend more than his predecessor. These two are the reason that Port have kept as many clean sheets in just the first half of 2018 as they did in the whole of 2017.

I have to pick one though, and for me he’s not only Port’s best player so far this season, but the best full back in the league. With Hia Um having moved on to Japan and Tristan Do having moved on to the wing, Port’s shock deadline day signing Kevin is my pick for Port player of the season so far. He’s only 20 years old, as well!

 

 

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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