“Well, that was good, that was good” – a post match mantra I seemed to have repeated ad nauseam, according to Tim: on the terraces, in the Sandpit and probably while going for a piss. After not witnessing a Port win since I flew off to East Timor on July 3rd, it was certainly, for want of a better word, good. Mind you, my repetitive endorsement didn’t quite match that of the English translated, official Port FC website headline, “The Dock back to form a cataclysm, cataclysm, cataclysm.”
Port went into this game knowing that they would probably need to win all of their remaining 5 matches and hope that Muangthong dropped points against, most likely, Buriram and Bangkok United to secure that third place. With Dolah suspended and Pakorn (7) returning, Port lined up with what, for once, was a reasonably discernible formation: 4-3-3 with emerging Sandpit cult hero Arthit (29) leading the line. And lead it he did, doing the things a centre forward should be doing, that is, occupying a forward position, mostly in the centre. Bosko (23)take note.
Having previously compared him to a poor man’s Wuttichai, I am warming to Arthit. I grew up next to a farm and the lambing season was a highlight of the agricultural year. It was charmingly endearing to see the lambs emerge bleating from the womb, staring dazed and bleary eyed, not quite sure where they were, then suddenly discovering that they had legs, but unsure what to do with them. They would then gambol off, albeit unsteadily, and seemingly in several directions at once. It was this image that always came to mind when I watched Arthit. His 1980’s short shorts only exaggerated his enthusiastic, but barely co-ordinated leg pumping. I was prepared to give him a second chance.
Although the little lamb failed to score he didn’t disappoint. In a one-sided first half, Port laboured to break down a stubborn SwatCat defence. I’m not sure how many numbers Dominick was able to cross off on his Korat absentee bingo card but they certainly seemed to have their midweek cup-tie on their minds, displaying very little attacking ambition, with their only shot comfortably clearing Zone B.
At the other end, Suarez (5) and Boskovic had shots blocked from close range while Nitipong (34) tested goalkeeper Cunningham with a rare left foot shot after a good run across the box. On 31 minutes Arthit, who had linked up well with Pakorn and Bosko, made a smart turn in the box, skipped past the next defender only to place his shot straight at Cunningham. This was the perfect chance to achieve hero status and he slightly blew it. However, this did not seem to deter him as minutes later he met a Suarez cross with a clever, outside foot bender, again well saved by Cunningham with an athletic tip over the bar.
Scoring goals has been a struggle in recent matches and Port fans would have pondered over their half-time Leos whether or not this was going to be another frustrating evening. Then Nitipong, spotting that Toby had failed to return to the terraces after his half-time beer, burst into the box to chase a lofted clearance and was brought down by a lunging Chanatphon. It was a clear penalty in spite of the shameful, pathetic protestations by a few Korat defenders, led by soon to become arch-villain American/Thai Cunningham. Why referees cannot, in these instances, book the very first protester to send a strong message is beyond me.
The only debate now on Zone B was, Bosko or Rochela (22)? Bosko’s last attempt was pathetic but he is bigger than Rochela so it was a question as to whether the armband topped the arm-wrestle. There was a brief and seemingly amicable discussion on the edge of the box before El Capitan placed the ball on the spot and dispatched it into the corner with the minimum of fuss, as he always used to.
On 62 minutes, the spurned Montenegrin worked the ball cleverly on the left hand side of the box before sending over an inch perfect cross to an unmarked Suarez who elected to side-foot volley rather than attempt a simple, stooping header. It was an unfortunate choice as the volley inexplicably cleared the crossbar to send Zone B into gasps of exasperation. A minute later the fragility of Port’s single goal lead was exposed when a Swat Cat free kick into the box just eluded the flailing leg of marauding defender Kantapot.
Port continued to attack; Nurul (31) replaced Boskovic on 70 minutes before the first of three stunning goals lit up the night. Siwakorn (16) played a forward pass, Kim (8) dummied, being fouled in the process, to allow the ball through to Suarez who turned and worked his way past a bevy of retreating defenders before hammering a right-foot screamer past a hapless Cunningham.
Bodin (10) replaced Arthit, whose first half promise had faded, and then it all got a bit silly. My beloved Siwakorn, whose shooting prowess had been ridiculed at every wide and scuffed goal attempt, picked up the ball to the left of the box, worked himself into a shooting position and sent a beautiful curler inside the keeper’s left hand post. His look of disbelief mirrored our own.
There was still time for the game to slip into the realms of childhood fantasy with the insertion of Sammy Slot (11). Just twenty-one, Sammy is a Danish Thai with a proper surname as well – Christensen. Sammy, whose name is reminiscent of a character from children’s cartoons Trumpton, Camberwick Green or Captain Pugwash, is a headline writer’s dream and Sandpit correspondents will be preparing their puns as I type. ‘Sammy Slots In Seamlessly’ can kick you off.
He was not on for long enough to affect the game (he provided the assist for Siwakorn’s goal actually – Ed). That was left to Bodin, who finished a glorious sequence of one-twos with Nurul to cap a fine second half performance by Port.
Four goals, a clean sheet – just what we needed. In fact, that was good.
The Sandpit Man of the Match: Arthit
There were no real stand-out players, but several decent performances against a poor Nakhon Ratchasima team. Port play well when Suarez plays well and he had one of his better games today. Siwakorn worked himself back into a bit of form, capped off with a superb goal. However, I started with him so I’ll stick with him. My Man of the Match – Arthit, for turning me into a Believer.
Editor’s Note: This result marked an historic moment for Port, as it took them to 52 points – their highest ever total in the top flight of Thai football.