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Crystal Balls 2019: Buriram Utd

 

Our series of pre-season previews continues with a look at defending champions Buriram Utd. Will they romp to another title, or will they be hampered by the departure of star player Diogo and rapidly improving rivals like Bangkok Utd and Port? Here’s Buriram fan Jamie Pinder with his thoughts…

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Crystal Balls 2019: Muangthong Utd

 

With the new season a mere month away, it’s time once again to consult the runes and ask farang fans of rival clubs what they think 2019 has in store for them. And who worse, oops I meant better, to start with than our old friends (we can be nice to them now they’re behind us in the table) Muangthong Utd? So take it away Grant Aitken

 

How did your team perform in 2018? Where do they need to improve?

By our own expectations, not great. It was a turbulent season after losing key personal and changing coaches several times, so for the most part it was a case of damage limitation after starting the season poorly. We’re generally a goal threat, thanks in part to the magical feet of Heberty Fernandes, but our defensive unit needs a complete overhaul.

Transfer window – which new signings are you most excited about? Which departing players are you sorry to see go/happy to see the back of?

Aung Thu is an exciting player and Dang Van Lam will add some much needed steel to the back line, also. It’s taken me by surprise how well the board have embraced the new ASEAN quotas. It seems unrealistic prices for domestic players have forced Muangthong to cast their net farther afield this season. Familar faces, Supanan Bureet and Mario Djorovski have also been welcomed back.

On the other hand it’s a bitter blow to see Tristan Do move to a rival club, and not to a J-League team which will surely be his eventual destination. Bangkok United also took Peerapat off our hands and whilst the two transfers have been made synonymous due to their timing, the latter’s gradually declining performances have made a move away from the club less shocking. Jaja is another player whose absence will be met with indifference by fans. We also said a goodbye to Naoaki Aoyama after four years of lionhearted defensive displays. He’ll be sorely missed.

Happy with your club’s coach?

Language barriers and failure to adapt to his surroundings meant Radovan Curcic’s reign was as unremarkable as it was unproductive. I’m not surprised they selected a Thai native this time around and Pairoj’s record as as good as any currently available. I’m withholding judgment right now, but he does seem to have lifted the mood in the camp. In addition he has involved many youngsters in his preseason training programme ensuring each player has had a chance to shine. As a result a few previously unfancied candidates have worked their way into the first team, which is a pleasant surprise.

What are your realistic ambitions for the 2019 season?

Top 3 with a significantly bigger points tally than last term would be nice, but as long as were not going backwards I’ll be content for now.

The main priority for the club should be blooding the youngsters in to provide the foundations for future success. This time last year I remember watching the Coca-Cola Cup final, Munagthong U19 v Buriram U19. It was an evenly matched game with Supachok scoring a sublime late winner. However, at that point, if you’d have told me that Rattanakorn and Supachai, who were largely anonymous, would have breakout seasons, whilst academy gems, Poramet Arjvirai and Sundy Wongderee would spend the season struggling for game time I’d have scoffed. Korrawit Tasa was an unused substitute that day, however Ubon gave him a platform last season and he repaid them handsomely. I hope we do the same for those boys this year.

Which teams will be in contention for the title? Which teams will struggle to survive?

I think the top 4 will be exactly the same as last year, with us and Port being the most likely to swap positions, if any. Buriram have a mental strength that is hard to breakdown right now, even with Diogo leaving I still wouldn’t bet against them finding a way win when it matters. Regardless of what they’ve spent, I think Bangkok United’s favorite’s title is optimistic, with only a couple of their new signings improving their starting 11. I’m not sure it will be enough to stop Buriam’s reign of dominance, unfortunately.

At the other end, I see no hope for Chiang Mai United. I fancy PT Prachuap to have a bad case of 2nd season blues and Chainat’s lack of ambition will also cost them dear.

Tell us your very favourite, and your absolute least favourite, things about following your club

I’m a family man, so it’s great that I can enjoy the game out here with my wife and kids. I’m not sure I’d be as willing to do that back in England. With this being my 6th season as a regular supporter it’s also nice to have made a few friends, half of which I’m still unable to communicate with but I still get a wai or handshake out of recognition for my continued support for the team.

The least enjoyable thing about supporting Muangthong recently has been the lack of identity we showed under Curcic’s reign. Has brand of football was bland, cautious and generally negative, but then again I wouldn’t expect much less from a man that was only given a six month contract and therefore prioritized results over style. Additionally, Muangthong fans are immensely proud of our successful academy. Whether it be Kawin’s escapades in Europe, or Suphan and Thithipan’s commanding displays for Thailand. So when it the young players get neglected it really does irk the fans. I think the board are slowly starting to appreciate that our loyal fan-base does need throwing a bone every now and then. Any club with long term aspirations needs to utilize it’s youth academy, especially one with a track record as good as ours.

 

Thanks Grant! If you’d like to share your thoughts on your team’s chances this season, you can complete the questionnaire here

 

NB I apologise for using the same picture for this preview as I did for the 2018 preview, but images of Muangthong’s stadium have proved very difficult to find and this was the best I could do.

 

2019 Season Tickets On Sale Now!

 

Despite recent rumours to the contrary, Port will be selling season tickets as per usual for the coming season. This season however only two tickets will be available – the basic Member Card for 1500BHT, and the Premium Card for 3000BHT (which comes with free shirt & scarf). The fancy Dan Platinum Card has been scrapped this season for as yet unspecified reasons.

Tickets are on sale until 26 January at the club shop. You’ll need to register online first, then go to the shop between 10:00-17:00 to hand over your cash and get a receipt, which can then be exchanged for your card presumably at the first home game of the season. Full details below:

 

 

 

Slumdogs vs Millionaires: Port Face PTT Rayong in Friendly

 

Port continue their pre-season schedule this Saturday when they travel down the coast to face newly-promoted PTT Rayong (aka The Oil Millionaires). PTT won T2 last season (ably assisted by former Port striker Josimar Rodrigues) and have had a very impressive transfer window, bringing in experienced T1 figures in Victor Cardozo, Ariel Rodriguez and Victor Igbonefo, as well as a surprise signing in former Arsenal striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Time will tell whether they’re a Prachuap or an Air Force, but Saturday’s game should be a good indicator.

The game takes place at the PTT Stadium and kicks off at 17:00, with admission free.

 

Honda Pity: Port FC U19 3-0 Thai Honda U19

 

Port U19s continued their impressive form in the Thailand Youth League, securing a comfortable 3-0 victory over Thai Honda at PAT Stadium. I was spoiled last time I came along to watch Port’s academy, seeing two superb long range goals as Port ran out 4-1 winners, and Port’s youngsters once again delivered in spectacular fashion, striking twice from free kicks. Watch your back, Pakorn!

It was mostly supportive mothers in attendance in Zone A, with a total of maybe 40 people there for kickoff, although that number probably doubled by the time by the time some of the locals took up residence in Zone B, whiskey in tow. Just on the other side of Zone C the U17s had kicked off thirty minutes earlier with an even smaller crowd and even fewer places to hide from the early afternoon sun.

 

 

Port wasted no time impressing their mothers, with the first goal coming after just 7 minutes. Winger Chitnuphong (59) surged past a couple of chances before being upended, and captain Chanayut (99) was always going to shoot with the ball placed in an ideal position for the right footer. His strike was textbook, dipping over the wall right in to the top left hand corner.

I was less than complimentary about Port’s little goalie Jedsadakorn (83) last time out, but this time he made a crucial interception on 13 minutes. With the offside trap beaten, he sprinted right out of his area and tackled the opposition forward, who to be fair made a hilariously inept attempt to get around him and find the empty net.

Port were clearly the better side though, and Suriya (85) could have doubled their lead if he had found the corner with a curling effort on 27 minutes. Winger Watcharaphon (78), who scored a worldie last time out, was to make no mistake 4 minutes later, although he could probably have called his mum down from the stands to stab home from a yard out, so easy was the chance presented to him by teammate Partchya (56). Normally a winger but playing as a no10, Partchya skinned one defender and took the ‘keeper out of the game with his cross, leaving Watcharaphon to score his first of the day.

The only reason Port were not able to add more to their lead seemed to be the lack of a real striker. Warayut (79) has played there twice, but all he’s done is miss chances. Man of the match last time out Phonsat (80) was for some reason left on the bench, despite being absolutely miles better. Picking the best players never has been in vogue at Port, I suppose. Why should the academy be any different?

 

 

Port only became more dominant in the second half, although they contrived to miss quite a few simple chances. The funniest was a goalmouth scramble which involved centre back Teera (51) almost beheading a teammate with a vicious strike, before a Chanayut volley was saved and the ball was somehow scrambled away.

Suriya was guilty of a really poor miss when clear through on the ‘keeper, so it was once again left to Watcharaphon to show the other boys how to finish. Honda were lucky not to have a man sent off for the challenge which gave Port the freekick, but Watcharaphon handed out the appropriate punishment himself. A very similar effort to Chanayut’s opener, he curled it in to the top corner, drawing the first big cheer of the night from the increasingly lubricated group of fans in Zone B.

The win sends Port equal top of the Bangkok & Samut Prakan region of the Thailand Youth League. Assumption United’s 0-0 draw with Deffo FC moves them level on points with Port, as well as having an identical goal difference.

 

The Sandpit’s Man of the Match

So far Chanayut has been Port’s standout youngster almost every time I’ve had a chance to see the academy in action, and today was no different. His turn of pace to go past players in the final third is the most impressive element of his game, but his passing and dead ball shooting is also excellent.

 

 

The other star man was central defender Teera (51). I saw him for the first time a couple of weeks ago and he impressed me with his no-nonsense style, but what really stood out on Sunday was his communication. He’s seriously gobby, and in a team, and a club in general, where most players stay very quiet on the pitch, it makes a big difference to have someone barking out instructions and warning teammates when they’re under pressure. Teera is very much my kind of player, as he showed late on in the match when he flagrantly blocked the opposition goalkeeper’s attempt to throw the ball out for no apparent reason. He was booked for his trouble. Good lad!

An honourable mention must also go to Watcharaphon who continues to impress with his shooting from distance. Chanayut shades it, but only just.

 

Leo Cup Half Empty: Nakhon Ratchasima 1-0 Port FC

 

Port made a quick exit from this year’s Leo Cup last night, going down 1-0 to the Swatcats in a feisty affair in Korat. With both sides looking very rusty, quality football was at a premium whilst the ref had a busy night indeed, the FAT’s vaunted “respect the officials” campaign clearly having gone way over the heads of both sets of players.

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T1 Fixtures Out Now!

 

As good as their word, the FAT released the 2019 T1 fixture list – FOR THE WHOLE SEASON – yesterday. According to the FAT’s Benjamin Tan, this season the league will follow FIFA breaks only, so there will be no repeat of the 3-5 week breaks that have blighted recent seasons and brought no benefit to the national team whatsoever. How accurate this is remains to be seen – it is highly unlikely that the list will remain intact until season’s end – but let’s hope for a season free of long hiatuses.

Port kick off their season with a trip to Chiang Rai on 24 February. Given that our last visit there involved a red card, your Sandpit editor being almost decapitated by a flying plastic seat, and Port’s tallest and shortest players ‘redecorating’ the away dressing room, it should be a feisty affair as Port’s expensively-assembled side come up against the T1 masters of shithousery. Port’s first home game is a week later against Ratchaburi, followed by games against Chonburi, PTT, Sukhothai, Trat and Prachuap. Indeed, Port don’t face any of the likely title contenders until 20 April (away to the auld enemy Muangthong), giving them the chance to build up some early season momentum.

The list is currently only available in Thai but Dominick has very kindly translated it for us.

1. Sun. 24 Feb.19.00 Chiang Rai away Away
2. Sun. 3 March. 19.00 Ratchaburi home
3. Fri 8 March . 20.00 Chonburi Away
4. Sun 17 March. 18.00 PTT home
5. Sat. 30 March. 18.00 Sukothai away
6. Wed. 3 April. 17.45 Trat home
7. Sat 6 April. 17.45 Prajuap home
8. Sat 20 April. 19.00 Muangthong Away
9. Sat 27 April. 20.00 Suphanburi home
10. Sun. 12 May. 18.00 Chainat away
11. Sat. 18 May. 19.00 Bangkok Utd home
12. Sat. 25 May. 17.45 Korat away
13. Wed. 29 May. 20.00 Chiang Mai home
14. Sun 16 June . 19.00 Buriram home
15. Sun. 23 June . 19.00 Samut Prakan Away
16. Sun. 30 June. 19.00 Chiang Rai home
17. Sat. 6 July. 20.00 Ratchaburi away
18. Sat. 13 July. 19.00 Chonburi home
19. Sat. 20 July . 17.45 PTT Away
20. Sun 28 July. 19.00 Sukothai home
21. Wed. 31 July. 20.00 Trat Away
22. Sun. 4 August. 18.00 Prajuap Away
23. Sun. 11 August 18.00 Muangthong home
24. Sun. 18 August . 18.00 Suphanburi Away
25. Wed. 21 August. 18.00 Chainat home
26. Sat. 24 August. 19.00 Bangkok Utd away
27. Sat. 14. Sept. 18.00 Korat home
28. Sun. 22 Sept. 18.00 Chiang Mai Away
29. Sun. 20 Oct. 18.00 Buriram Away
30. Sat. 26 Oct. 18.00 Samut Prakan home

 

Beer We Go: Port Kick Off Leo Cup Campaign Tomorrow

  Following the success of last year’s pre-season tournament, an expanded 2019 Leo Cup gets underway this week with 12 Thai clubs and 4 ASEAN invitees competing for the trophy. Port, as one of the greatest teams in the entire world, have been given a bye into the QFs where they will play away to Nakhon Ratchasima tomorrow night (18:00, on True4U). You can see the full format below:     Quite how this all works remains a mystery. Port have a QF against Korat, but if they win they will then play another QF against one of the ASEAN clubs. If they win that, it appears that they will go straight into a 3rd-place playoff which kicks off at exactly the same time as the semi final they just played, the FAT having clearly developed revolutionary timewarp technology. According to the above it is already technically impossible for them to make the final. Anyway, tomorrow is the first opportunity to get a look at the 2019 Port side (minus Sumanya who is with the Thai national team at the Asian Cup) in what should be a tricky but eminently winnable tie against the Swatcats. The game kicks off at 18:00 and will be on True4U.  

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The (Orange and) Blueprint: 10 Ways to Fix Thai Football

 

On the surface of things, Thai football is doing pretty nicely. The quality of play has improved dramatically since I started watching in 2014, with better domestic players, better foreign imports, and teams like Buriram Utd and Bangkok Utd bringing international levels of professionalism to the Thai game.

But look a little bit closer, or talk to anyone who watches Thai league football week in week out, and the picture is less rosy. The biggest indicator? Attendances. Overall, attendances were down 3% on 2017 (when attendances were down a staggering 15% on 2016), with 11 of the 18 teams taking part showing a decrease in attendances. This might be expected at the bottom end, but it’s happening at the top too – 4 of the top 5 teams suffered a drop in crowds, with even leaders Buriram losing 10%; Port, despite their best ever season, losing 5%; and Chiang Rai, who made both cup finals and won the FA Cup, dropping by an incredible 46.4%.

The domestic game is haemorrhaging fans at an alarming rate, and when even the top clubs can’t hold fans’ interest, something is wrong. So here’s my look at the biggest turnoffs in Thai football, and how to fix them…

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Port School University: Port FC U19 4-1 North Bangkok University

 

Port u19s put on a fine display of attacking football against North Bangkok University to cruise to a third consecutive Thai Youth League win on Sunday. With a mixture of Port B players and a few new faces Port seemed more upbeat, and played a more positive brand of football than what we saw from Port B under Somchai Subpherm. There were also some promising individual performances, and a couple of really splendid goals to report, which was a pleasant surprise!

 

 

 

To be fair, this was an equally error-strewn affair to the last Port B game I watched, but what set this match apart were the moments of quality that punctuated the general dross. None of those moments of quality appeared in the first 20 minutes though, with Port conceding a hilariously bad opening goal despite being marginally the better side. Miniscule Port ‘keeper Jedsadakorn (83) was at fault, flapping at a tame cross, and giving a North Bangkok attacker the simplest of chances to scramble home.

Port soon regained control of the game though, and in the 40th minute a mazy run in to the box lead to a Port penalty. Skipper Chanayut Jejue (99), who had some outstanding games last season, tucked it away coolly. He seemed to be playing slightly out of position in central midfield, with his normal role being further forward, but he still put in a good performance, although he didn’t have as much of an impact as he would have liked in the final third.

First half substitute Phonsat Saobubpha (80) certainly wasn’t found wanting for impact though. Shortly after replacing an injured teammate, Phonsat picked up the ball a good 5-10 yards outside the area and launched a dipping, curling strike over the head of the opposition’s vertically challenged ‘keeper. So good was the strike it would likely have beaten almost anyone, but this poor guy was absolutely nowhere near it. Phonsat is one of those Thai players you find once in a blue moon – a natural striker. He’s tall, a little gangly but fairly strong and likes to hold the ball up, lay it off then charge in to the box. And he can shoot. Incredible, Jeff!

In the second half, Port went from strength to strength. Partchya Katethip (56) replaced Chitnuphong Phraengphrom (59) and immediately started wreaking havoc, but the first big chance of the half was created by Phonsat. He cut through the defence before unselfishly squaring to his striking partner Warayut Phunprasan (79), who failed to find the net with just a defender in his way. Then, in the 82nd minute Phonsat started a move in the middle of the park before pegging it in to the box where Partchya curled a quality cross right in to his path. He converted smartly to cap off a fine display. He should be starting in future!

There was time for another moment of exceptional quality before the final whistle, and this time it was provided by right winger Watcharaphon Chumking (78). He took a leaf out of Phonsat’s book, hitting a curling shot over the head of the North Bangkok ‘keeper right in to the top corner. Exquisite.

Overall, a good performance, and 9 points out of a possible 9 for Port’s u19s. After a disappointing showing in T4 last season, it’s good to see the youngsters back to playing attacking football and getting results.

Thailand Youth League matches are being played in the comfort of PAT Stadium, making the games much more accessible than last season, and giving the lads the chance to show off their skills in Khlongtoei, as it should be.

 

The Sandpit’s Man of the Match

Centre back Teera Thayanram (51) put in a solid shift, winning a few headers and making some key interceptions. He was probably Port’s best player in the first half, but striker Phonsat Saobubpha (80) has to take the award for his top-notch performance up front after being subbed on. He retained possession well, started attacks using his hold-up play, and most importantly he showed that he knows where the goal is. Now, if he can grow a couple of inches and put on a bit of muscle, Port will have a real prospect on their hands!