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.

Port lined up with most of 2018’s first XI, the only change being new signing Go Seul Ki replacing fellow Korean Kim Sung Hwan in the no8 shirt. Watchara (1) got the nod between the sticks which suggests he’s going to be Jadet’s first choice for the new season – an amazing turnaround in fortunes for a player who spent most of 2018 playing at T4 level.

The first chance fell Port’s way in the 4th minute when a through ball from Suarez (5) found Boskovic (23) in the area, but his shot lacked oomph and was turned round the post by our old friend Cunningham. The Swatcats were next to attack with new signing – and Korat MOTM – Amadou Ouattara stinging Watchara’s palms in the 12th minute after a tasty run & shot.

Port’s best chance of the game came on 16 minutes when a delightful backheel from Suarez teed up Nurul (31), the winger’s shot crashing back off the post into the path of Bosko, who shot straight at Cunningham.

The match exploded into life in the 36th minute when Korat, having spotted that Bosko didn’t seem to have realised the game was a friendly, decided to wind up the big Montenegrin with some classic Thai shithousery. Firstly their no27 barged the Port striker from behind then went down holding his face – the ref didn’t buy it, so another Korat defender had a nip at Bosko’s heels, only to be shoved to the ground sparking a mass melee, from which Bosko and one of his assailants emerged with yellow cards. Dragan was a lot quieter in the second half which suggests someone had told him to calm down a bit, or maybe explained the meaning of the word “friendly”. But let’s hope he brings that fire when the season proper gets underway.

Port began the second half brightly, with a pinpoint cross from Kevin (97) on 47 minutes finding Suarez on the edge of the six-yard box, but the Spaniard somehow blazed over the bar. And Port were punished for the miss just a couple of minutes later when that man Amadou cut in from the left and fired a low shot past Watchara. The goal should’ve been disallowed – there was a Korat defender in an offside position standing right in front of the Port keeper – but it was no less than Amadou deserved for his performance.

With both sides visibly tiring, the match became a patchwork of fouls and poor defending, with Bosko and Pakorn (7) going close for Port and Korat testing Watchara with a very tasty 66th minute free kick and a 69th minute lob, both of which the Port keeper dealt with comfortably. Port laid siege to the Swatcat goal for the last 10 minutes, with Pakorn going close from a free-kick and Bosko narrowly missing a Rochela (22) flick from a corner, but failing to level the score. At the final whistle it was the Swatcats who were looking forward to a meeting with one of the invited ASEAN teams on Saturday.

So a disappointing result for Port, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions from what was a first friendly of the year. Port will have Sumanya back after Thailand’s next AFC game, and he should be the player to solve Port’s perennial lack of a genuine trequartista. He should replace Suarez, with Anon coming in for Siwakorn, but Jadet is a big fan of the no16 despite his waning powers, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens there. This looks like Port’s strongest ever squad and, when fully fit, they’ll be a match for anyone.

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Watchara

A number of Port players turned in performances suggesting they’re already ready for the season. Dolah & Rochela were imperious at the back, whilst Pakorn and Nurul caused Korat all kinds of trouble from the wings, and new boy Go Seul Ki’s passing and physical presence suggest he’ll be a huge signing for the club. But the MOTM award goes to Watchara, who put in a near-faultless performance, making some excellent saves and distributing the ball well. The keeper slot is now his to lose.

 

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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