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Season of the ‘Vic? The Sandpit’s Big 2019 Preview

At last, the new season kicks off this weekend, with Port likely to play an active role in the T1 title race. Here are the Sandpit team’s thoughts on what the new season holds…

 

On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about the new season?

Tim Russell

No higher than 7. Port are expected to finish third, and that’s probably exactly what will happen. The unpredictability of 2017 has gone, along with – sadly – the underdog mentality. Supporting an expensively assembled team backed by a wealthy benefactor doesn’t exactly sit well with me. But obviously I’m looking forward to some great nights out, some fun away trips, some great football, seeing old faces and the emotional rollercoaster that following Port provides.

Tom Earls

10, not particularly because of this season compared to any other, but more because I just really, really miss going to watch the football and it’s been a torturously long off-season. As always I will hope for as many good results as possible, which for this team ought to mean a top 4 finish, but I always think it pays to be mindful of Port’s recent history of bouncing around between the top two divisions. If we do well then great, if we underperform then we’ll live, and no doubt the Port faithful will have a ball either way.

Dominick Cartwright

I’d go 9, we’ve not lost anyone and strengthened most areas. Why not a full 10? Buriram and Bangkok United still look odds on for 1st and 2nd place in T1 and Muangthong have a dangerous attacking team.

 

Which new signings do you think will make the biggest impact?

Tim Russell

Go Seul Ki looks like the midfielder Port have been missing for a long time, & the player they thought they were getting when they signed Kim. His track record in Thailand is undeniable, he’s big, strong, fit & skillful, and he’s very highly rated by those who’ve played against him in the past. Add Sumanya and you have a massive upgrade on last season’s midfield and, hopefully, the end of Siwakorn’s time as a first choice midfielder. I’ve also been really impressed with Sansern in the preseason games but, given that he’s in competition with Go & Anon for his place, we may not see that much of him.

Tom Earls

Go Seul-Ki. He may even be the only new signing in Port’s starting XI on match day one. Port have made a few other useful acquisitions, most notably 2018 T1 MVP Sumanya, and whilst I think that the extra goals and assists that Sumanya is expected to bring to the team will make a big impact, I think Go’s presence will have more of an impact defensively, which is where Port really need to improve. The impact the other new signings like Ernesto or Sansern will have really depends on injuries, as they will start the season on the bench.

I’m more worried about the impact that failing to sign a right back or another backup striker could have if injuries to Nitipong or Boskovic strike. Adisorn has been earmarked as Nitipong’s understudy, but his lack of experience in that position and his proclivity for making naïve tackles in the box worries me. Likewise I’m a fan of Arthit, but he’s hardly going to bang in the goals to fire Port to a top 4 finish.

Dominick Cartwright

Biggest impact on the team? Sumanya. One of the biggest problems Port had last year was Boskovic getting bored due to lack of service up front. Sumanya is a the best remedy for this. They played together at Bangkok United, Sumanya will not only link up well but will also offer another shooting option in and around the box. Boskovic will still be a bit isolated at times just because he’s not a natural target man.

Biggest impact on the title race? Go. He is the solid defensive midfielder Port have been crying out for. He’s a bit less mobile than he was a few years ago but his passing is supreme. Unfortunately he is a Buriram player on loan, so for our two Buriram games and any cup meeting he’ll be in the stands. Yes Anon can step into that role but unless he’s been getting regular games there it is going to be very difficult for him.

 

Did Port do the right thing in keeping Jadet as coach?

Tim Russell

Personally I’d say no – as I’ve said before, I just don’t think he has the tactical awareness to break the BU/BU duopoly. But he’s Pang’s man and, unlike an unknown foreign coach, he’s able to work within Port’s management structure and so little more needs to be said on the subject. He’ll almost certainly stay as long as he wants to.

Tom Earls

Yes. You just can’t argue with the Spherical Supremo’s record. He’s taken Port from T2 to T1, to mid table to third place. What more could realistically have been asked of him?

The impact Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had at Man United this season provides a kind of useful parallel. The Norwegian’s success isn’t based on a managerial philosophy that has been wildly successful elsewhere, he just fits in at Man United and has basically just got out of the way of his star players and let them do their thing.

As always the context of Thai football, and in particular Port, is a little more complicated. Jadet has excelled at keeping Port’s bigwigs happy, despite the less than ideal constraints he has to work under. He has next to no impact on transfers, and may not even have the final say on team selection, but just look at the impact he had when he returned in place of Zico in 2017. A team who couldn’t buy a win banged in 5 on the road, before going on to finish the season undefeated and scoring goals for fun. There’s just something about him.

Dominick Cartwright

Is he a great coach? No.

Is he the best man for the job at Port? Yes. We have to accept Pang needs a yes-man, and we need someone who gets on with all the players. Zico was a disaster because he couldn’t do either of these things that well. With a much smaller budget he got us promotion. We finished 3rd place in the league last year only being beaten by richer clubs.

 

Who should be Port’s first choice goalkeeper?

Tim Russell

None of the current three, but with top Thai goalkeepers thin on the ground & the two best ASEAN keepers already ensconced at Bangkok Utd & Muangthong, the current three is what we have. They’re all a bit ‘meh’, but Watchara just about gets the nod from me because he’s the biggest, and his distribution is vastly superior to the others. Rattanai will almost certainly be first choice, then get injured a couple of games in, and I expect Watchara to play most games this season.

Tom Earls

This is tricky, but I’m going to stick with Rattanai. Watchara made a good case for himself in the last 3 games of 2018, but I think that Rattanai’s shot-stopping is marginally better than the other 2, and that should be the deciding factor. Watchara’s excellent distribution makes him my second choice, while Worawut’s continued troubles under the high ball relegate him to third.

Having said that, I won’t be upset if Watchara gets some starts, particularly in games Port are expected to win where the impact his quick, dynamic distribution could outweigh Rattanai’s shot-stopping.

Dominick Cartwright

Tough choice this one, with Watchara’s good form at the back end of last season they could all make a case for starting. I’d start with Rattanai just because he has a bit more experience in T1 with this team. Rattanai is great right up to the point he gets injured. My prediction for his first injury is week 4. I think Watchara’s distribution is better than the other two and he has i bit more presence in the box.

No.1 Rattanai, No.2 Watchara, No.3 Worawut  

 

How many goals will Boskovic score?

Tim Russell

Late last season it looked like Port had finally worked out how to get the best out of Bole, and with his old sparring partner Sumanya joining for the 2019 season, I think the big fella will come close to his 2017 total. 30+ easily. Interviewing him recently he clearly loves being at Port and seems very, very fired up for the new season, so I’m expecting great things.

Tom Earls

His total of 21 goals last season was the highest total a Port player has scored in the top tier since 1998, and he’s certainly capable of scoring even more next season, but only if he makes a concerted effort to actually stay in position a little more often. In my opinion, dropping back in to midfield to contribute to the build-up doesn’t help the team as much as he thinks it does. Get yourself in the box, and let the likes of Pakorn, Suarez, Nurul and Sumanya do their thing. Do I think this will actually happen? No, so I’m going to predict 20 goals this time out.

Dominick Cartwright

30, hopefully he’ll be setting up Suarez and Sumanya to score too as Port pave their way to Cup glory.  

 

Tell us your ideal Port starting XI

Tim Russell

Watchara

Kevin, Dolah, Rochela, Nitipong

Pakorn, Anon, Go, Sumanya, Nurul

Boskovic

For games against smaller clubs, you could replace Anon with Suarez & go all-out attack, but otherwise I’d leave the Spaniard on the bench for most games.

Tom Earls

A 4-1-4-1 with Rattanai in goal, Nitipong, Rochela, Dolah and Kevin at the back, Go sat just in front and a creative quartet of Pakorn, Sumanya, Suarez and Nurul providing the ammo for Boskovic up top. Who cares about defending? Not us with this bombastic set up. Expect plenty of goals at both ends, and not a single 0-0 draw all season. Vintage Port.

Dominick Cartwright

Rattanai

Nitipong, Dolah, Rochela, Kevin

Nurul, Suarez, Go, Sumanya Pakorn

Boskovic

Go and Sumanya are the big new signings they will be in starting 11, not include them would suggest we wasted all that money. By happy coincidence they also deserve to be in the starting 11.  Siwakorn started in the last home friendly but I think Sumanya has more to offer going forward, he can shoot which always helps.I think the biggest change to the team will be the greater amount of depth. Siwakorn, Anon, and Sansern are great players to have on the bench. We have cover in most areas the 2 big exceptions are Striker and right back. Boskovic and Nittipong are top quality, but if they get injured we don’t have decent cover. Artit is just not up to T1 level. Adisorn is great hard working player but he’s a makeshift option at right back, he’s playing out of position just to get a chance of a game.  

 

What are you hoping for from the new shirt, other than that it’s ready before April?

Tim Russell

Simple, classic orange & blue stripes, a round neck, and a redesigned sponsor logo that actually blends in with the design rather than totally obliterating it. And for GrandSport to be replaced by Le Coq Sportif or Adidas at the last minute.

Tom Earls

I’m hoping that the 4XL version I’ve ordered with my season ticket will be waiting for me in the club shop on match day 2, and that I’ll finally have got one big enough to feel comfortable in! I’m not hugely bothered with the design, but I hope there aren’t too many sponsors. I know there will be, of course, so I’m destined to be disappointed.

Dominick Cartwright

Hoping they reduce the size of the Muangthai insurance logo.

 

Which games and away trips are you most looking forward to?

Tim Russell

Muangthong home & away most obviously, especially if away fans are allowed back in – you really can’t beat a Slum vs Scum derby for atmosphere, and there’s nothing like being scowled at by blokes in balaclavas whilst drinking Chang under a flyover to get the pulse racing. Their appointment of Pairoj as coach, who has plenty of previous with Port after his behaviour last season, adds even more spice. Other than that, I always enjoy visiting Ratchaburi’s lovely stadium and shouting abuse at Chainat, and of course I can’t wait for my opening day trip to Chiang Rai. Am also planning a weekend in Sukhothai and visiting some new grounds (to me) at Rayong, Chiang Mai & Trat.

Tom Earls

Port vs. Ratchaburi both home and away always seems to deliver. Once again we have an early season clash at home, and a Saturday away trip to my favourite away destination in T1 in July. Friendly, welcoming locals, a few prime pantomime villains on the pitch (yes, I’m looking at you Kang Soo-il and my old favourite Sompong Soleb) and most importantly a proclivity to lose to Port. The perfect formula.

I’m also looking forward to Muangthong away, although that’s tinged with a healthy dose of dread. Of course the result on the pitch is huge for 2 teams who ought to be in fairly close proximity in the league this season, but far more importantly I’m anxious that the fans are allowed to arrive and leave in safety, and that provocateurs on both sides aren’t allowed to start the kind of serious trouble that saw a Port fan lucky to escape with his life two years ago. Let the game go ahead with fans of both sides in attendance, but please, please police the game effectively.

Dominick Cartwright

Sukhothai Away, I’ve not been to the ground or the town. I’ll be on holiday so I can do the tourist trail for a few days then settle into to some quiet pre-match drinking and some football. A good ground, no running track, solid fan base with Sukhothai being the one club in the province. I’d like to go to Prajuap but it’s on a Wednesday in term time for me so unlikely to make it there.

 

Who will win the league, and where will Port finish?

Tim Russell

Despite them losing Diogo & Osvaldo, winning is coded in Buriram’s DNA and despite Bangkok Utd having strengthened considerably, I can’t see anyone but the Isaan giants winning it. I was at Bangkok Utd on Tuesday to see them lose to Hanoi and there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the crowd with the way they were playing, and if they get off to their usual slow start, I can see Port – who have a much deeper squad this year – pipping them for second. Muangthong will sadly be in the mix as well, and I also think Suphanburi will surprise a lot of people and possibly break into the top 4. I can’t see Prachuap matching last season’s heroics and think Chiang Rai will slip into mid-table.

Tom Earls

I’ve already made a drunk wager that Bangkok United will finally upset perennial champs Buriram this year and win the league, but it’s close to 50/50 for me. This time it’s Bangkok United who have a proven T1 goalscorer, while Buriram will start with two foreign strikers who are completely new to Thai football. Diogo leaving is the deciding factor in my eyes, having witnessed him ‘earn’ so many points over the years with his both his brilliance and his cheating. Bangkok United to edge it on head-to-head, with Port to finish fourth.

Dominick Cartwright

1st Buriram 2nd Bangkok United 3rd Port

I think Bangkok United will be 3 points ahead of Buriram mid season and scare Newin into buying a couple of big names. We’ll finally beat Bangkok United because we’ve bought two of their best players. But our win will only really benefit Newin, as we end up 3rd in the league. Final league position will not be a big concern as Port celebrate a League Cup and FA Cup double. All the Cups for us and all the cups in Klong Toei will runneth over with Leo.

 

Who will go down?

Tim Russell

First we have to look at the three teams who’ve just come up from T2. I think PTT Rayong have strengthened enough not just to stay up but to do quite well, maybe even do a Prachuap, but Trat & Chiang Mai already look doomed. That leaves one place, which I expect to be filled by either Sukhothai or, please please please, Samut Prakan or Chainat. Obviously we’d all love it to be Muangthong, and they deserve it for shamelessly nicking ‘Football’s Coming Home’ as their slogan, but it won’t happen.

Tom Earls

Every year I hope that Chainat will go down, and this year it looks like a strong possibility. They were only saved by an outrageous refereeing decision on the final day last season, but hopefully the injustice of last season will be corrected with newly named BG Pathum United massive favourites to win T2 and Chainat in the mix to go down.

Joining them ought to be Trat, who I think made a big mistake not keeping hold of the strike force that plundered so many T2 goals last season, and Chiangmai, whose squad doesn’t look up to T1 standard to me, despite their ridiculous amount of loan signings.

Dominick Cartwright

Chiang Mai, essentially a reserve team for Chiang Rai and Bangkok Glass

Trat, they just haven’t bought enough quality to stay up.

Samut Prakan, divine justice will prevail.

 

What typical Thai football shenanigans do you expect to occur in 2019?

Tim Russell

Other than the usual disruptions caused by month-long international breaks so the Thai national team can fail in various tournaments, the elections taking place on 24 March (and potential aftermath) are the most likely source of fixture changes. The widespread adoption of VAR will also turn many/most matches into farces and further dilute what little authority Thai referees have.

Tom Earls

With the possible return of elections to Thailand this year, disruptions to the schedule are eminently possible for a variety of reasons. I won’t go into any more detail than that!

The question of club ownership could also once again provide controversy. According to Wikipedia, a frankly ridiculous 14 players are on loan at Chiangmai FC from Chiangrai United and BG Pathum United, and the relationship between these three clubs is sure to bring up some ethical dilemmas at some point in the coming season.

Dominick Cartwright

I’ll split this is up into a few categories

Most Angry Fan

Robin Lennon when he comes with us to abuse the Samut Prakan team.

Most Disappointed Fan

Hockers, saying “No, I won’t be able to make PTT away this season.”

Top 3 Most often asked questions

Dave Barraclough, “So have they made any decision on fans going to the Muangthong away match yet?”

Everyone at some point, “Tom who is that number ….., the new player.”

Everyone at some point, “Are we ever going to be allowed booze on the terraces again?”

Behaviour most likely to surprise any new Port fans, but not Newport fans,

1) Being randomly placed in a headlock by Keith.

2) Looking at a man in a Spiderman mask discussing charity donations.

3) Seeing a man wandering along swigging amaretto, then falling into a pond.

“It’s ok, he does that every year.”  

 

Hope our thoughts have whetted your appetite for the new season! Follow all the news, results, reports and gossip at The Sandpit, and please get in touch if you want to contribute!

 

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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