4 Down, 26 To Go: Port’s Season So Far

 

With the first (mercifully short) international break of the season upon us, now seems like a good opportunity to look back at Port’s first four games of the 2019 T1 season and see what we’ve learned about the team’s chances this year. It’s been a solid start, with Port’s deeper squad able to deal with an unusually high number of injuries, and the swashbuckling football of 2018 gradually starting to reappear.

Port began with a goalless draw at Chiang Rai – a decent result at the best of times, made even more impressive by the fact that they finished the game with only 9 men and several walking wounded. The departure lounge at Chiang Rai Airport looked like a hospital waiting room and normally mild-mannered types such as Rochela and Dolah were raging at the home side’s physical approach and the quality of the refereeing. But the result showed a new, steely side to Port, a determination to get a result that got them a nervy 1-0 win at home to Ratchaburi in their next game, and a very impressive 3-2 win at Chonburi after that – the key performance of the opening games and one that showed this team is made of very, very solid stuff indeed. Ironically, the most disappointing result of the season so far – last weekend’s 1-1 draw at home to PTT Rayong – came after the best team performance of the season, Port raining shots and headers on PTT’s goal for 90 minutes yet being defied by some desperate defending, spectacular goalkeeping and the PAT woodwork. But the fact that the swagger seems to be back, allied to a steelier defence, bodes well for the weeks to come.

That Port have defended so well has been something of a miracle, given the casualty rate at the back. First to get stretchered off was, naturally, Rattanai, who barely made the second half of the first game of the season. Later that same game the normally indestructible captain Rochela succumbed to a knee injury (coupled with a red card) which has kept him out ever since, whilst Dolah, MOTM in that game, also boarded the plane with a heavily strapped ankle. Kevin also picked up a knock which kept him out of the trip to Chonburi. Backup players Worawut, Todsapol and Panpangpong have all filled in admirably and Port’s defence has a leaner, meaner look about it this season, with Dolah continuing to improve after a superb 2018 – though a couple of error-strewn opposition goals in the last couple of games are making us miss Rochela & hope he’s fit again soon.

It’s in midfield that the biggest improvement has been seen, which, given that Port seemed to recruit exclusively midfielders in the transfer window, is as it should be. Go Seul-Ki is a big improvement on Kim, a player who makes things happen rather than simply pointing at where he wants them to happen, and his steady presence is bringing out the best in Siwakorn. The Marlboro Man looked like being a peripheral presence this season after a disappointing 2018, but the competition for places has seen him stub out his fag and knuckle down, and he’s arguably been Port’s player of the season so far. And as for new AM Sumanya, WOW. Against Chonburi he was simply fantastic, the creative AM Port have been missing for so long, and if he can stay fit he could just be the missing piece in Jadet’s jigsaw.

It’s in attack that Port have struggled so far. Pakorn has been his usual frustrating self, pinging in superb crosses whilst sending countless free kicks into the Loxley car park (Loxley’s works football team probably have ‘PAKORN’ on the front of their shirts given that he effectively sponsors them with free footballs); Nurul started the season brightly but is now also on the injury list; and Bodin, whilst he was superb at Chonburi, still doesn’t seem to have Jadet’s confidence, though the failure of the Panpanpong-Kevin experiment last week should see him starting against Sukhothai. Boskovic, who was on fire in the latter stages of last season, is dropping back into midfield far too often and needs to be a lot more selfish – as a lone striker we need him up front. He’s only scored once – from a penalty – and Jadet’s 4-5-1 means that when Bosko isn’t in the box, usually noone else is either. Suarez, last season’s second-top scorer, has also looked somewhat out of sorts, only scoring once and not even getting into any arguments with opponents or referees (apart from a brief spat last week with Victor who, let’s face it, could start a fight with the Dalai Lama), and, with the arrival of Sumanya, is seriously playing for his place now. Arthit, aka Pele, has been his usual tireless self and his goal at Chonburi was an outpouring of pure joy from all involved, but whether he’s top 3 of T1 quality remains open to debate. However the second half against PTT showed that the swagger of 2018 is returning and someone – probably Trat – is in for a right hiding soon.

With eminently winnable games against Sukhothai, Trat and Prachuap to come before the big trip to Muangthong on 20 April, Port have the chance to convert their recovered attacking verve into goals and get some more points on the board, and with a solid defence, a dominant midfield and an attack that looks like it’s starting to gel again, we fans have good reason to be optimistic about what 2019 has in store.

 

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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