Penthouse & Pavement: Muangthong Utd vs Port FC Match Preview

 

UPDATE 18 APRIL – the FAT announced late yesterday that away fans are banned from this fixture and the return fixture at the PAT. A ridiculous face-saving measure which of course saves both clubs from having to put proper security measures in place, particularly Muangthong where the trouble has previously occurred. Jesus it’s hard to defend Thai football sometimes. Anyway, we will now be watching the game at Go Dang Futsal stadium, where the game will be shown on the big screen.

 

The last time Port fans were allowed in to the SCG seems like an entirely different age. Port were in T2 and battling to get back to the top flight, whilst Muangthong were top of T1 and en route to the league title. The occasion was the second leg of the 2016 League Cup semi-final, Port coming away with a creditable 1-1 draw but losing 3-2 on aggregate overall. After which it all kicked off, and we’ve not been allowed back since.

Three years on and, as we prepare to make our long-awaited return to the SCG, things are very different. Port have the most exciting attacking team in the division and sit on top of the league, two points ahead of Buriram, whilst Muangthong are spiralling into decline – after finishing behind Port in 4th last season, this time round they find themselves joint bottom of the table with Suphanburi on 6 points after 5 defeats in their opening 7 games. As the late, great Windsor Davies would’ve said, Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

So it’s bottom vs top at the SCG this Saturday in what promises to be a thrilling game in a cracking atmosphere, the first time the fixture will play out in front of both sets of supporters since 2016. Let’s hope the atmosphere is as feisty as usual without spilling over into the nonsense we saw last time round – if you’re going to give me a beer, I prefer it passed to me rather than thrown over my head thank you very much.

 

Let Me See That ‘Thong

There’s no getting away from it – the 2018 season has been a disaster for the Kirins so far. After opening their season with defeats to bogey team Prachuap and away at Bangkok Utd, it looked like they’d steadied the ship with wins over the two Chiangs, Rai and Mai. But a run of three consecutive away games ended with three consecutive defeats at Ratchaburi, Chainat and Nakhon Ratchasima, which spelled the end of the always doomed reign of coach Pairoj. The Combover King has been replaced by Korean Yoon Jong-Hwan, so we’ll have to hope there’s no new coach bounce on Saturday.

Whilst MTU were never fancied as title contenders, even the most rabid ABM-er wouldn’t have predicted them finding themselves in a relegation scrap but make no mistake, that’s where they are. The loss of Tristan Do to rivals Bangkok Utd, the injury to Oh Ban Suk, and the returning Theerasil failing to recapture past glories have left them struggling, whilst coach Pairoj clearly didn’t like the look of new star signings Mario Gjurovski and Aung Thu, preferring to have them alongside him on the bench rather than on the pitch.

That isn’t to say Port should take their struggling rivals lightly however, as they still have T1 goal machine Heberty doing the damage up front, and new signing Dang Van Lam, one of the stars of Vietnam’s Suzuki Cup-winning side, between the sticks, and we believe Oh Ban Suk will be fit to play too. Nevertheless on current form it’s hard to see MTU causing Port too many problems – but let’s see what MTU themselves have to say, as we talk to fans Grant Aitken & Stephen Romary…

 

MTU are currently joint bottom of the league – what’s gone wrong?

 

GrantI believe, as with most sports, half the battle is psychological. Few are doubting our players’ overall ability, but we’re playing like a side devoid of any confidence. This isn’t an elite European league, but I’ll bet the players feel the burden of expectation just the same. Whatever managerial processes Muangthong currently has in place to help shoulder the expectations that come with playing for one of the countries bigger teams, it’s not working. The side looks incapable of expressing themselves and individual errors are hurting us. Whatever game plan Pairoj was trying to install, it wasn’t clear and this seems to have led to obvious hesitancies come match day.

Stephen: 1. Lack of a dynamic midfielder

2.  Ban gets injured
3. Needed a coach to lead and inspire the quality they have .. we have players to rival any team.

 

Pairoj was always a strange appointment given his somewhat limited CV – do you think the new coach will be a big step up? What does he need to do to turn things round?

 

Grant: You could argue they also took a gamble with Totchawan, who had success with teams that had limited budgets, and I think they saw similar potential with Pairoj. However, it looks like he baulked at the task. I’d have been willing to give him longer but given how quickly he has run for the nearest exit it’s perhaps a blessing he left the post so early.With Yoon Jong-Hwan now in place there can be little doubting the quality of the head coach. He was named manager of the year in Japan two seasons back, and with so many Thai players aspiring to play in that league, I’m hoping his appointment will inspire some of the younger members of the squad and relieve some of the pressure from our more established players.

Offensively we need to attack as a single unit and not merely pass the ball to our best players at every single opportunity. The full backs need to support at each attack and having two deep lying central midfielders is overkill, one should be looking to press forward every time we’re in possession. The defense is going to take longer to solidify, but with Van Lam and Oh Ban Suk in place there is potential. It’s quite apparent from his training sessions that he will focus on fitness. We struggle to get players back in position quick enough after relinquishing possession so this should help.   

Stephen: The new coach needs to lead and inspire.  Also the team has been very vulnerable on the counter….there is a need to defend from all points on the pitch.

Is relegation a genuine concern or do you expect MTU to begin climbing the table soon?

 

GrantWell, they say nobody is too big to go down, but having a bigger squad and the funds to change things during the transfer window would give is a huge advantage if things haven’t improved after a few months. I fully expect we’ll pick up points eventually, however. It’s just frustrating that we had similar issues at the start of last season and have made little progress in the meantime. If this year is used as a springboard for next season and an opportunity to blood some youth I can still enjoy the campaign, but it really should have happened last year.

 

Stephen: Relegation is not a concern.. it is early.. the team is only a few points away from the top half of the league.  Slumps are just slumps.

 

New star signings Mario & Aung Thu have hardly played – why do you think this is?

 

Grant: Mario has had some injury problems so we just need to be patient with him, he’s back in full training now. Aung Thu came with much hype but he’s not hit the ground running. Despite his breakout season last term, he’s still only 22, so dips in form are to be expected. He looks like a player in need of a confidence boost so hopefully netting at the weekend could be the start of a purple patch for him. We’re not likely to get much joy in the air against Port’s centre backs but I fancy him with the ball at his feet against either Dolah or Tosapol.

 

Stephen: Mario is a strange signing…often injured and not the player he used to be.. but he is a good morale builder and fans like him.

 

Which Port players are you most worried about facing?

 

GrantI’ve stated my admiration for Pakorn a few times and I’m always disappointed when he’s not selected for the national team squad. Even if he’s not a first 11 player, with his quality deliveries, there’s not another option like him in the country. Suarez is another player that has hurt us over the last few seasons. He does the damage that most proficient No10’s apply, but with added aggression in his game to boot. His play acting is irritating but that’s one of the few flaws in his game. I hope Lee Ho is on his game to watch the Spaniard’s late runs in to the box, we’ve been poor defending crosses this season. Those two players working in tandem is my biggest fear.

 

Stephen: Port FC have been scoring, averaging about 3 goals per game, and 9 goals over the past two matches.  Especially worrying are Sergio Suarez and Korean midfielder Sunghwan Kim (given that Kim is now playing for Suphanburi I think you should be OK – Ed).  Muangthong will need to close down these threats, but there are other players such as Thailand international Kevin Deeromram who can also put the ball into the back of the net.

 

Port & MTU games are always a feisty affair – what are you expecting from Saturday’s game? Prediction?

Grant: If we’re going to have any chance in the match we’re going to need to get a foothold in the middle of the pitch. Sumanya, Sivakorn and Seul Ki are a prickly trio. I’d love to see a few imposing challenges to rattle them at the start of the match but It’s more likely to be the other way round.Just as last year, Port look very good going forward.  I’m worried about our full backs, particularly the left hand side, but then again the players Port have in those positions have some chinks in their defensive armor too. I’ve honestly no idea how we’ll shape so I’m just looking for signs of improvement. I’ll back us for a 2-1 win, although that is based more out of optimism than expectation.

Stephen: 2-1 in favour of Muangthong .. players are hungry to prove their worth and new coach will be looking for an impact at home.

 

Lions Purring

Whilst MTU struggle, Jadet has his side purring like a finely tuned engine. After carelessly dropping points against PTT and Sukhothai, Port kickstarted their season by demolishing Trat and Prachuap 4-1 and 5-0 respectively to go top of the table after 7 games. Port have got their attacking swagger back which, combined with a very miserly defence, is making them very difficult to handle and giving us fans considerable optimism that they could be in the mixer for the title come the end of the season, especially given Buriram & Bangkok Utd’s less than impressive start.

Jadet’s only problem is deciding who to pick up front, and given his general reluctance to tinker with a winning side, one would expect him to kick off with the same attacking unit that destroyed Prachuap. But with Sumanya now available after suspension and Arthit ‘Pele’ Boochinda banging in the goals from the bench, and with star striker Boskovic struggling to hit the target (1 goal in 7 starts, and that from a penalty), Sir Det may be tempted to have a fiddle. In my opinion Port look a much more complete side with Sumanya on the pitch, but who do you drop? Siwakorn has been our player of the season so far, Suarez has finally hit form, and Bodin is finally fulfilling his enormous potential, and whilst Bosko isn’t hitting the heights, his workrate and his ability to create space for others have been phenomenal so far. So on that basis I think Jadet will stick rather than twist.

Elsewhere, the team picks itself. Cap’n Rochela returned to training this week after his opening day knee injury, but Saturday will almost certainly be too soon for him return, so Todsapol will carry on partnering Dolah in Port’s defence. Watchara started the game against Prachuap, but I expect Worawut to be back between the posts for this big game.

 

 

Prediction

It’s always hard to predict the outcome of derby games, but on the current form of both teams, I can’t see anything other than another Port win, especially given that we haven’t lost at the SCG since 2015. MTU’s new coach bounce will probably prevent a hammering, so I’m going for a repeat of last season’s 2-0 win.

 

Muangthong Utd vs Port FC, Saturday 20 April, 20:00 at SCG Stadium. If you can’t make it, please support our sponsors at The Sportsman and watch the game there on a big screen with drink discounts for Port fans. 

 

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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