Swatcats Deny Lions by a Whisker: Nakhon Ratchasima FC 1-1 Port FC

 

 

An away trip to Korat had not really appealed to me before, just one look at the stadium had me thinking “Nope!”, but over a Leo fueled conversation in the Sandpit (aren’t they all?) last weekend, Dom had sold me on the idea of making the trip as this is one of our only away games that falls on a Saturday night thus allowing enough time to travel up for the weekend. I traveled up by bus on Friday, the journey taking pretty much exactly four hours for a measly 209 baht.

I traveled to the game with Dom and Derek, Dom had managed to book an accommodating taxi driver by the name of Mr Bandit who was happy to drop us off at the stadium and wait in the car park to pick us up after the match, it turned out he would have to be even more accommodating than we thought….

On arriving at the stadium the Port fans were already gathering, eating and drinking with a large crowd of Korat fans who were also laying on free food and refreshments for the traveling Port faithful. A friendly sing-off was taking place between the two sets of fans, this had been one of the friendliest welcomes I’d experienced since Sukhothai or Chonburi. I couldn’t help noticing one of the fans had bought a 42” TV to the game, who brings their own TV to the game and why??? I would get an answer to that later!

 

Team News

Sergio’s impromptu game of dodgeball had not endeared him to the referee last week, so with him suspended, Jadet opted to play Sumanya behind Boskovic with Pakorn and Bordin on the wings. Kevin was still injured so Adisorn would continue as a makeshift left-back and it seemed maybe David wasn’t quite ready after all as he didn’t make the matchday squad.

 

The Match

I took my spot in the bleachers (what on earth are ‘bleachers’? – Americanophobe Ed), of all the running-track stadiums I’ve visited so far, this one was slightly more bearable. While away fans were still too far from the pitch, the home support was impressive, and with the stadium around half to 60% full, there was actually something of an atmosphere on all four sides of the pitch.

 

 

The opening exchanges were pretty cagey with neither team having huge spells of pressure or possession, this pattern would continue through the match. On the ninth minute, a neat pass from Sumanya found Bordin on the wing, he cut in and unleashed a shot which Korat keeper and “Friend of Zone B” Cunningham tipped around the post. The ensuing corner from Sumanya eventually found its way to an unmarked Boskovic at the back post but his shot was easily gathered by Cunningham.

In the 41st minute, Bosko tee’ed up Go but his shot was pretty high and wild. Straight up the other end, Korat had their best chance of the half, Leandro unleashing a dipping volley from 25 yards that deflected off Dolahs back before hitting a post and bouncing awkwardly in front of Watchara.

In first half injury time, we thought Bordin had broken the deadlock after firing a shot over Cunningham that looked to have nestled in the top of the net but had actually gone over it and landed behind the goal.

The ref blew for halftime with the score still locked at 0-0, in the distance we could see lightning, and sure enough the heavens opened at half-time. When the second half kicked off, I was one of the few foolhardy souls who made it out for the start of the second half. What I witnessed for the next few minutes was a total farce with the ball getting stuck at regular intervals and players slipping and sliding all over the place. In a rare move of Thai referee sensibility; he quickly halted proceedings after about 4 minutes of attempted play.

 

“It was a bit wet”

Upon returning to the concourse I found all the Port fans and many Korat fans had gathered around the earlier mentioned 42” TV, which was also connected to a TRUE box showing the game. While the TV showed ball-boys and staff trying to scrape the pitch of surface water using advertising hoardings, the Port and Korat faithful’s had what I can only describe as a good old “Cockney knees up” as the rain continued to fall. The rain showed no sign of letting up so the singing (and drinking) carried on for another hour, Thai football has a habit of throwing out some wild and random fan experiences and this was definitely in that bracket.

 

 

While the rain had stopped and the pitch had been cleared of the worst, it was still very slippy and slidy out there and at times it began to resemble a slapstick scene from a silent movie. From a relatively tame Korat corner, what should have been a routine catch for Watchara was dropped but he was able to gather it again before any of the Korat forwards could pounce.

On the 76th minute, Bordin was impeded near the edge of the box after a mazy run and Pakorn stepped up on the subsequent free-kick, initially it looked as if he had fired it straight at the wall but it smashed a Korat defender in the face, wrong footed Cunningham and nestled in the bottom corner to send the drenched Klong Toey faithful into raptures of joy. This joy was short lived however as from their next attack, we were about to see another red card for Port. While things had been very friendly between the two sets of fans all afternoon, Adisorn tried to take it one step further, holding Korat winger Amadou’s hand as Amadou tried to get free of him. Adisorn was already on a yellow and began marching off before the ref could produce the red card. In Kevin’s absence it’s a shame we don’t have a better back-up option at left-back, Yossawat doesn’t seem to be part of Jadet’s plans and Panpanpong can’t be trusted to actually track back. Adisorn does a solid job in the midfield but he’s clearly not a full-back and makes the team a bit lopsided with only Niti playing as a more adventurous full-back down the right and Adisorn becoming exposed against Scary Foreign Strikers on the left.

 

 

Port had the chance to put the Swatcats to bed with only three minutes left, a neat ball over the top had left Arthit beating the offside trap and in acres of space, A Korat defender foolishly slid in the wet surface to stop him and went flying past Arthit and probably landed somewhere near the 100m finish line, however Arthit pussyfooted around a bit too much with his shot, and Cunningham didn’t exactly have to show cat-like reflexes to scoop up his eventual shot.

That missed chance would haunt Port a couple of minutes later, an opportunistic up and under found its way to Korat winger Naruphol, Port substitute Athibordhee now at left back, stuck out a leg, while the initial contact looked to be outside the area, Naruphol applied some real alleycat tactics by hooking his trailing leg around Athibordees in mid-air landing in the box. The ref pointed to the spot and Ivorian striker Henry sent his penalty into the top corner, sliding through a puddle as the Swatcat fans purred with delight. Perhaps the referee had caught wind of the fans’ “Festival of Friendship” taking place today and didn’t want to send one team home unhappy? The final whistle came not long after, for the second week running Port had been pegged back to 1-1 and finished the game with 10 men.

The game kicked off at 5.45pm and finished just shy of 9.00pm, by far the longest match I’ve ever attended, luckily our taxi driver was still waiting. This felt like 2 points dropped, and with Buriram catching fast with games in hand, next months clash between the two could have really high stakes.

Korat was quite a sleepy city, upon meeting Dom and Del after the game, the bars seemed to all shut dead on midnight but we were barely getting started at that time. A 20 minute walk around the city like desperate beer zombies, we finally found a late night restaurant still serving beer and also showing the German Cup Final. One discussion we had was about the awkward situation Arthit and his like find themselves in, all T1 teams (and most T2) use their foreign quota on recruiting “Scary Foreign Strikers”, so as a result, Thai players tend to fill midfield, full-back and goalkeeper positions. Thai strikers lack game time which makes it hard for them to establish themselves. Sadly, misses like the one Arthit made last night will do little to encourage Jadet to give him more game time.

 

The Sandpit Man Of the Match: Elias Dolah

From my lofty position about a mile from the pitch, it was hard to pick out the nuances of separate player performances, so being 6ft5 was a bonus here for Elias!. I picked him last night because even during the farcical second half where all the other players were falling over and kicking it into puddles, Dolah’s reading of the game remained calm and error free, he made key blocks without sliding in and his distribution choices were correct given the lake around him.

When David got injured at the first game, it instantly raised a worry about the Port defence but what has happened is that Dolah has really stepped up this season and formed a very good partnership with Todsapol.

 

Kenny Goodbourn

Kenny Goodbourn

Kenny moved from the Essex Riviera to Thailand in 2013 and lives in Bangkok. He started following Port in 2016. He has a YouTube channel "Straight Outta Bangkok" in which he follows Port around the country and also features other teams from Thailand and beyond.

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