Reality Bites: Port FC 1-3 Buriram Utd

 

Until now, Port v Buriram has always been very much a David v Goliath affair, but this season, with Port top of the league and Buriram struggling for consistency, it had the feel of a T1 title summit, a game that would tell us whether Port’s title bid was the real deal, or whether we were just the lucky – and temporary – beneficiaries of slow starts by the big boys. Sadly the answer wasn’t the one we were hoping for…


 

This was undoubtedly the biggest game played at the PAT for many years, possibly ever, and it was no surprise when tickets sold out some five hours prior to kick-off. A huge downpour at 3pm which turned the Sandpit into a quagmire couldn’t dampen spirits, and the mood was very optimistic amongst the home fans. Even the Buriram fans we spoke to were expecting to go home empty-handed. “Pedro is shit” said one of them, and if only that had been the case.

With Go Seul-Ki on loan from Buriram and thus ineligible, Jadet once again tried to shoehorn Rochela (22) into the DM position. Det, you’ve tried this before and it never works, and you’ve got Anon and Adisorn on the bench. Have a word with yourself big fella. Suarez (5) returned from suspension after his appalling behaviour against Bangkok Utd to replace Sumanya, and Panpanpong (19) got the nod at LB. Otherwise it was the usual Port lineup, a side which, on paper at least, seemed more than capable of matching a Buriram side who just haven’t looked the same without Diogo.

Any game plan Jadet might’ve had for the match went flying out of the window in the first minute. A weak Buriram header into the Port box landed at the feet of Todsapol (6) who, rather than letting it run to Watchara (1), decided to try and clear it, only to scuff his clearance straight to Pedro, whose run into the box was halted somewhat clumsily (and unnecessarily) by the Port no6, giving the ref no option but to point to the spot, where Tunez, taking some rare time out from waving imaginary yellow cards, converted to make it 1-0.

Port’s defence looked terrified and Buriram carved them up at will for the next few minutes, saved only by some desperate last-ditch defending and the existence of Supachai, whose presence in the Thai national team and the champions’ starting XI sums up just how few decent Thai strikers there are. Port had to wait 20 minutes for a sniff of the Buriram goal, when a fine inswinging corner from Pakorn (7) landed right on the foot of Todsapol, who could only blast it over Zone D and somewhere into the bowels of Khlong Toey market. Otherwise, Port were triply hampered by Buriram’s excellent defending, the fact we were playing 4-6-0 as usual with Boskovic playing everywhere apart from as a striker, and a linesman who was giving literally everything to the away side.

But the second half began very brightly. We were still very much in Toby Time, that magical 5-minute period at the start of the second half when Port always score, when Siwakorn (16) played a lovely little disguised pass to Panpanpong, whose near-post cross was met perfectly by Suarez, having one of his good nights, who nodded it in to level the scores. It was no more than Port’s effort and invention deserved and even our friend the linesman couldn’t find an excuse to rule it out.

Sadly Port didn’t remain level for very long – on 54 minutes that man Pedro, decidedly proving that he isn’t shit, was set free down the left and cut into the box past two Port defenders to fire home Buriram’s second. An it got worse for Port 8 minutes later, when Watchara made a spectacular save from a Buriram corner, only for the ball to land on the head of Chitipat who nodded home unchallenged to increase the champions’ lead.

To Port’s credit they didn’t crumble, and could easily have levelled within minutes. A Sumanya free-kick was blatantly handled in the box by a Buriram defender yet the ref gave nothing; shortly after that a Pakorn corner skipped off the Buriram crossbar; then Suarez was fouled inside the area but the ref only gave a free-kick outside the box. Dolah (4) and Suarez went close late on with woodwork-shaving headers, but still the ball wouldn’t go in and 1-3 it finished.

So a typically professional and disciplined performance from Buriram, a team who know how to close out big games, whereas Port have a lot to learn if they’re to reach that level. Go Seul-Ki was a big loss, but Jadet’s team selection didn’t help – Port looked a lot better with Rochela in the back four and Sumanya in midfield – and neither did Boskovic’s continuing reluctance to play in the striker role. With Josimar rejoining Port in the transfer window, it’s becoming increasingly clear which foreign star should be the one to make way for him. And yet Port could easily have got something out of this game with a bit more luck and more honest refereeing, and there is no reason for them to be downhearted as they prepare for an eminently winnable FA Cup tie at home to Sukhothai on Wednesday, followed by tough league games against Samut Prakan and Chiang Rai. The dream is still alive.

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

Some players just drive you crazy. We saw the worst of Suarez against Bangkok Utd, stupidly getting himself sent off and letting the team down; last night we saw the best, one of those games where the mercurial Spaniard decides he’s going to drag his team to a win singlehanded. He scored, could easily have had a second late on, and should’ve won a penalty; and more importantly, he didn’t get drawn into any silly spats with opponents or officials. When he’s focused on his game like this, there are few better players in T1.

 

Linny meets Buriram’s Vietnamese midfielder Xuan Truong

 

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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