Peak or Basecamp? Tim’s Review of 2019

In the second of our 2019 season reviews, Sandpit founder Tim Russell looks back on an unforgettable season for Port…

 

Almost a week since we won the FA Cup, and I STILL feel like shit. When your team win their first trophy since you began following them five years ago, you simply have to celebrate, and celebrate we did. It was the end of a season that promised much, almost fizzled out halfway, and ultimately ended in glory, with the usual rollercoaster ride that we’ve come to expect from Port.

February

Port kick off their season with a trip to Chiang Rai, drawing a typically bruising encounter 0-0 despite finishing the game with 9 men thanks to red cards for David Rochela and, on his debut, Go Seul-Ki. The airport departure lounge after the game looks like A&E with several Port players hobbling around thanks to some agricultural Chiang Rai challenges, and even the most usually mild-mannered Port players threatening revenge in the return fixture.

March

Very much a mixed-bag month as Port struggle to get their season into gear. A somewhat fortunate 1-0 win against Ratchaburi is followed by an exhilarating 3-2 win away to Chonburi, but the month fizzles out with a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to PTT and a shambolic 3-1 defeat at Sukhothai, during which the disappointing Sumanya is red carded for slapping the ref.

April

Port bounce back from the Sukhothai defeat by hitting top form, with big home wins (4-1 and 5-0) over Trat and Prachuap, followed by a comfortable away win at their second home the SCG over struggling Muangthong. A perfect month is completed with a thrilling comeback with over Suphanburi, with Boskovic’s late winner sparking absolute mayhem on the terraces & proving to be his last meaningful contribution in a Port shirt.

May

May proves similarly fruitful. Whilst a largely second-string side tumbles out of the League Cup to T2 side Nongbua Pitchaya, there’s an auspicious start to the FA Cup with a 6-0 win over Samut Sakhon. And things go well in the league too – a comfortable 3-0 win away to Chainat is followed by, at last, a point at home to Bangkok Utd in an absolute cracker of a game in which Suarez gets a red card for a bout of handbags with Peerapat. Port then draw 1-1 at Nakhon Ratchasima, with Arthit missing a late sitter that would’ve put the game to bed. It proves to be his last kick as a Port player as he’s loaned out during the mid-season window, much to my colleague Tom’s chagrin. The month ends with a comfortable 3-1 win over cellar dwellers Chiang Mai, aka Chiang Rai Reserves. Port are top of the league.

June

Port top of the league in June? Time for Operation Fuckup! The month begins with a six-pointer at home to defending champions Buriram, in which Port never recover from giving away an early penalty and go down 3-1. Sukhothai are dispatched 4-1 in the FA Cup but things get no better in the league with a limp 2-1 defeat at Samut Prakan followed by a 4-1 home thumping by Chiang Rai. The wheels are well & truly off, and following her Women’s World Cup humiliation, La Pang rings the changes, with Boskovic dumped, Rochela scandalously reduced to cup duty, 2017 top scorer Josimar returning, and Panamanian international Rolando ‘Tony’ Blackburn joining on loan from The Strongest.

July

Port’s misery continues into July which begins with a piss-poor 1-1 draw at Ratchaburi, followed by an equally poor 2-2 draw at home to Chonburi. A 2-0 win at Muangthong in the FA Cup, Blackburn scoring on his debut, provides some respite, but an awful 1-0 defeat at PTT Rayong three days later proves the final nail in Jadet’s coffin. He’s moved upstairs and replaced by former Thai U23 coach & national team assistant manager Choketawee, who gets Port straight back to winning ways with a nervy 1-0 win over Sukhothai and a scrappy 2-1 win at Trat. The season is back on!

August

After beginning the month with a 1-1 draw at Prachuap, Port really get back in the groove in two of the best games of the season. First there’s an absolute cracker of a cup QF at home to Chiang Rai – Port race into a 3-0 half-time lead before being pegged back to 3-2 and holding on for a semi-final place; then Muangthong are beaten 2-0 at home with THAT goal from Josimar sealing the win late on. However the month ends on a disappointing note as Port go down 2-0 at bogey team Bangkok Utd.

September

That bogey is laid to rest in extraordinary fashion in September as the two teams meet in an epic FA Cup semi-final. What with normal time, extra time, a biblical downpour and penalties, the match takes almost 4 hours to complete, with Port edging it 5-4 on pens to reach their first cup final since 2011. With a cup final to look forward to, Port then revive their title bid with a 3-0 win at Chiang Mai followed by a 3-0 home thumping of Nakhon Ratchasima…

October

…followed by a 4-0 home thumping of doomed Chainat. It sets up a 1st v 2nd squeaky bummer at Buriram, but after taking an early lead through Suarez, Port go down 3-1 thanks to some ‘dubious’ refereeing. But with 33,000 fans packed in, including an amazing 2000 from Port, it’s an amazing occasion despite the result. It also means Port are guaranteed third place and, with the cup final a week away, they play out a tame 2-2 draw at home to Samut Prakan in the final league game of the season.

November

You don’t need reminding already do you? Port 1-0 Ratchaburi (Suarez, 48). Euphoria.

 

So an up & down season for Port but still there are signs that that FA Cup win is merely a basecamp on the climb to greater triumphs, rather than the final destination. Port just get better every season and with the more tactically flexible and pragmatic Choke in charge, Port finally seem to have found the coach who can take them that extra mile. And most hearteningly, Port have hit the heights this season whilst regularly fielding several players who were regulars in T2 back in 2016. No buying trophies here. I’ll look at Port’s squad and what they should be looking at in the window next week, but to be brief, Port are one top goalscorer, and maybe a reliable goalkeeper, away from being the finished article, and if they can implement a recruitment strategy based on what the squad needs, rather than simply signing up marquee names, 2020 could be even better.

 

Game of the Season

Several contenders here including the win at Chonburi and the home win against Muangthong, but my pick is the 3-2 FA Cup win over Chiang Rai. There’s been a fair bit of beef between the two teams since 2018’s away defeat, and after that crushing 4-1 home defeat Port’s pride was clearly at stake, and they raced into a 3-0 half-time lead, demolishing one of the best teams in T1 in the process, and ultimately hanging on to win 3-2. Absolutely thrilling stuff from KO to whistle.

Goal of the Season

The mid-season return to Port of 2017 top scorer Josimar, who had spent the previous 12 months in T2, raised a number of eyebrows amongst the PAT faithful, and four games without a goal suggested the likable Brazilian maybe wasn’t the man for the job. The jury may still be out, but his late goal against Muangthong in August made his return worthwhile in itself. With the game poised at 1-0 in the 88th minute, Josi seized on weak defensive clearance and absolutely spanked a 22-yarder into the back of the Muangthong net, sparking delirium on the terraces and an ecstatic, bug-eyed celebration from the man himself. An honourable mention to Suarez for his sublime chip against Trat. If Messi had scored that etc etc.

Player of the Season

No contest this time round. Nitipong Selanon has progressed from being Port’s occasional right-back, to nailing down his place in 2017, being consistent week-in week-out in 2018, and being simply irreplaceable – and getting a national team call-up – in 2019. The guy seems physically incapable of having a bad, or even average, game, and took it to a new level this season. Whilst we hope he stays at Port, his dedication to constantly improving himself could earn him a move to bigger things. Honourable mentions to Siwakorn, whom we thought might be a peripheral figure this year but knuckled down & remained a guaranteed starter; Bodin, who took advantage of Nurul’s early season injury to finally fulfill his massive potential down the left; Go Seul-Ki, who brought calm and organisation to Port’s once chaotic midfield; Elias Dolah, who had his most consistent season yet; and new signing Martin Steuble who proved to be a very astute piece of transfer business indeed.

Disappointment of the Season

Refreshingly few contenders here. Boskovic failed to recapture the form he was showing in late 2018 and looked utterly uninterested most of the time, playing as if the penalty areas of T1 had taken out a restraining order against him. Nurul looks a shadow of the player Port signed in 2018. And Sumanya bears no resemblance to the highly-rated BU player of 2018, to the point where you might almost suspect he’s an imposter. But the ‘winner’ here has to be Pakorn, who showed up for pre-season friendlies looking lean, mean & ready for action, but had his poorest season in a Port shirt, with a mere three assists all season and of course that unseemly spat with his own fans when he couldn’t be bothered to chase a long ball. With coach Choke clearly having no compunction about benching him, and nippy right-winger Tanasith having joined up for 2020, the writing could well be on the wall for the Midfield Monk.

Away Trip of the Season

Buriram. No, the result didn’t go the way we wanted & the refereeing left a bad taste in the mouth, but the atmosphere was simply unforgettable and the Port fans were just awesome. Sukhothai is a close runner-up, both for the sightseeing (and watching Dom almost overturn a golf cart in the Historical Park), and the warmth & hospitality of the locals.

Best Away Ground Food Award

Following previous wins for Chonburi & Ratchaburi, this year it’s Sukhothai‘s turn, with some delicious fried chicken on sale in a very well-appointed away end food zone. Black marks for the fried cheese at Thammasat, which had both Bal and myself hocking it up into the nearest bin; and to PTT Rayong, who didn’t have any food – or beer – on sale at all.

 

That was the season that was – see you in 2020!

 

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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