With the scars of midweek still fresh, Port looked to bounce back this weekend and take revenge against the Buriram side who ruthlessly exposed their defensive frailties in midweek. This meeting between first and third in the Thai League promised to be the pick of the weekend’s fixtures, featuring some of the division’s best individual talents and played in front of a sell-out crowd.
Port lined up in a relatively conservative formation compared to the team they put out in midweek, packing the midfield with Siwakorn Jakkuprasat (16), Kim Sung-Hwan (8) and new signing Anon Samakorn (20). Bodin Phala (10) also finally earned his much-deserved start against his former club.
Buriram fielded a very similar lineup to the one that had already beaten Port in midweek, with the only change coming at right wing-back as versatile Korean star Yu Jun-Soo was eligible to return to the team.
The visitors began in much the same way one would expect them to, with Brazilian striker Diogo Luis Santo spending more of the first five minutes on the ground than on his feet, immediately getting the raucous crowd at the PAT Stadium on his back. Buriram looked to adopt the same defensive posture that worked so well for them in the last encounter, and the early action suggested that Port were in danger of falling foul of the same trap.
However, the changes to the team did pay off, with the play appearing much slicker and sharper in key areas. Bodin’s involvement and link-up with Kevin Deeromram (97) on the left flank brought out the best in both of them, with the Thai-Swede putting in another typically excellent attacking performance early doors.
Seeing Anon in action for the first time was also particularly enjoyable. He began in a primarily defensive role early in the match, choosing mostly to play simple passes, but as the game progressed the Leicester City academy graduate began to show his more and more excellent on-ball ability.
However, the cracks very quickly began to show. Without Nurul or Suarez present to break down the opposing defense, the creative onus was placed upon Siwakorn, who was simply unable to affect the game in this role. Additionally, Kevin’s commitment to attack left Rochela stranded on many occasions when faced with Brazilian winger Osvaldo (17), making the 28-year-old Spaniard look about 38 instead.
Buriram were finally able to make one of their breakaway chances count in the 25th minute when a long-range effort from Rattanakorn Maikami (26) took a wicked deflection and cannoned off the post, before falling to the feet of Diogo. The sudden change of direction caught Port defender Nitipong Selanon (34) completely off-guard, giving the Brazilian forward little resistance as he slotted the ball home.
The sense of deflation around the PAT Stadium seemed palpable as Diogo wheeled away in celebration. With the wind knocked out of the hosts’ sails, Buriram didn’t have to wait long to get their second. A simple chipped ball to Diogo was enough to catch Elias Dolah (4) completely off guard, as he was outpaced and outmuscled by the Brazilian to make it 2-0.
Just as it appeared all hope was lost, who better to step up than Pakorn Prempak (7) with a cheeky free-kick placed perfectly in the top-left corner shortly before half-time. This would be Pakorn’s only meaningful contribution of the game, as he insisted on spending the rest of his time putting on an exhibit of why he has only earned two caps for the Thai National Team. With the reaction time of a snail and the work ethic of a high school senior, it is a real shame to see a player of such vast technical skill be wasted in this manner.
With the window of opportunity open once again, it appears that Jadet took the time to read the letter I kindly sent him last week, as Port began with a furious press on the midfield, exposing the lack of on-ball ability across Buriram’s back-line. He also made the divisive decision to withdraw Bodin for Arthit Butjinda (29), allowing the substitute to play as a target-man and giving Boskovic the freedom to roam around him.
After Yu Jun-Soo missed an absolute sitter from the edge of the six-yard box, Port would finally have their route back into the game. With Toby still outside the stadium drinking his (second?) half-time beer, Port found it to be the opportune time to score their second goal in the 52nd minute when an inch-perfect Kevin cross found Kim Sung-Hwan entirely unmarked to score a diving header that will surely have the visitor’s perfectionist coach Bozidar Bandovic up in arms.
Having already made the decision to move to a flat back five with Suchao as a defensive right-back, Buriram found it difficult to switch back into their attacking gear, and the momentum was firmly with the home side for the final half-hour of the match.
A winning goal looked to have come from the unlikeliest of sources when Nitipong managed to get one-on-one against Buriram’s goalkeeper, but the linesman rightly flagged for offside.
Diogo came close to taking the three points for the away side on numerous occasions, and tended to follow up each one with a lengthy spell of rolling and moaning on the ground as time began to run out. The Brazilian managed to hit the upright from a free-kick in the final minute of stoppage time, with substitute goalkeeper Worawut Srisupha (36) making an excellent save to deny the follow-up from Andres Tunez.
As the referee blew the final whistle, neither side seemed to upset by the point, but Buriram will have more to be aggrieved about after throwing away their two-goal lead. However, due to results elsewhere, they still sit nine points clear atop the Thai League and seem set to win their seventh Thai League title.
Port, meanwhile, maintain their three-point lead over Muangthong United in third place, meaning the side are still on course for their best league finish in over a decade.
The Sandpit Man of the Match: Kim Sung Hwan
Despite having played a full 90 minutes in midweek, Kim looked fresh and sharp in this match, regularly covering more ground than most of his teammates and effectively shutting down Buriram’s midfield. Without the likes of Nurul or Suarez in front of him, the onus was on Kim to help create and make late runs into the box – something he did perfectly to score the second goal. He has been an invaluable asset for Port this season, and has once again been at the heart of a strong performance at the PAT Stadium.