Port extended their winning run to 5 with a hard-fought win at a rainy Chonburi Stadium (their first here since 2006) last night, to cement 3rd place and finish the first leg of the 2018 season in some style. If last week’s 7-1 scuttling of Navy was champagne football, this was more Carlsberg Special Brew – rough, gritty, and not particularly pleasant, but it got us where we wanted to go.
Chonburi on a Saturday night – there are few more welcome away fixtures in Thai football and we decided to make the most of it, by leaving Bangkok at 1pm & heading for Bang Saen beach for a few pre-match snifters. Our van driver was clearly also in a holiday mood (as was his wife, who knocked back more Leos in the van than any of us farangs), and decided to take us on a one-hour sightseeing trip around Ramkamhaeng and Rama 3 before finally getting us on the motorway east, much to the delight of Hockers.
Once we finally arrived in Bang Saen, we located a toilet (which seemed to be housed in a short-time hotel) and then hit the beach for a few cold beers and snacks. Terens’ minder Bayu had made the trip with us and he confirmed that the petite Papuan will be staying for the rest of the season and should be seeing more action once the cups get underway. Meanwhile Machar ‘The Beerhunter’ Smith had located a craft beer bar not far away so we headed off there, and as we did the deckchair renter told us “Tarua – desmolee!” We had no idea what he was on about but our resident master of the Thai tongue Tom Earls tells us that he was actually saying “Desmond Ray”. Desmond was apparently a US soldier who died in Thailand and, obviously being the only person ever in the history of the world to have actually died, the Thais now use his name when they want to tell you that you’re dead meat. I can’t go into any more detail as there’s nothing about him online and I suspect Tom may have been making it all up. With the deckchairman’s warning ringing in our ears, we were in urgent need of something stronger than Leo, and Hops Addict bar duly obliged. I can heartily recommend the Stone Tangerine Express IPA.
We arrived to find a stadium rather lacking in atmosphere, as Dale had predicted in his preview, with only a large, raucous Port contingent behind the way end to indicate that there was a top-flight football match about to take place. Just before kick-off the heavens opened and we entered the away end to find it even more substandard than usual, with several inches of water on the terracing adding to the cracked seating and poor views.
Therefore, given the fact that most of the significant action took place at the far end of the pitch (and as such may as well have been taking place on the moon for all we could see of it) and that note-taking isn’t in the spirit of The Sandpit, most of this report is based on video highlights of the match.
After Chonburi fired a first-minute warning shot across Port’s bows, with striker Naphat heading narrowly wide, Port began bossing the game in the usual fashion, with Kim (8) pulling the strings in midfield, and Pakorn (7), Suarez (5) and Nurul (31) probing at the Sharks’ admittedly very solid defence. Indeed Nurul, on his return to his former club, was clearly a marked man, with Chonburi players hacking him down at every available opportunity and racking up 4 yellow cards in the first half alone for their troubles. Pakorn came close on 20 minutes with his free kick just shaving the Sharks’ crossbar, but Port didn’t have long to wait to make the breakthrough. On 23 minutes, Pakorn chipped in a cross from the right which Chonburi keeper Chanin failed to read with Suarez (5) getting in before him to deftly chip it into the back of the net off the outside of his left boot for 1-0. Chanin, realising he’d been done up like a kipper, added a comical little Weera-esque dive after the event to make it look like he’d been making some kind of effort to stop it.
And that, as far as Port were concerned, was it. After taking the lead they seemed to figure that, given Chonburi’s lack of decent striking options, they may as well let them have the ball and sit back while they wore themselves out. It was a strategy that almost cost Port dear as quickly as the 30th minute when Naphat got away from the typically poor Athibordee (35, once again being played out of position), only to fire straight at the impressive Rattanai (17); then again on 40 minutes when Chonburi’s otherwise comically bad winger Ciro put in a lovely far post cross which was narrowly headed over by Phanuphong.
After a brief 15-minute respite from what was rapidly becoming a real nerve-shredder of a game for Port fans, during which we calmed said nerves with Leo and other intoxicating substances, the second half was more of the same, with Port seemingly content to let Chonburi have the ball (even passing it to them on numerous occasions) and the Sharks launching wave after wave of attacks without having anyone with the guile or creativity to convert the numerous chances created. When they did get shots away, Port were throwing bodies at them with Kevin (97), Rochela (22) and the Rat all making heroic stops. Port simply weren’t in it, and had the Sharks had a couple of decent strikers, they would have won comfortably.
Thankfully they don’t, and despite the ref adding on a surprisingly generous 5 minutes of stoppage time, Port held on for, as I predicted, an ugly win against a limited but very robust and well-organised side. That is, as I said, Port’s 5th win in a row (3 of them away from home), and since the Chainat debacle Port’s record has been outstanding – 5 games, 5 wins, 16 goals scored, 3 conceded. That is title-winning form and come the end of the season those dropped points against the likes of Chainat and Police Tero could come back to haunt us; but keep this form up, and if Buriram and Bangkok Utd hit rough patches of their own, it might just turn into a 3-horse race. Next up? 4th-placed Muangthong on 9 June, for by far the biggest game played at the PAT for a couple of years at least.
The Sandpit Man of the Match: David Rochela
There were some huge performances in Port’s defence last night, with Rattanai, Nitipong, Kevin and Kim all sweating blood for the shirt. But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and it was cap’n Rochela who took this week’s award with a performance that mixed classy, visionary defending with down & dirty blocks & tackles. It’s actually David’s first MOTM award this season, which is less of a reflection on his form and more a reflection on how much more quality there is in the team these days, that they are no longer quite so reliant on the schmooooove Spaniard. But of course, when needed, he’s always there, and last night was a match-winning performance.