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Dolah’s Incensed: Chiang Rai Utd 2-0 Port FC

 

 

There can be few better places to enjoy a game of football than Chiang Rai in September. Lovely cool evening weather, a beautiful purpose-built stadium, and a mature attitude to in-stadium beer consumption all contribute to the ideal Thai footy experience, and throw in some particularly friendly food vendors handing out free crispy worms, and the weary travelling fan couldn’t ask for more. Apart, of course, from a decent crowd (note to the FAT – on what planet is 5.45pm on a Wednesday a good kick-off time?), and a referee with a degree of competence and integrity. That, in Thai football, seems too much to ask.

 

Stadium food Chiang Rai style. Who needs pies?

 

Following the piss-poor performances against Prachuap & Chainat, the uninformed observer may have expected Jadet to make a few changes to take into account certain players’ poor form and the inevitable fatigue that comes with playing two games per week. Those of us who know better were not at all surprised that the only change was an enforced one, with the suspended Pakorn replaced not by another winger, but by Port’s own midfield Jack Russell, Adisorn (13). Quite how Jadet had told his players to line up was a mystery to us and the players themselves, with Boskovic (23), Nurul (31) and Suarez (5) all having spells on the right, left and middle. It would’ve been no surprise had Bosko popped up manning the sausage stand under the away end, such was the players’ obvious confusion.

 

 

But Port began brightly, bossing possession and passing the ball around crisply. Chiang Rai simply couldn’t get near them until the 3rd minute, when Chaiyawat (and you’ll be reading more, oh so much more, about this dickhead later) broke forward and fed the left winger who crossed to an unmarked Phittiwat on the edge of the box, who fired home impressively past Worawut (36) to give the Beetles an undeserved lead.

Port once again began passing the ball around comfortably without really threatening and Chiang Rai, rather like a man whose wife has been invited out for the evening by Elton John, were happy to sit back & let them get on with it in the knowledge that there would be no penetration. But after a while Elton, presumably feeling nostalgic for his brief 1980s liaison with busty German saucepot Renate Blauel, started feeling a bit frisky. On 18 minutes Nurul broke into the box and picked out an unmarked Suarez, but the out-of-sorts Spaniard could only pass the ball tamely into the keeper’s arms. A few minutes later Siwakorn (16) curled a shot just wide of the post, and just before half-time Suarez headed narrowly over the bar. 1-0 at half-time, with Port much the better side and Chiang Rai seemingly happy to park the bus against far more talented opponents.

 

 

The second half began in similar vein, with Bodin (10), briefly remembering how to play football and hitting the side netting with a long shot, before the game was transformed by the worst piece of refereeing I’ve seen at a Port game since the infamous Chainat Debacle in 2014. Dolah (4) blocked a shot from Chaiyawat – known henceforth as Chaiyatwat – and the players briefly collided. The big Swede, being the decent sort of gent that he is, tried to help Chaiyatwat to his feet, but the latter reacted angrily and then, seeing that Port were bombing up the pitch at considerable speed, fell to the turf clutching his face. Port played on, and when Chiang Rai regained possession, they gave a similar number of fucks about Chaiyatwat’s plight as the rest of us – that number being zero – and launched an attack of their own, only to start surrounding the ref as soon as the ball went out of play. The ref, who throughout the game seemed to be waiting for the home side to tell him what decisions to make, bizarrely booked both players; at which point CR defender Victor, a huge bear of a man temporarily doing a pretty convincing impression of a weasel, minced over to the ref to point out that Elias had already been booked, and the ref produced a red card. An early bath for the big no4, and my sources tell me that he went the full Thiago on the dressing room door on his way back. And why not.

Minutes later Chaiyatwat cut out a Port attack with his hand – technically a straight red but at least a yellow – yet, despite being given a good mauling by a by-now incandescent Boskovic, the ref let him off. By this point the Port players were in a state of fury, as were the away fans, with one Sandpitter who shall remain nameless (cough) heading down several rows to the front of the away end to hurl abuse at the cheating fucker in the orange 18 shirt. Clearly fearing for their player’s safety, Chaiyatwat was subbed off to a rousing sendoff from the Khlong Thoey Army.

 

Chaiyatwat’s personal dressing room

 

With Port’s twin farang strike force always playing better when they’re nursing a grievance, Port tore into the home team but their best chances fell to Bodin, whose brief moment of enlightenment at the start of the half had long since passed, and who had reverted to his by now standard impression of “man seeing football for the first time”. It was inevitable that Chiang Rai would catch Port on the break and they added a second in injury time, condemning Port to a very unfortunate away win in a game they dominated and, but for the ridiculous referee, could well have won.

That said, all is clearly not well at Port. The team have won just twice in the last 11 games in all competitions (against Police Tero & Trat), and a team that was tearing T1 apart with pace, style and intensity a few weeks ago now looks lost & demoralised. Several players clearly don’t want to be there, others have visibly regressed, and any semblance of a tactical plan has long since vanished. Boskovic in particular seems like a lost soul, popping up all over the pitch when he should be planting himself up front and demanding some decent service. Jadet needs to look up the word “meritocracy” in the dictionary because at the moment he’s picking his standard first XI regardless of form and attitude, and the team are suffering as a result. Mme Pang was away on an Instagramming holiday to Paris, and there will be few people on the Port staff looking forward to her return.

We left the stadium with the red mist still hovering above our heads, but thankfully our faith in humanity and the fine townspeople of Chiang Rai was very quickly restored. Having taken a “fuck it, let’s worry about it later” approach to getting back into town after the game, we found ourselves stranded and facing a long walk. 5 minutes down the road I spotted a farang returning to his car and asked him how one might go about getting to the night market. He didn’t understand me so, recognising his accent, I switched to the old francais, and the farang in question revealed himself as Alain, French retiree and longtime resident of Chiang Rai. Not only that, but he also turned out to be a fellow St Etienne fan, having followed the mighty Verts throughout Europe during their late 70s/early 80s glory years, and happily ushered us into his car and took us all the way into town. Merci monsieur. Then, having located a khao soy stand, the chef complimented us on our choice of football team and threw an extra chicken leg into each bowl. It may have been the warming, hearty goodness of the soup, the kindness of strangers, or the large amount of beer I’d consumed by that point, but my wife informs me there was a tear in my jaded old eye as I slurped down my bowl of the very best.

And so as is often the case, another away trip which would’ve been perfect had we not had to go & watch football. As Alain would say, plus ca change…

 

Post-match khao soy therapy

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: David Rochela

Despite dark mutterings in various Port fan circles about his declining powers, El Capitan was at his very best last night, mopping up at the back, starting attacks with his accurate passing, and making several last-ditch tackles. Honourable mentions to to the ever-reliable Nitipong (34), Adisorn (who was our best player until Jadet inexplicably subbed him off) and Kim (8), who at least tried to instill some order into the tactical chaos that was Port’s midfield.

 

Where Eagles Daren’t Score: Ubon UMT Utd 0-1 Port FC

 

The fixture computer had not been kind this year, in terms of away trips anyway. Before the season started I’d made a list of stadiums I was hoping to cover off this season and also make a weekend of at the same time, Chiang Rai and Sukhothai were quickly crossed out after being put on Sunday nights. Weekends in two polar opposite Thai seaside resorts, Prachuap and Pattaya, were both on the cards until they got moved due to the impending U19 Tiddlywinks championship that will decimate the August program. Luckily, Ubon was still being played on a Saturday night so I went ahead and booked it up. The return flight was just shy of 1500 baht and thanks to striking lucky on Agoda, I got a voucher which meant I was able to get 2 nights at Ubons 4 star Sunee Hotel for a total of 300 baht cash. The team stayed here last year if I recall correctly as I saw the team bus parked up at the shopping mall which sits under the hotel.

When I checked in, the staff clocked my Port shirt and asked me if I was one of the players checking in. I know Thailand attracts some veteran journeymen players during the twilights of their careers, but alas, my fleeting substitute appearances for Cockney Lokomotiv in the Sceptre Sunday League over 15 years ago, may not be quite enough for me to nail down a starting spot in 2018 Thai Premier League.

I spent an enjoyable Friday evening at a Mexican restaurant near the airport with the Sandpits Ubon correspondent, Gary Jones and a few of the Thai Ubon fans. Over dinner it seemed there was still optimism of beating the drop but please, please, please, could Port roll over for them tomorrow? Stranger things have happened in Thai football. My secondary mission for the evening was to scope out a bar to watch the World Cup action on Saturday night with the France v Argentina game kicking off an hour after the Ubon – Port fixture finished.

 

 

“If found, please return to PAT Stadium”

 

Coming down for my morning swim, I got in the lift to find myself surrounded by Ubon players who got out at the same floor as me, as I passed through the gym reception on the way to the pool I inadvertently walked in on their morning team meeting. I began pondering if I should try and listen in, but dressed in a wife beater and neon orange swim shorts, I wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. Bumping into staff and players was the theme for the rest of the morning. Over lunch I saw Nurul and Siwakorn walking around the mall, it was the most I’d seen Siwakorn move without picking up a yellow card. My next trip down the lift shaft our own Rod Pellegrino got in. As he got out I joked that he might catch the end of the Ubon team meeting if he’s lucky, he advised both squads were having lunch on this floor. Sure enough when I reached Starbucks in the mall a bit later, there was Jadet sat with a few of the Ubon guys. While our only true heated rivalry is Muangthong, it was still a bit jarring and fourth wall breaking, to see both sets of players and staff all chummy chummy with the game a few hours away.

 

“We’re going to play Four-Four-F**king Two!”

My next mission for the day was to secure some proper beer for the game. My memory of Ubon last year was that they were locked into a supply from Chang, pet peeve #28 in following Thai football. Apart from Chiang Rai and Bangkok Glass, Leo and Singha need to up their game in controlling the beer supplies. Any lingering ideas from the hotel staff that I was on the Port playing staff must have finally been quashed, when I came back through hotel reception carrying a slab of Leos to the lifts.

 

 

Arriving at the stadium just over an hour before kick off, the Port party bus was already here quickly followed by Del, AC and the two Tims (that isn’t the name of an act you’ll see at Edinburgh fringe this year). The Chang tents did a roaring trade out of the Sandpit contingent ….in cups of ice. They seemed perplexed we didn’t want to buy any of the Devil’s Piss that they were promoting. In true American style we tailgated from the case of Leo in Gary’s car boot.

 

“You’ve seen the Rat Bar, now welcome to the Boot Bar”

 

Checking the team news on twitter, there was no Dolah or Suarez, their places going to Todsapol and Bordin. Entering the stadium, attendance looked very, very low, although it did fill up a bit as the game wore on. After so many away trips to <Thai city name> municipal athletics stadiums, it was nice to finally visit a purpose built football stadium again. The UMT Stadium is reminiscent of some League Two or non-League stadiums in the UK. Ticket prices seemed a bit steep with even home fans paying upwards of 200 baht for some sections, maybe a reason why attendances have slid, the ground was definitely fuller last for the match last season.

 

 

Ubon started very brightly, belying their lowly league position. After some decent performances on the road, it looked like Port were slipping back to the lethargic apathy shown at Chainat. Were some of the team still a bit leggy from having to play in the cup game on Wednesday? In Suarez’s absence, Bordin, Nurul and Pakorn seemed to be rotating, and taking it in turns to unsuccessfully audition for the part of “number 10”. Ubon had showed more attacking intent in the opening exchanges than they did for the entire 95+ minutes at the PAT earlier this season. On the 11th minute their Serbian midfielder Dimitrov connected with a diving header that was tipped onto the crossbar. From the resulting corner, large Brazilian defender (Yul) Brinner wriggled free from the attentions of Todsapol to get a free header which was over the bar. As highlighted in the preview, their direct replacement for Victor hasn’t quite filled his shoes in the goal scoring stakes. Compared to last season, Brinner aside, Ubon now had a much smaller team.

Ports highlight of the opening 25 minutes was Kevin making a low drive from outside the box, it took a deflection after clipping the heels of an Ubon player but the keeper managed to recover his footing and gather it safely. Ubon were still causing Port problems but were lacking a finisher to put them away. On the 26th minute, DImitrov had a low drive which was spilled by Rattanai into the path Apiwat who did tuck it in, only to find the offside flag was (correctly) raised with two Ubon players offside when the initial shot was drilled in. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, Port finally began to maintain some possession and pressure in the Ubon half for a couple of minutes, but Ubon quickly snuffed it out and were back in control.

 

 

Somewhat against the run of play, Port took the lead a couple of minutes before the break. Bosko finally found himself with the ball in their area and won a corner. Pakorn, who had been sluggish all game whipped in the corner which El Capitan flicked on at the near post and into the net. Totally undeserved, but as Toby said in his most recent report “It’s a funny old game”. David pointed and looked up towards the heavens as he returned to the halfway line. A poignant moment for the captain after a recent family bereavement.

Jadet made a much needed change at half time with Adisorn replacing Bordin to protect our back four a bit better. This had an instant effect as Port started the second half much more positively. Nitipong collected the ball and made a run to the Ubon byline, cutting the ball back for Nurul to blaze his shot out of the stadium. On the 55th minute, Boskovic was wrestled to the ground in the box but nothing was given. On the hour Tossapol was replaced with Dolah to add more defensive grit and to counter-balance the threat of Brinners height at set pieces. While Port were now starting to threaten a lot more, Ubon were still carving out chances which somehow were not being put away. On the 66th minute, an Ubon freekick found Dimitrov at the near post, who acrobatically did an overhead kick towards the back post where Brinner was charging in, but he didn’t connect.

A rare lapse from Nitipong saw him take an airshot on the edge of his own box, which let in the Ubon winger Jedsadakorn, his low cross-come-shot couldn’t connect with the sliding Apiwat who was trying to connect at the back post.

To try and solidify Ports defensive position further, Pakorn was then swapped for Chakrit to help Port see this out. It turned out to be an astute move as he offered more defensively on the right hand side, Pakorn had looked out of sorts all game, aside from delivering the corner onto Davids head.

The final whistle came with a sense of relief, a definite smash and grab for Port today. A better team would have carved us a new one on this form but it was “Heartache Tonight” for the Eagles fans, who slip deeper into the relegation mire and are now 12 points adrift of 15th placed Tero, with their next two games at home to Muangthong and away to Buriram.

There were joyous scenes in the car park after the game, and even a little bit of rain couldn’t dampen the spirit of the party bus, or the extinguish the flare that had been lit up.

 

 

I don’t think the Crocodile Dundee test is needed here

 

After the game we moved on to “Take Care” bar to watch what turned out to be a great match between France and Argentina. The Ubon fans, including Gary had laid on a spread for us and we also took great advantage through the evening of their “5 (large) Leos for 299” offer. The hospitality in Ubon from Gary and the Thai Ubon contingent was fantastic all weekend.

 

 

On other matchdays, it has been known that the owner takes their group out to the local Tawan Daeng, he was also a visible presence around Ubon’s “sandpit” before the game greeting and talking to fans, with no minders or staff around him. I wonder if Madam will ever try such an approach at the PAT???

Next up for Port, PTT Rayong visit on Wednesday in the Cup and then John Baggio and the Firebats are at the PAT on Sunday, in desperate need of 3 points to lift themselves out of the relegation battle.

 

The Sandpit MOTM: David Rochela

It wasn’t a great team performance today, but it was the captain who did stand out with some great last ditch blocks and tackles to keep us from embarrassment in the first half, capped off with heading in the winning goal to seal all three points.

 

Not Today, Desmond Ray: Chonburi FC 0-1 Port FC

 

 

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.

 

The Sandpit, with actual sand

 

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.

 

Port’s 2017 Season: The Captain’s Verdict

 

The Sandpit interrupted Port captain David Rochela’s holiday this week to get his thoughts on the club’s 2017 season, and found him in good spirits, having led the team to a top-half finish, won the Sandpit’s coveted Player of the Year award, and, best of all, signed a new contract at the PAT for 2018! Here’s what David had to say.


Port had a very strong finish to the season to end up in 9th place, a great achievement for a promoted team. How satisfied are you with the season?

The season was great! I think we did some amazing games that the fans will not forget. So I’m very satisfied about the year. The change from T2 to T1 didn’t feel that  big and I think that we proved it. In my opinion we did really a great performance this season, proving that we can fight with all teams even coming up from T2.

 

The team suffered a mid-season slump when Jadet was replaced with Zico. How did this disrupt the team? What is it that has made Jadet so successful at Port?

Usually when you change something in one club you need time to adapt. With Zico we tried to do it as fast as we could but it was not enough.
And about Jadet…probably the key is that he works but is very close to the players, doing jokes and being one of us. The atmosphere is the key point.

 

What was the team’s best performance of the season in your opinion?

We did some amazing games this season but I will choose both games against Muangthong for what they mean to our fans. The feeling was amazing. I was a little bit sad because our fans couldn’t watch it live, but we know that for them it is the most important game of the season.

 

Which team was the toughest to play against? Which player was the most difficult opponent?

This season clearly Bangkok United, it was difficult for us this time but we will improve to face them next year! As for opponents, difficult to say…Chanatip, Diogo, Boskovic… there are many good players in T1.

Which of your teammates impressed you most this season? Who surprised you? Who would you say is the players’ player of the season?

I knew the potential of all of them but probably Nitipong is who moved his level higher during this season. Butour success this season came from a strong group so is difficult to say one: maybe Nitipong, Suarez, Josimar or Pakorn.

 

What was your personal favourite moment of the season?

My favourite one was the game against Supanburi at home. That day was my birthday, we won and all the fans gave me an amazing birthday gift by singing for me. A really special day!

 

And you were also voted The Sandpit’s Player of the Year again!

Yes! Just to say thanks to everyone who participated in the poll and have been supporting us during the season. And a special mention for The Sandpit for informing everyone about the team during the year.

What were your biggest disappointments this season?

We really had a lot of intention to do well in the cups so I have to choose the game with Air Force.

 

Next season will be tougher with 5 teams going down. What are Port’s ambitions for 2018? Where do you need to improve?

As I always said, the first goal must be to put 5 teams down and after that, try to have a relaxed and gratifying season as this one. We need to improve for sure, we need stay more compact in some moments of the game and keep more balanced in order to concede less goals.

 

And finally, the question everyone is asking – will you still be a Port player in 2018?

I will be at Port FC next year yes, and I’m very happy for that!


Thanks as ever to David for answering our questions, and see you in a Port shirt again in 2018! Enjoy your holiday!

 

The Sandpit’s Port FC Player of the Year 2017 is….David Rochela!

 

Last week we once again opened the polls for the Player of the Year competition, and voting was very lively with over 600 Port fans clicking on their favourite player. The last couple of days’ voting saw some rather suspicious voting patterns, with 36% of our site traffic coming from SPAIN, which possibly explains why it turned into a two-horse race between Port’s two Spaniards, with the rest of the candidates trailing in their wake.

Voting is now closed, and we can reveal the top 3…

 

1. David Rochela 38%

For the second year in a row, Port’s popular Spanish captain wins the award, though not with the landslide we saw in 2016. David has had another solid season at the PAT, leading by example, playing the game with honesty and respect, and even banging in 7 goals. The naysayers may point to Port’s poor defensive record this season, but it has to be said that without David, our Goals Against column would undoubtedly look even worse. As yet, we have no word as to whether the captain will lead Port in 2018 but our gut feeling says he will. Congratulations David, and hope you’re around to go for the hat-trick in November 2018!

 

 

2. Sergio Suarez 36%

You’d have got pretty long odds on this back in June, when many Port fans – myself included – were calling for Maranhao to take Suarez’ foreign player slot at Port, after the Spaniard had an inconsistent first half of the season. But in the second leg, Sergio was a different player and, had the vote been based solely on the last 5 months, he’d almost certainly have won outright. He’s been a lot more focused, given the proverbial 110% in every game, and weighed in with 14 goals – almost unheard of for a Port midfielder. As with Rochela, we don’t know if he’ll still be around next season but given his late-season form, we suspect he might.

 

 

3. Pakorn 6%

Thanks to the Spanish mafia monopolising the vote, the rest of the candidates are a loooooong way back, with the chasing pack led deservedly by the Midfield Monk himself, Pakorn. This was the season in which the Port winger finally realised his potential and added workrate and discipline to his undoubted talent to become Port’s most productive player with 6 goals and a staggering 18 assists. Sadly we are hearing very strong rumours that he may be returning to his old club Police Tero for next season, which would be bad news for Port and surely a backward step for a player who should be looking to get a national team place before long.

 

 

Thanks, or should I say gracias, to all who voted, congratulations again to David, and watch out for more Sandpit fan polls coming soon!

 

Rochela Scoops Second Player of the Month Award

 

El Capitan David Rochela becomes the second Port player to win The Sandpit’s Player of the Month award twice, joining Josimar Rodrigues who won in April and May. Rochela won the inaugural award in February, and has now secured the July award with an impressive 60% of the vote.

 

 

 

Port did not have the best month results-wise in July, but as usual the Spanish skipper did his utmost to keep Port in contention with his solid defensive performances. He also scored a rare goal from the spot against Chiang Rai, taking his penalty tally to 3 out of 3 for the season. Congratulations, David!

In second place was the star attacking performer Pakorn Prempak. Pakorn won the June award, and again underlined his stunning resurgence in the second half of the season by picking up 26% of the vote in July. Pakorn has always been known for his set-piece delivery and his crossing from the right, but in the last two months his decision making and tracking have improved markedly. Pakorn is getting closer and closer to being the full package.

 

 

In third place was Spaniard Sergio Suarez, who garnered 11% of the vote. Suarez shone against Chiang Rai and had two excellent performances in the cups against Ayutthaya, notching a few crucial goals in the process. If Suarez can continue to perform consistently for Port then we fully expect to see him winning one of these awards sooner or later!

 

 

Ittipol Poolsab came fourth in his inaugural appearance on our shortlist, with Andrija Kaludjerovic in last place with 0% of the vote. With the Serb’s departure being exclusively announced by The Sandpit today, I think it’s fair to say that Kalu won’t exactly be missed judging by the amount of fans who turned out for him in our poll!

An honourable mention must also go to Elias Dolah.  A few people quite rightly chastised me for not including the big Thai-Swede on the shortlist despite some excellent performances in July. Clearly I underestimated the ever-growing list of fans Dolah is accruing at Port, but you can be sure I won’t make that mistake again!

 

Zico Begins: Bangkok Glass 0-0 Port FC

 

Port travelled to Rangsit yesterday for a tricky away fixture at high-flying Bangkok Glass. Thanks to some tactical changes and excellent preparation, they came away with a well-earned 0-0 draw, riding their luck at times, scaring their opponents at others. This was the first game in which Zico really put his stamp on the team and augurs well for the rest of the 2017 season.


The Sandpit posse pitched up at the ever impressive Leo Stadium just before 5pm, leaving us a good two hours to soak up the atmosphere, wander around the ground and chat to the home fans  drink lots of beer – something Rabbits Bar make very easy with their competitively priced Leo towers. We also mingled with Glass’ farang fan club – a bloke called Tony. Wandering outside for a while to take some pictures, I found Importz Kenny & Achim consorting with the Glass bunny girls and looking very pleased with themselves.

We arrived in the away end to find the usual excellent beer service was still in place, and as such it would’ve been rude not to shower them with our money. Settled into our seats, we learned that Zico had made two very important team changes. Firstly – and he’s obviously been reading the Sandpit here – he dropped Panpanpong (19) and finally gave a debut to ex-Buriram youngster Yossawat (28). Secondly, he gave up trying to choose between two ageing defnsive midfielders – Ittipol (7) & Adisorn (13) – and instead gave a debut to the somewhat more youthful ex-Barbecue Utd midfielder Pummared (41), who had previously impressed me in friendlies.

The game started with Glass predictably dictating the pace, though the first chance fell to Port  in the 9th minute when Pakorn (9) curled a free kick just wide of the post. Otherwise the next 20 minutes were one-way traffic with Glass laying siege to the Port goal, only some rather wayward shooting preventing them taking a deserved lead. Sandpit interviewee Matt Smith was the worst offender, ballooning a shot over the bar in the 27th minute with an open goal gaping, shortly followed by Campos whose angled shot went wide of the post when it would clearly have been easier to hit the target.

But it was in fact Port who came closest to scoring. In the 39th minute, Siwakorn (16) found himself in space on the edge of the Glass box and unleashed an absolute thunderbastard of a shot which beat the keeper but cannoned back off the crossbar. Minutes later, Pakorn found himself free on the left but opted to try and chip the keeper rather than pass.

Half time, 0-0, and a sense of relief that we’d made it to the break without conceding. The Port fans set about the half-time Leo with gusto and soon drank the bar dry. They’re clearly not used to dealing with big away crowds like this. Well, it has been two years since we last visited.

Port started the second half somewhat more brightly than the home side but had little more than a 59th minute curler from Suarez (5) to show for it, and soon found themselves on the back foot again. Thankfully Glass still hadn’t found their shooting boots, though in the 77th minute Worawut (36) was called upon to make a simply stunning save from a close-range header from Surachat. Minutes later, Pakorn curled another free kick just wide of the post, before the referee blew for full time to the considerable relief of the away fans.

There were some pathetic, embarrassing scenes after the final whistle as the Port players were joined on the pitch by the owner, management, coaches & sundry other hangers-on for a celebratory group picture in front of the fans. Most unbecoming for a proud club like Port to be celebrating a 0-0 draw in this way. We’re not Super Power or some T3 team celebrating a giant-killing; getting a point at Glass is a good result but that’s as far as it goes, and certain people at the club really need to have a look at themselves if they think this kind of behaviour is befitting.

Anyway, this was a very encouraging performance from Port. Zico had clearly done his homework on Glass and, whilst their quality meant they had plenty of chances, they didn’t boss the midfield the way they did in the home fixture and were generally restricted to long range shots. Yossawat is clearly a more defensive player than Panpanpong and whilst we missed the latter’s forward runs down the left, the defence felt a lot more secure with the youngster in it. Likewise, new boy Pummared was a cooler head in defensive midfield than Ittipol or Adisorn and his performance surely means we’ll be seeing more of him. Port chances were few & far between with Josimar playing much deeper than usual and Zico thankfully opting not to use Tana (99), though Wuttichai made a combative late appearance. All in all a very good point from a team that looks fitter, sharper and better organised than under Jadet. The Zico Revolution starts here.

 

Man of the Match – David Rochela (22)

I’ve said it before – Rochela is so consistently excellent that we take good performances from him for granted. But last night he was massive, particularly in the first half when playing without his trusted lieutenant Dolah (4). A typically disciplined, influential and occasionally backs-to-the-wall shift from the Port captain. Top marks also for Pakorn, Worawut, Siwakorn and Pummared who also impressed me.

 

“The Port Family is Happy” says Rochela

 

In an exclusive interview with the Sandpit this week, Port captain David Rochela spoke to us about the club’s impressive first half of the season and shared his thoughts on what the rest of the season may hold.

“I think all the Port family is happy with 7th place and 28 points” he told us, adding that in his opinion Port’s best performance was the 3-1 win at Chiang Rai Utd. “They were on top of the league” David said, “but after Worawut’s penalty save we worked really hard and showed good team spirit, and I think we deserved the three points.” And what about those somewhat ‘high-spirited’ foreign fans in the tunnel? “Haha, we were shocked! We expected to see fans in the stadium but not in the tunnel. It was really funny!”

But whilst Port have had some excellent results against the top clubs this season, including that win at Chiang Rai, a win at Muangthong and a draw against Buriram, the team have struggled against weaker teams, with disappointing results against the likes of Thai Honda, Pattaya Utd and Sisaket, and David has no doubt as to what the problem is.

“We spoke in preseason and I told you that I had really good feelings for this season” he said. “If everyone concentrates we can do great things. But in T1 any team can beat another so you need extra concentration against small teams. The motivation must be the same against top teams or small ones.”

But despite Port’s occasional lapses, David is happy with coach Jadet’s consistent tactical approach. He told us: “Since we started the league we are using this 4-5-1 formation, with Sergio up front with Josimar or a little bit deeper. The team feels comfortable with this so I’m not really keen to do to many tactical changes.”

Of his teammates, David singles out two of his colleagues in particular for praise. “I’ve been impressed with Nitipong and Adisorn” he said. “I’ve known them for a long time but this season they are playing with more confidence and showing what they can do, which is a lot.”

And what about the second half of the season? Whilst many of us are excitedly dreaming of a top 6 finish or better, David’s ambitions are more modest. “To be honest I’m still looking at the table starting from the bottom” he said. “When we get enough points to be safe in T1 I will start to look up. I hope we can stay middle of the table without problems.”

As do we all! Big thanks as usual for your time David, and good luck for the rest of the season!

 

The Season So Far: The Pit Pundits’ Picks

 

Following my recent review of the season so far, the Sandpit team got together and selected our highlights of the first six games – best player, best match, best goal. Here are our choices – feel free to share yours in the comments or on Facebook.

 

Dominick Cartwright

 

Best Player: Rattanai (17)

Not my first choice for keeper at the start of the season. I would have gone with Worawut (36). But Rattanai has proved me wrong, and Tom right. Even in our dismal away games he has offered a sterling last line of defence. Those dismal defeats could have been even worse. He’s really shown his mettle not letting his head drop in defeat, and being there to shore up the points when we have a chance at some.

Also Keith has come up with a song for him, so I want him starting every game to give us a chance to sing a new song:

Rattanai’s in the goal, what is he gonna do?

Rattanai’s in the goal, what is he gonna do?

He’s gonna save that shot, That’s what he’s gonna do

He’s gonna save that shot

 

(To the tune of Rat in me Kitchen by UB40)

 

Best Match: Suphanburi Home (3-2)

Why do I love football? It’s unscripted drama. If you wrote this game as a script, it would not be convincing at all, just not realistic enough. 1-0 up and the Port faithful are celebrating 3 points already. Then the home crowd are stunned by 2 Suphan goals. Then Tana’s great equaliser. (See best goal pick for a description). Then my favourite moment of the game – all the other players were celebrating the excellent equaliser, meanwhile Suarez was running to the net, he picked up the ball and brought it back to the centre circle for the restart. He wasn’t happy with 1 point; he wanted the win. Then the man who has shown he wants it most, steps up and gets the winner. You couldn’t write a better ending.
 
 

 
 

Best Goal: Tana vs Suphanburi

Tana (99) is not everyone’s favourite striker; he has his faults. But for me I’d give him 45 minutes of any game – he can create chances when there’s not much on, and he always seems to be in the right place. Against Suphanburi he was loitering outside the area, Genki (18) saw him and teed him up well. Tana deftly curled the ball into the top corner, giving us a chance of 3 points in that game. I’m biased on this one, because I was standing right behind the top corner of the goal in Zone D. I genuinely had a moment of disbelief as the ball sailed in. Was that in or just over? Oh it’s in, lets go fucking mental!

 

Tom Earls

 

Best Player: Rattanai (17)

This is a tricky one, but I’m going with the man who I voted for in February’s Player of the Month competition. I was in the minority then, and expect I’ll be in the minority again here, but I just can’t get enough of Port’s baby-faced boy wonder Rattanai. Yes Rochela has been excellent, and yes he brings more to the team with his leadership and guidance than anyone else, but Rattanai has come up with some outstanding performances which have undoubtedly been worth a few points to Port already this season. One mistake against Suphanburi (which fortunately ended up not costing Port) aside, Rattanai has caught everything that has come anywhere near him, shown excellent decision making and has made some lightning-fast reactions stops.
 
Probably the best example of Rattanai’s importance to the team came when he was dropped for the 5-1 drubbing at Honda. Whilst comparing him to Weera would be about as useful about comparing him to a boiled egg, it gave Port fans a glimpse of what it would be like not to have a reliable keeper between the sticks. Scary stuff. Please don’t leave him out again!

 

Best Match: Buriram Home (0-0)

It may not have had the twists and turns of the epic 3-2 win over Suphanburi, or the last minute drama of the 1-1 draw with Ratchaburi, but this was a high intensity, high quality game where Port proved they can compete with anyone on their day. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff. Man of the Match Adisorn couldn’t get a game in central midfield in Division 1 last season, yet had probably the best game of his career, coming out on top against Buriram’s star-studded midfield. Todsapol came in to the side having not played a minute of competitive football in 2017, and looked outstanding against two of the most dangerous forwards in T1. Port, who flopped to a 5-1 defeat at Thai Honda just 4 days earlier and got thumped by the same scoreline last time they hosted Champions Buriram in 2015 were not expected to even be competitive, but defied the odds with a performance full of heart. Port could even have won if not for a miraculous point-blank save from the Buriram keeper. All in front of a sell-out crowd of *ahem* 6,900 people who turned PAT Stadium in to a cauldron where Port just refuse to lose in 2017!
 
 

 
 

Best Goal: Siwakhorn vs Bangkok Utd

For me, there can only really be two candidates here. Siwakorn vs. Bangkok Utd and Tana vs. Suphanburi. Siwakorn’s screamer came at 3-0 down in a 6-2 mauling whereas Tana’s thunderbastard drew Port level in a game they ended up winning 3-2. The skinny wizard’s moment of magic may have been to no avail, but I’m giving it to him for the way he glided past the defender before curling it over the keeper’s head. Tana’s was an outstanding goal, but I think he had slightly less to do when he picked the ball up.
 
 

 
 

Tim Russell

 

Best Player: David Rochela

When Spit claimed in a pre-season article that Rochela was underrated, we scoffed. How could the guy who’d won the 2016 Player of the Year award with a landslide possibly be underrated? But now I think I know what he meant. Rochela is so good, week in week out, that we take his excellence for granted and barely notice it any more. So far this season he’s been as consistent as ever, mopping up at the back, reading the game well and intercepting header after header, and his performances against Ratchaburi and Buriram in particular were little short of heroic. God help us if he ever gets injured or moves on.

 

Best Match: Suphanburi Home (3-2)

If Ratchaburi was a relatively gentle reintroduction to the delights of T1, Suphanburi was a classic all-action balls-out thriller, the kind of game we missed during our brief sojourn into the lower leagues last season. Yes, Port rode their luck at times and benefitted from Adul, who had been Suphan’s star player up to that point, getting a red card; but the intensity and workrate of the Port players was something to behold, particularly Suarez, who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the later stages and scored the winner in what was his best performance so far in a Port shirt. Simply one of the most exciting games I’ve seen at the PAT.

 

Best Goal: Genki vs Ratchaburi

OK, technically and aesthetically it may not be Port’s best goal of the season, but in terms of determination and timing it was perfect. 0-1 down after 94 minutes in their first game back in the TPL – and their first home game for nearly 6 months – Port won a free kick to the right of the Ratchaburi box. Pakorn swung it into the box and Genki threw himself at it Keith Houchen-style to head it in, sparking scenes of utter delirium on the terraces and the first ever airing of the Human League “Genki Nagasato” chant. Best moment of the season so far.
 
 

 

Spit in the Sandpit: Overrated/Underrated

 

 

Every now and again I hope to share with you my personal list of underrateds and overrateds at Port FC…..

 

Underrated- Midfielder Rodrigo Maranho. #29. Wow. This Brazilian was dazzling to watch. He scored some of the prettiest goals I’ve seen in Thai football.  I guess he fell out of favour with team management but he can take a lot of the credit for Ports success in 2016.

 

Overrated- Forward Hironori Saruta (2014-2015).The chant “Sa-ru-ta!” was loud and clear at PAT stadium for two seasons. But I never drank the Saruta kool-aid. I ended up just shaking my head  whenever the Japanese forward would dippsy doodle just inside the box and then (if he didn’t dive to draw a penalty) he would hit a strike that seemed to always go wide or sail over the crossbar. Saruta scored just 6 goals for Port in 62 appearances. Maybe the chant should have been “ WTF Sa-ru-ta?”

 

Underrated– Defender David Rochela. #22 I know, I know, how can Port FC’s player of the year be underrated? I think I saw at least a dozen matches this past season where I’m sure Rochela was the only Port player who knew what to do with a football. I’m serious! He was always saving our butts.

 

Overrated- Muangthong United FC…..sorry I have to get in at least one obligatory poke at MTU.

 

Overrated- The new fancy video scoreboard in zone D. Yes, it’s a pleasant upgrade to the old  scoreboard that more than half the stadium of supporters couldn’t see. All the old scoreboard would give you is…time of day and home 01 visitors 00. The new video scoreboard will actually show you match time! Wow, technology! But where’s video replays, scores from other matches? or where are the close ups of Madame Pang?

 

Underrated- I can go to a Port home game at PAT stadium and pay 100 baht for my ticket, 60 baht for a large beer, and buy some delicious finger food for another oh let’s say 40 baht. Total cost for a Port FC experience…200 baht. That same 200 baht wouldn’t even pay for parking at BC Place stadium, home of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. A Port FC match is incredibly good value.