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Kim to Go, Go to Come

 

The Sandpit has been sitting on the Port transfer story of the winter for the last couple of weeks now, awaiting the nod from those involved to go public. The story hit the Korean media yesterday and has now reached Thailand so here goes (although the club have yet to officially confirm it): Port have signed former Buriram midfielder Go Seul-Ki!

The big box-to-box midfielder joins Port from the Isaan club after spending 2018 back in his native South Korea on loan at Incheon Utd. 32-year old Ki has an AFC Champions League medal from Ulsan Hyundai, as well as two TPL medals, a Thai FA Cup medal and two Thai League Cup medals from his time at Buriram. Port have apparently fought off five other Korean clubs who were after his services for next season, so it’s quite a coup.

Along with the signing of Bangkok Utd midfielder Sumanya, it’s an exciting deal for Port – Ki is pure quality and adds a bit of steel to a midfield that has looked very lightweight these last couple of seasons. And if 2019 is indeed Madame Pang’s final season, it’s clear she intends to leave with a bit of silverware.

Ki’s arrival means that one of the club’s existing foreigners has to make way, and we believe that will be his fellow Korean Kim Sung Hwan, who will leave on loan, with Suphanburi having been mentioned as a possible destination. Kim had his moments last season but was way too inconsistent, and there’s no doubt that Ki is a massive upgrade. Exciting times for Port fans!

 

Purple Reign: Muangthong Utd 0-2 Port FC

 

Despite the absence of their usual vociferous away support, Port travelled to the Ballardian wastelands of Muangthong and, for the second season running, came away with a win, which takes them to the top of T1. A couple of thousand Port fans turned up to watch the match on the PAT scoreboard, and created probably the best atmosphere at any Thai league game this weekend.

 


 

The times they are a-changin’, and Port headed to the Theatre of Corrugated Iron with arguably the stronger squad, confident of getting a result against a Muangthong side whose star is definitely beginning to fade. Yes, they might have two of T1’s greatest SFSs (Heberty & Jaja), but when the best you can offer in midfield is professional model and occasional (and ludicrously overrated) footballer Charyl Chappuis, you’re in for a long old season.

Jadet made one change from last week’s win over Pattaya, replacing Adisorn with new Korean signing Kim Sung Hwan; but the formation remained an attacking one with Pakorn & Nurul on the flanks and Boskovic spearheading the attack.

The game kicked off in front of swathes of empty seats at the SCG (though it did fill up by half-time), and the atmosphere was certainly a lot better at the PAT, despite those of us unwisely choosing to sit in Zone B requiring the Hubble Telescope to see the screen. What followed was a classic, packed with action & incident, and a great advertisement for how far Thai football has progressed as a spectacle in recent years.

Port, sporting their new purple away kit, made the early running and should’ve taken the lead on 5 minutes when some lovely interplay between new boys Nurul (31) and Kevin (97) resulted in a golden chance for Nurul, but he fluffed his shot and it went straight to the keeper. But 2 minutes later Port got the goal their lively start deserved, in a goal rich in irony. Left-back Kevin had already been announced as a Muangthong player when Port stepped in & gazumped them, and Pakorn’s (7) excellent free-kick was nodded into his own net by Peerapat – who would’ve been on the bench had the Kevin deal gone through.

 

 

The early goal was just what Port needed for Jadet to carry out his tactical masterplan, and they began soaking up wave after wave of MTU attacks, with the brilliant duo of Kim (8) and Siwakorn (16) bossing the midfield, and Rochela (22) his usual calm self at the back. Muangthong’s much vaunted duo of Heberty & Jaja were barely getting a sniff, and last week’s hat-trick hero Chenrop spending more time in Kevin’s pocket than his phone. Even an early injury to Bumrungrad loyalty card holder Todsapol (6) couldn’t disrupt Port, with Dolah (4) seamlessly replacing him.

Muangthong did occasionally carve out chances, hitting the bar on 15 minutes and Worawut (36) spectacularly saving a long-range Heberty strike on 17, but the manner in which Port were managing the game, rather than running around like headless chickens as was so often the case last year, was very impressive indeed. They made it to HT with their lead intact, and for once Operation Fuckup felt like a distant memory.

As expected, Muangthong came storming out in the second half, and as we’d moved closer to the scoreboard, we could actually see what was going on, as Worawut (having possibly his best game in a Port shirt) made another flying stop from a 46th minute Sarach thunderbastard. But Port continued to threaten on the break and on 49 minutes Suarez, who was having one of his invisible nights, volleyed narrowly over the crossbar after being put through by Nurul. Kevin also tried the spectacular on the hour mark with a Roberto Carlos-style volley from far out left, which again only just cleared the crossbar.

Muangthong had been warned, and on 65 minutes Port’s grip on the game tightened with a beautifully worked goal. A long pass from Suarez found Nitipong (34) in acres of space on the right, and the little right-back skipped past an MTU defender before squaring a delightful pass back to the Spaniard who buried it in the back of the net, sparking euphoric scenes at the PAT. Like last season, Port were winning at the SCG; unlike last season, they were bossing the game and from this point the result was never in much doubt, and although Jaja had the ball in the net seconds later, it was correctly disallowed for offside.

Indeed, it could have been much worse for the hosts before the final whistle, with Nurul heading narrowly wide and Boskovic (23) being denied by the Muangthong keeper. Even Kim tried to get in on the act 3 minutes into stoppage time with an outrageous free kick attempt – not sure what the Korean for “taking the piss” is, but he was definitely doing it.

 

There ain’t no party like a Sandpit party

 

After the final whistle the Sandpit was the venue for scenes of celebration not seen at Port in a long time, with the farang and local fans sharing songs (they still haven’t learned “Shit on the Muangthong” yet but we intend to make it happen), beers and other intoxicants (let’s just say one of those beer stall guys is a marketing genius), in further evidence that, even when there’s no game on, the PAT is the best place to experience football in Thailand. I eventually found myself with fellow Sandpitter Tom Earls in a craft beer bar in the wilds of Punnawithi having utterly unnecessary late beers, and I awakened this morning with a throbbing head and a rasping voice. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

As for Port, something very special is happening here. The new players have gelled from the off, with the existing players raising their game to match them; but even more impressive was Port’s tactical mastery, sitting back, soaking up pressure, keeping Heberty & Jaja on a tight leash, and hitting MTU on the break time after time. Muangthong may have felt they were robbed last season, but they can have no complaints this time round. With Kim taking his place in the team the jigsaw is finally complete, and with Port sitting on top of T1 after 2 games, fans now have realistic hopes of them staying there for a good while longer.

 

Sandpit Man of the Match: Kim Sung Hwan

As with last week’s game there were MOTM performances all over the pitch. Keeper Worawut had an absolute stormer of a game; Kevin justified Jadet’s claim that he’s the best LB in Thailand with a stunning display (Panpanpong now seems just a bad memory); Pakorn was superb down the right; Rochela was flawless; and Siwakorn was his usual busy self in midfield.

But this week’s MOTM award has to go to Kim, who oozed class, authority and leadership from the whistle. Port have lacked a leader on the pitch for a long, long time, but in the big, physical, classy Korean they finally have one. He may not speak English or Thai but he certainly manages to tell his teammates where he wants them, and Port look like a different team with him sitting in front of the defence.

 

Tom’s Transfer Talk: Bodin Well

 

Port returned to training on Wednesday, which means we can now definitively confirm a few more transfers.

Bodin Phala has become the third winger to sign for Port in this transfer window, meaning that competition for places is really going to be heating up in pre-season between Pakorn and new boys Bodin, Nurul and Chakrit. Bodin signs from champions Buriram, but has a surprising Port connection from his youth. Bodin played for Port Futsal Club as a teenager in 2013, and from there made the switch to football with Rangsit. He was quickly spotted by Bangkok Glass where he soon became a regular, after which he was signed by Chiang Rai and then Buriram. Port are believed to have paid about 7 million baht for Bodin, who broke in to the national team alongside fellow new signing Nurul in the last couple of years.

 

 

Kim Sung-Hwan – whose signing we were first to announce what seems like ages ago – has also been seen at training, and taken his obligatory photo with Madame Pang. We were starting to worry that no one else seemed to be mentioning Port’s new Korean defensive midfielder, but they caught up with us eventually and reported his free transfer from Ulsan Hyundei in the last few days.

 

 

Port have also finally been linked with an ASEAN player, suggesting that they may intend to bring in a player to fill the newest part of the 3+1+1 quota. An 18 year old Burmese player was been spotted wearing the number 15 shirt at training, although he is as yet nameless and we’re not sure what position he plays. We will let you know more about this when we do!

 

 

We also have a couple of confirmed departures, neither of which are at all surprising. Central defender Anisong Chareantham, whose number 15 shirt our new Burmese friend is wearing, has moved to Nong Bua Pitchaya, where he will play alongside former Port left back Suchon next season. Lost boy and reported central midfielder Siwapong Jarernsin has also moved on after an unsuccessful spell in Khlong Toei where he did a pretty poor job impersonating a professional footballer.

 

Anisong Chareantham (l) and Siwpong Jarernsin (r)

 

When it comes to gossip, not much has changed in the hunt for a foreign striker since Monday’s Transfer Talk, although we have seen one very optimistic addition to Port’s star-studded wish-list. It seems very much like Port are still in the frame to sign superstars Jaja Coelho and Dragan Boskovic, and the most recent addition is former Muangthong striker Cleiton Silva, who has being banging in goals for fun in Thailand for years. His success earned him a big move to China, where he has continued to perform well, netting 17 times in 26 games for Shanghai Shenxin. File this one under ‘speculative’. No progress appears to have been made with Jaja or Boskovic, who are the targets Port are really working on bringing in.

On the exit front there are a couple of new rumours, such as promising talk linking Tana with Khonkaen FC, who have just been promoted to T2. Last year they spent big on foreign players Romain Gasmi and Darko Tasevski, so it seems within the realms of possibility that they are willing to pay Tana’s substantial wage demands to bring him back to a level more suited to his abilities.

 

 

Elias Dolah has also been linked with a move to Bangkok Glass, who tried to sign him when he came to Port. Our source says that Port have received several offers for Dolah, but he will be staying where he is. With their lack of depth at the back, Port should certainly be loath to consider letting Dolah go, as he was first choice centre half for the vast majority of 2017.

Finally, Wuttichai and Piyachart have repeatedly been linked with moves away from PAT Stadium, and it seems likely that both will be moving on before too long. Piyachart may be holding out for a T1 offer, as he had a successful loan spell with Ubon in the second half of 2017, but Wuttichai will likely settle for a T2 berth at his hometown club Sisaket. The Sandpit will be eagerly anticipating the 0-0 draw that is virtually guaranteed when striking legends Wuttichai and Tana face off in T2 next season. That’s if either of them can get a game in T2.

 

Tom’s Transfer Talk: Hwan Love

 

Tom’s Transfer Talk is back a little earlier than expected! Usually we have to wait until the end of the season to start talking confirmed signings, but this season Port have got stuck in to their transfer business early and there are already two pretty-much confirmed signings, with one more that is likely to be confirmed in the near future. As always, bear in mind that even transfers that have already been confirmed can quickly become unconfirmed. We do our best to separate the rumours from the reality, but it’s a tricky business!

 

Kim Sung-Hwan

 

The headline news is the arrival of 30 year old Kim Sung-Hwan, a tall South Korean who will add strength and experience to Port’s midfield. With Genki having said his goodbyes to PAT Stadium last Saturday, Kim will be taking the AFC foreigner spot in 2018. He arrives from Korean powerhouse Ulsan Hyundai, who he has played 83 games for since 2013, and captained several times in 2017. I haven’t seen him in action yet – besides this Youtube clip – but Ulsan are one of the top teams in the K League, so Port fans can expect to be signing an excellent player. So far, so good…

 

Chakrit Rawanprakone

 

Port’s other confirmed arrival is Chakrit Rawanprakone, a left-footed forward/winger who has joined from Korat. Chakrit was in and out of the Korat first team in 2017, scoring 4 goals and providing 2 assists. He has been brought in to challenge for the left-wing berth, which already has many suitors in Port’s squad, although a few of those are likely to move on in the transfer window. Yes, Tana and Narakorn, I’m looking at you.

 

Athibordee Atirat

 

A third reported but as-yet unconfirmed signing is Athibordee Atirat, a versatile 25 year old also from Korat. Swatcats’ occasional captain Athibordee can play at the back or in midfield, so should be a useful guy to have around, but is unlikely to be in the first XI. The new Ittipol, basically. Athibordee has apparently already been seen training at PAT Stadium, so this one is in the ‘very likely’ column.

Here are a few conclusions I’m drawing from Port’s little shopping spree.

  • Getting transfers done early is usually a good idea. The more time the new players have to train together and get used to the club, the better the team likely to start the season.
  • The biggest weakness in Port’s first XI has been identified and addressed. Having Kim in the team in place of Adisorn should make a huge difference.
  • Port’s two Thai transfers may not be particularly inspiring, but at least we’ve upgraded our bargain basement from BBCU to Korat.

Stay tuned for more transfer news. There will be a lot of moving and shaking in the coming weeks, and as always we’ll do our best to keep you updated.