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2020 Vision: Muangthong Utd

 

Ignoring the old saying about saving the best ’til last, we finish our series of 2020 season previews with our old friends Muangthong Utd. After a season in which they flirted with relegation and lost to Port three times, can Gama get the Kirins, who lost to Port three times last season, back on track? Or will they struggle – and lose to Port three times – again? They’ve already lost to Port once and the season hasn’t even started. We hear from not one but two MTU fans, Gian Chansrichawla and Kenneth Lim, on their hopes and fears for the new season.

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The Best Cup of Leo Ever: Port FC 2-1 Muangthong Utd (Leo Cup Final)

 

 

Frankly it couldn’t have been scripted better, we won the biggest preseason prize on offer (Champions’ Cup? Never heard of it). Beating bitter cross-town rivals, having come from a goal down, thanks to an injury time winner scored by their former goal scoring hero.

The evening started like a lazy metaphor for Ports preseason. We jumped in a taxi, we knew where we wanted to end up, as did the driver but with three different voices articulating three different routes, all we achieved was to start out going in wrong direction, then a double back and a finally a loop before finally we headed into the countryside north of Bangkok and the mythical land of Leo where Port go to collect silverware. What was clear on arrival was that we were to be outnumbered, as the place was swarming with MTU fans. There was a strange atmosphere with people unsure whether it was better to scowl at the sworn enemy you’ve been the deprived the chance of “propa nawty straighter” with for years by the powers that be. Or make like Thai football fans and clink plastic glasses and get a selfie with everyone you meet. The later won though and hopefully come April our friends (there are limits) from Legoland will be allowed to come and witness a fifth straight victory for Port in the scum v slum derby.

For Port there were raft of changes as Rattani (17), Jaturapat(81), Bodin (10) and Chenrop (39) replaced Warawut (36), Steuble (15), Herberty (37) and Adisak (9). While Kevin (23) was back on the bench. Any doubt regarding if the players would treat this as preseason kick about or go for the full blood and thunder effort of a derby was almost instantly put to bed, as Derley (87) tangled with Go(8), a bit of a shirt pull by the Brazilian and some encouragement for the Korean to get on with the game followed. Seconds later from the resulting Port free kick, Go receives the same treatment from then same player and reacts by taking a swipe at the Brazilian. Whilst it wasn’t the fall blown elbow to the face that Delrey and the most of the Muangthong players and staff implied, it was clearly the kind of act that players can and will be sent off for, fortunately the referee decided to be lenient (or maybe it was karma for the Chiang Rai finishing Sundays game without seeing red). There after the game settled down somewhat, there was still niggle from both sides and neither team were able to establish clear domination. Then in the 19th minute Curren (27) got behind Jaturapat on the Muangthong right and fired a cross to the far post where Delrey had fount some space and fires his header downwards into the corner of the goal. Nobody involved in the process for Port covered themselves in glory.

Moments later Suarez (5) reacted to a foul by Saharat (25), whilst it was part of the weekly incessant sly digs and fouls our Sergio has to endue, to throw the ball at the opposition player is silly and invites trouble, once again the ref chose not to punish the Port player. The ensuing Port free kick resulted in a Muangthong break ended by a great saving tackle by Jaturapat and the bizarre sight of Pakorn (7) being the last defender as the counter was repelled. There was still time for a couple more yellows firstly to Curren who looks an excellent acquisition and coped well with all that Port threw at him especially whilst on a yellow. Whilst Siwakorn (16) collected one for an unnecessary foul of a player going nowhere because that’s what Siwakorn does. And so ended the first half, very little between the two teams, Muangthong created the one decent chance and took it.

The second half started in much the same vein as Popp(19) sent a hopeful pop shot (like that wasn’t getting used) wide for Muangthong and at the other end Suarez did the same stretching to reach a cross. Then on the 51 minutes Adisak(9) was introduced for Chenrop (39), who if nothing else had put a shift in for the cause and we got to see if Adisak would work as an impact substitute. A couple of minutes later Delrey set about balancing up the Port misdemeanours of the first half, as in 15 seconds he managed to throw an arm in Dolah’s (4) face and then kicked the ball in to the his body having tripped up him up and stood on his ankle, in between the two. The Brazilian had now been sucked into a running battle with Dolah, a situation that always pleases the big fella as striker more interested in getting a dig in, rarely contributes much for the cause and on the rare occasion Muangthong got the ball into Port territory this was the case with Delrey for the remainder of the match. Which meant the burden fell on his strike partner Popp, who’s evening was high on endeavour and low on end product.

From here on Port gained the upper hand, Go saw a shot beat Van Lam (1) but go just wide of the post. Kevin (23) replaced Jaturapat and such was the dominance of Port he would basically play as a winger with Bodin (10) drifting into more central positions. On the right Tanaseth (11) replaced Pakorn. The little fella lit the game up from the moment he came on. In a checkered preseason, the arrival from Suphanburi, has been the major bright spot. You get the sense he will be this seasons fans favourite, the lineage runs strongly though the years I’ve watched Port, Saruta, Ekkapoom, Terans, even Nurul, all diminutive wide men, all loved by the masses. Along with Bodin he looks capable of producing the kind of football that has you thinking with 15 minutes to go in a final a goal down to your biggest rivals, even if its as bad as the worst doom monger predicts it’ll still be worth going just to watch these lads play. Flicks, whirling limbs, swagger, tricks, questionable hair cuts, its was all on display as Port pushed for an equalizer.

Which finally came in 82nd minute, Kanarin (31) who had come on Siwakorn, collected the ball, took a moment, looked up and found Tanasith who beat a defender and from the right squared a ball to Adisak who with his back to goal found Go centrally on the edge of the box, who wouldn’t refuse a second opportunity to place a shot into the corner. Could Van Lam have done better probably, was he wrong footed or unsighted possible. Did anyone behind the goal care, no not one bit. Port weren’t done yet as a moment later Suarez beat the hapless keeper but saw his shot go just wide.

Worst was to come for the stopper, with the game in injury time and discussion ongoing as to if we were going directly to penalties as previously in the competition or with this being a final we would see extra time that you felt would result in a Port win. A thought that might also have been on the mind of Muangthong’s “are you sure you’re big enough to be a centre back” centre back Promsupa (15 and 5ft9), who dwelled for a moment and saw substitute Nattawut (45) nip in and nick the ball, his little legs can’t keep up with our blonde haired hero who plays a pass across the goal to Adisak who slides it into the bottom corner. Que pandemonium behind the goal. There was still time for Bangkok’s third team to throw everything at Port but ultimately it came to nothing. So 2020 starts as 2019 ended with Port collecting silverware. Anyone thinking it was a meaningless cup didn’t see Gama’s little face as he led his players off without watching the victors lift the cup.

In typical Port style the evening wasn’t done, as their was still time for Dom to be bloodied battling for a Worarut shirt and leaving the stadium and some distance from the players area, we encounter the trophy being passed around by the assembled Port fans seemingly without anyone from the club around.

 

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Tanasith

He only came on for 25 minutes but as soon as he did the mood of the match changed. Might as well give him the player of the season award if he performs like that every week.

 

Three Time Losers: Port FC 2-0 Muangthong Utd

 

 

“I’m a three time loser
Fucked it up in Khlongtoey
Fucked it up in Muangthong Thani
Now my friends say it’s here to stay”

(Rod Stewart, ‘Three Time Loser‘, 1975)

 

The Choketawee era continued to delight and amaze on Sunday. After inflicting Cheating Chiang Rai’s first FA Cup defeat since 2016 on Wednesday, Port finally beat Muangthong at home for the first time in ten years. Following league and cup wins at the SCG, it was Port’s third win over the Kirins this season alone. What a week.

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The Same Old ‘Thong: Fans Banned from SCG on Wednesday

 

As predicted, Port have confirmed to The Sandpit that the away fan ban at Muangthong will remain in place for this Wednesday’s last 16 FA Cup clash. The usual copout, which if course much easier than putting measures in place to ensure away fans’ safety. With the recent cooling of rivalry after MTU fans came to the PAT to pay their respects to the Port fans lost in a road accident, it seemed that common sense would prevail and away fans be allowed back in, but sadly once again one of the biggest derbies in Thai football will be away fans only.

No word as yet whether Port will be showing the game on a ‘big’ screen, but with the match not apparently being shown on TV, this could prove difficult. Add in the Buddhist Lent alcohol ban, and the two sides’ current form, and it looks like being a pretty miserable Wednesday for Port fans…

UPDATE

There are now 3 tasty options for watching the game:

Live on TV (True HD3)

At our sponsors The Sportsman

At the PAT, where we hear a big screen will be erected for the occasion

 

 

The Cup that Cheers: Port Draw Muangthong in Chang FA Cup

 

The draw for the round of 16 in the Chang FA Cup just took place, and to the obvious excitement of all involved, Port have been drawn away at deadly rivals Muangthong Utd. We said we wanted an easy draw and whilst this isn’t the T3 or T4 team we could’ve drawn, it’s at a ground where Port haven’t lost since 2015 and where they’ve won on their last three visits. Striker Josimar Rodrigues, who absolutely loves scoring against MTU, will be back at Port by then giving us additional hope of a place in the QFs.

The game will take place on Wednesday 17 July, KO time to be confirmed. As yet there is no word on whether Port fans will be allowed to attend but, based on our experience of the away league game, we’re guessing it’s no. But it’s another chance for the players to get more stamps on their SCG Nightclub membership cards – surely 4 stamps entitles you to a free bottle of champers?

 

 

Football’s Coming Home – to T2: Muangthong Utd 1-2 Port FC

 

 

The most exciting derby game in Thai football came round again, and for another season away fans were banned, rather than the clubs getting together to sort things out. Some fans watched from home, a few sneaked into SCG Stadium undercover, some watched in the pub, and loads of Pot fans went to Go Dang stadium to watch on the big screen. I was thinking about going to the SCG in my Vietnam shirt (to get it signed by Muangthong keeper Dang Van Lam) but decided I was better going somewhere where a hooligan like me could make some noise!

My last visit to Muangthong was a bit of a nightmare as I ran out of the away end in fear of flying beers and ice, later followed by my husband who was soaked in beer and grinning his head off. When we saw guys in black masks trying to get into the home end we realised it was time to get the hell out, leaving a lot of trouble behind us.

 

We got to Go Dang around 6pm – we’re not futsal fans so skipped the game in favour of Pala Pizza before arriving at Port’s ‘other’ home to find a big Songkran party with DJs, foam machine, water cannons, kids’ paddling pools and bikini dancers on the big screen. This is Thailand 🙂 A few people were a bit annoyed with the water and trying to keep their phones dry, but we found a good place near the screen, put our mats down and waited for kick-off/

Unfortunately when it did start we ended up watching a constantly buffering screen from a shitty internet stream with no sound, whilst most of the fans ignored the game to continue celebrating Songkran. After 10 minutes of this we gave up and jumped in a taxi to The Sportsman to join the numerous fans who’d already left. So I missed the first 27 minutes of the game – forgive me for not writing about them, though apparently I didn’t miss much.

 

Port set up with a 4-4-2, with Suarez (presumably injured) replaced by Sumanya (11). In-form Bodin (10) kept his place and there were no other changes. Watchara (1) also started again and made a stunning acrobatic save from a Heberty free-kick on 35 minutes.

The second half started with a nice pass from Sumanya to Bodin and our boy didn’t let us down with an amazing goal past Van Lam. 1-0 to Port and it was pandemonium at The Sportsman as we celebrated a superb goal.

On 55 minutes Boskovic (23) gave the ball away in midfield and a superb pass from Heberty set Theerasil through, but Watchara made a superb save from the La Liga/J-League dropout. Straight after Port went down the other end and a superb pass from Pakorn picked out Sumanya in the box; he calmly sidefooted it to Nitipong (34) who gleefully buried it into an empty net for 2-0, a mere 10 minutes into the second half. An awesome spell of football.

Port were beginning to tire from the intensity of the game so Jadet made a couple of changes: Sumanya with his two assists was replaced by the White Blood Cell himself, Athibordee (35), and the injured Bodin replaced by Pele himself, Arthit (29) to the delight of the Port fans present. MTU also made some changes to try and get back into the game, with Chappuis from those adverts on the BTS coming on in midfield and blasting a shot wide of the goal within minutes of his arrival. But with 10 minutes to go MTU did get back into it with some nice play from Heberty down the right to pick out the unmarked Weerawut in the Port area who stroked the ball into the net to make it 2-1.

Could Port hang on to keep the 3 points? There were near-heart attacks in The Sportsman as MTU continued to attack, and my throat (and middle finger) got sore waiting for the whistle. Finally, after a ridiculous 5 minutes’ injury time, the whistle blew and Port went 4 points clear a the top and, the cherry on the cake, Muangthong went bottom – I couldn’t have been any happier. The game clearly wasn’t over for Boskovic who had to be restrained by his teammates from attacking an MTU player (or players) for as yet unknown reasons – probably just Bosko’s well-known and fully understandable dislike of Muangthong.

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Nitipong

Watchara made some great saves, Go Seul-Ki was superb in midfield, and Bodin scored a beautiful goal. But my MOTM is Niti, who not only got a rare goal but was also back to his best in defence.

 

 

Penthouse & Pavement: Muangthong Utd vs Port FC Match Preview

 

UPDATE 18 APRIL – the FAT announced late yesterday that away fans are banned from this fixture and the return fixture at the PAT. A ridiculous face-saving measure which of course saves both clubs from having to put proper security measures in place, particularly Muangthong where the trouble has previously occurred. Jesus it’s hard to defend Thai football sometimes. Anyway, we will now be watching the game at Go Dang Futsal stadium, where the game will be shown on the big screen.

 

The last time Port fans were allowed in to the SCG seems like an entirely different age. Port were in T2 and battling to get back to the top flight, whilst Muangthong were top of T1 and en route to the league title. The occasion was the second leg of the 2016 League Cup semi-final, Port coming away with a creditable 1-1 draw but losing 3-2 on aggregate overall. After which it all kicked off, and we’ve not been allowed back since.

Three years on and, as we prepare to make our long-awaited return to the SCG, things are very different. Port have the most exciting attacking team in the division and sit on top of the league, two points ahead of Buriram, whilst Muangthong are spiralling into decline – after finishing behind Port in 4th last season, this time round they find themselves joint bottom of the table with Suphanburi on 6 points after 5 defeats in their opening 7 games. As the late, great Windsor Davies would’ve said, Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

So it’s bottom vs top at the SCG this Saturday in what promises to be a thrilling game in a cracking atmosphere, the first time the fixture will play out in front of both sets of supporters since 2016. Let’s hope the atmosphere is as feisty as usual without spilling over into the nonsense we saw last time round – if you’re going to give me a beer, I prefer it passed to me rather than thrown over my head thank you very much.

 

Let Me See That ‘Thong

There’s no getting away from it – the 2018 season has been a disaster for the Kirins so far. After opening their season with defeats to bogey team Prachuap and away at Bangkok Utd, it looked like they’d steadied the ship with wins over the two Chiangs, Rai and Mai. But a run of three consecutive away games ended with three consecutive defeats at Ratchaburi, Chainat and Nakhon Ratchasima, which spelled the end of the always doomed reign of coach Pairoj. The Combover King has been replaced by Korean Yoon Jong-Hwan, so we’ll have to hope there’s no new coach bounce on Saturday.

Whilst MTU were never fancied as title contenders, even the most rabid ABM-er wouldn’t have predicted them finding themselves in a relegation scrap but make no mistake, that’s where they are. The loss of Tristan Do to rivals Bangkok Utd, the injury to Oh Ban Suk, and the returning Theerasil failing to recapture past glories have left them struggling, whilst coach Pairoj clearly didn’t like the look of new star signings Mario Gjurovski and Aung Thu, preferring to have them alongside him on the bench rather than on the pitch.

That isn’t to say Port should take their struggling rivals lightly however, as they still have T1 goal machine Heberty doing the damage up front, and new signing Dang Van Lam, one of the stars of Vietnam’s Suzuki Cup-winning side, between the sticks, and we believe Oh Ban Suk will be fit to play too. Nevertheless on current form it’s hard to see MTU causing Port too many problems – but let’s see what MTU themselves have to say, as we talk to fans Grant Aitken & Stephen Romary…

 

MTU are currently joint bottom of the league – what’s gone wrong?

 

GrantI believe, as with most sports, half the battle is psychological. Few are doubting our players’ overall ability, but we’re playing like a side devoid of any confidence. This isn’t an elite European league, but I’ll bet the players feel the burden of expectation just the same. Whatever managerial processes Muangthong currently has in place to help shoulder the expectations that come with playing for one of the countries bigger teams, it’s not working. The side looks incapable of expressing themselves and individual errors are hurting us. Whatever game plan Pairoj was trying to install, it wasn’t clear and this seems to have led to obvious hesitancies come match day.

Stephen: 1. Lack of a dynamic midfielder

2.  Ban gets injured
3. Needed a coach to lead and inspire the quality they have .. we have players to rival any team.

 

Pairoj was always a strange appointment given his somewhat limited CV – do you think the new coach will be a big step up? What does he need to do to turn things round?

 

Grant: You could argue they also took a gamble with Totchawan, who had success with teams that had limited budgets, and I think they saw similar potential with Pairoj. However, it looks like he baulked at the task. I’d have been willing to give him longer but given how quickly he has run for the nearest exit it’s perhaps a blessing he left the post so early.With Yoon Jong-Hwan now in place there can be little doubting the quality of the head coach. He was named manager of the year in Japan two seasons back, and with so many Thai players aspiring to play in that league, I’m hoping his appointment will inspire some of the younger members of the squad and relieve some of the pressure from our more established players.

Offensively we need to attack as a single unit and not merely pass the ball to our best players at every single opportunity. The full backs need to support at each attack and having two deep lying central midfielders is overkill, one should be looking to press forward every time we’re in possession. The defense is going to take longer to solidify, but with Van Lam and Oh Ban Suk in place there is potential. It’s quite apparent from his training sessions that he will focus on fitness. We struggle to get players back in position quick enough after relinquishing possession so this should help.   

Stephen: The new coach needs to lead and inspire.  Also the team has been very vulnerable on the counter….there is a need to defend from all points on the pitch.

Is relegation a genuine concern or do you expect MTU to begin climbing the table soon?

 

GrantWell, they say nobody is too big to go down, but having a bigger squad and the funds to change things during the transfer window would give is a huge advantage if things haven’t improved after a few months. I fully expect we’ll pick up points eventually, however. It’s just frustrating that we had similar issues at the start of last season and have made little progress in the meantime. If this year is used as a springboard for next season and an opportunity to blood some youth I can still enjoy the campaign, but it really should have happened last year.

 

Stephen: Relegation is not a concern.. it is early.. the team is only a few points away from the top half of the league.  Slumps are just slumps.

 

New star signings Mario & Aung Thu have hardly played – why do you think this is?

 

Grant: Mario has had some injury problems so we just need to be patient with him, he’s back in full training now. Aung Thu came with much hype but he’s not hit the ground running. Despite his breakout season last term, he’s still only 22, so dips in form are to be expected. He looks like a player in need of a confidence boost so hopefully netting at the weekend could be the start of a purple patch for him. We’re not likely to get much joy in the air against Port’s centre backs but I fancy him with the ball at his feet against either Dolah or Tosapol.

 

Stephen: Mario is a strange signing…often injured and not the player he used to be.. but he is a good morale builder and fans like him.

 

Which Port players are you most worried about facing?

 

GrantI’ve stated my admiration for Pakorn a few times and I’m always disappointed when he’s not selected for the national team squad. Even if he’s not a first 11 player, with his quality deliveries, there’s not another option like him in the country. Suarez is another player that has hurt us over the last few seasons. He does the damage that most proficient No10’s apply, but with added aggression in his game to boot. His play acting is irritating but that’s one of the few flaws in his game. I hope Lee Ho is on his game to watch the Spaniard’s late runs in to the box, we’ve been poor defending crosses this season. Those two players working in tandem is my biggest fear.

 

Stephen: Port FC have been scoring, averaging about 3 goals per game, and 9 goals over the past two matches.  Especially worrying are Sergio Suarez and Korean midfielder Sunghwan Kim (given that Kim is now playing for Suphanburi I think you should be OK – Ed).  Muangthong will need to close down these threats, but there are other players such as Thailand international Kevin Deeromram who can also put the ball into the back of the net.

 

Port & MTU games are always a feisty affair – what are you expecting from Saturday’s game? Prediction?

Grant: If we’re going to have any chance in the match we’re going to need to get a foothold in the middle of the pitch. Sumanya, Sivakorn and Seul Ki are a prickly trio. I’d love to see a few imposing challenges to rattle them at the start of the match but It’s more likely to be the other way round.Just as last year, Port look very good going forward.  I’m worried about our full backs, particularly the left hand side, but then again the players Port have in those positions have some chinks in their defensive armor too. I’ve honestly no idea how we’ll shape so I’m just looking for signs of improvement. I’ll back us for a 2-1 win, although that is based more out of optimism than expectation.

Stephen: 2-1 in favour of Muangthong .. players are hungry to prove their worth and new coach will be looking for an impact at home.

 

Lions Purring

Whilst MTU struggle, Jadet has his side purring like a finely tuned engine. After carelessly dropping points against PTT and Sukhothai, Port kickstarted their season by demolishing Trat and Prachuap 4-1 and 5-0 respectively to go top of the table after 7 games. Port have got their attacking swagger back which, combined with a very miserly defence, is making them very difficult to handle and giving us fans considerable optimism that they could be in the mixer for the title come the end of the season, especially given Buriram & Bangkok Utd’s less than impressive start.

Jadet’s only problem is deciding who to pick up front, and given his general reluctance to tinker with a winning side, one would expect him to kick off with the same attacking unit that destroyed Prachuap. But with Sumanya now available after suspension and Arthit ‘Pele’ Boochinda banging in the goals from the bench, and with star striker Boskovic struggling to hit the target (1 goal in 7 starts, and that from a penalty), Sir Det may be tempted to have a fiddle. In my opinion Port look a much more complete side with Sumanya on the pitch, but who do you drop? Siwakorn has been our player of the season so far, Suarez has finally hit form, and Bodin is finally fulfilling his enormous potential, and whilst Bosko isn’t hitting the heights, his workrate and his ability to create space for others have been phenomenal so far. So on that basis I think Jadet will stick rather than twist.

Elsewhere, the team picks itself. Cap’n Rochela returned to training this week after his opening day knee injury, but Saturday will almost certainly be too soon for him return, so Todsapol will carry on partnering Dolah in Port’s defence. Watchara started the game against Prachuap, but I expect Worawut to be back between the posts for this big game.

 

 

Prediction

It’s always hard to predict the outcome of derby games, but on the current form of both teams, I can’t see anything other than another Port win, especially given that we haven’t lost at the SCG since 2015. MTU’s new coach bounce will probably prevent a hammering, so I’m going for a repeat of last season’s 2-0 win.

 

Muangthong Utd vs Port FC, Saturday 20 April, 20:00 at SCG Stadium. If you can’t make it, please support our sponsors at The Sportsman and watch the game there on a big screen with drink discounts for Port fans. 

 

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Crystal Balls 2019: Muangthong Utd

 

With the new season a mere month away, it’s time once again to consult the runes and ask farang fans of rival clubs what they think 2019 has in store for them. And who worse, oops I meant better, to start with than our old friends (we can be nice to them now they’re behind us in the table) Muangthong Utd? So take it away Grant Aitken

 

How did your team perform in 2018? Where do they need to improve?

By our own expectations, not great. It was a turbulent season after losing key personal and changing coaches several times, so for the most part it was a case of damage limitation after starting the season poorly. We’re generally a goal threat, thanks in part to the magical feet of Heberty Fernandes, but our defensive unit needs a complete overhaul.

Transfer window – which new signings are you most excited about? Which departing players are you sorry to see go/happy to see the back of?

Aung Thu is an exciting player and Dang Van Lam will add some much needed steel to the back line, also. It’s taken me by surprise how well the board have embraced the new ASEAN quotas. It seems unrealistic prices for domestic players have forced Muangthong to cast their net farther afield this season. Familar faces, Supanan Bureet and Mario Djorovski have also been welcomed back.

On the other hand it’s a bitter blow to see Tristan Do move to a rival club, and not to a J-League team which will surely be his eventual destination. Bangkok United also took Peerapat off our hands and whilst the two transfers have been made synonymous due to their timing, the latter’s gradually declining performances have made a move away from the club less shocking. Jaja is another player whose absence will be met with indifference by fans. We also said a goodbye to Naoaki Aoyama after four years of lionhearted defensive displays. He’ll be sorely missed.

Happy with your club’s coach?

Language barriers and failure to adapt to his surroundings meant Radovan Curcic’s reign was as unremarkable as it was unproductive. I’m not surprised they selected a Thai native this time around and Pairoj’s record as as good as any currently available. I’m withholding judgment right now, but he does seem to have lifted the mood in the camp. In addition he has involved many youngsters in his preseason training programme ensuring each player has had a chance to shine. As a result a few previously unfancied candidates have worked their way into the first team, which is a pleasant surprise.

What are your realistic ambitions for the 2019 season?

Top 3 with a significantly bigger points tally than last term would be nice, but as long as were not going backwards I’ll be content for now.

The main priority for the club should be blooding the youngsters in to provide the foundations for future success. This time last year I remember watching the Coca-Cola Cup final, Munagthong U19 v Buriram U19. It was an evenly matched game with Supachok scoring a sublime late winner. However, at that point, if you’d have told me that Rattanakorn and Supachai, who were largely anonymous, would have breakout seasons, whilst academy gems, Poramet Arjvirai and Sundy Wongderee would spend the season struggling for game time I’d have scoffed. Korrawit Tasa was an unused substitute that day, however Ubon gave him a platform last season and he repaid them handsomely. I hope we do the same for those boys this year.

Which teams will be in contention for the title? Which teams will struggle to survive?

I think the top 4 will be exactly the same as last year, with us and Port being the most likely to swap positions, if any. Buriram have a mental strength that is hard to breakdown right now, even with Diogo leaving I still wouldn’t bet against them finding a way win when it matters. Regardless of what they’ve spent, I think Bangkok United’s favorite’s title is optimistic, with only a couple of their new signings improving their starting 11. I’m not sure it will be enough to stop Buriam’s reign of dominance, unfortunately.

At the other end, I see no hope for Chiang Mai United. I fancy PT Prachuap to have a bad case of 2nd season blues and Chainat’s lack of ambition will also cost them dear.

Tell us your very favourite, and your absolute least favourite, things about following your club

I’m a family man, so it’s great that I can enjoy the game out here with my wife and kids. I’m not sure I’d be as willing to do that back in England. With this being my 6th season as a regular supporter it’s also nice to have made a few friends, half of which I’m still unable to communicate with but I still get a wai or handshake out of recognition for my continued support for the team.

The least enjoyable thing about supporting Muangthong recently has been the lack of identity we showed under Curcic’s reign. Has brand of football was bland, cautious and generally negative, but then again I wouldn’t expect much less from a man that was only given a six month contract and therefore prioritized results over style. Additionally, Muangthong fans are immensely proud of our successful academy. Whether it be Kawin’s escapades in Europe, or Suphan and Thithipan’s commanding displays for Thailand. So when it the young players get neglected it really does irk the fans. I think the board are slowly starting to appreciate that our loyal fan-base does need throwing a bone every now and then. Any club with long term aspirations needs to utilize it’s youth academy, especially one with a track record as good as ours.

 

Thanks Grant! If you’d like to share your thoughts on your team’s chances this season, you can complete the questionnaire here

 

NB I apologise for using the same picture for this preview as I did for the 2018 preview, but images of Muangthong’s stadium have proved very difficult to find and this was the best I could do.

 

Seven Minutes of Madness: Port FC 2-3 Muangthong Utd

 

 

Last season Port went to Muangthong, banged in 3 goals in 5 minutes, and spent the rest of the game clinging on by their fingernails. Last night the Kirins returned the favour, in one of the most thrilling games I’ve ever seen at the PAT – goals, controversy, shenanigans and one hell of an atmosphere. Football, bloody hell.


Port v Muangthong is undoubtedly the biggest rivalry in Thai football and queues began forming at the stadium around lunchtime. I arrived around 4pm to find the Sandpit already packed, and met up with understandably nervous Muangthong blogger Gian, doing his best to cover up his MTU staff shirt while he interviewed me.

 

The editor with a slightly nervous Muangthong blogger

 

Port lined up as per usual, whilst Muangthong, with Jaja up front and professional model/Instagrammer Chappuis in midfield, were clearly trying to set a new T1 average player weight record.

This was a whole new level for a Port-MTU fixture, finally a clash of equals with Port in 3rd & the visitors in 4th, and as a result the first half was a cagey affair, with Heberty having the first shot on goal after 12 minutes, and Kevin (97) waiting until the 22nd minute to return fire for Port with a rasping shot/cross that MTU keeper Prasit, who let’s face it is certainly no Kawin, ineffectually slapped over the bar.

On 28 minutes, Port were gifted a free-kick just outside the box, but Pakorn (7) fired it straight at the wall then blasted the rebound over the bar, with several teammates in good positions. The winger’s selfishness around the box is becoming a serious issue for Port and Jadet needs to address it – time & again last night he opted to shoot, even from corners, instead of picking out a better-placed teammate, and anyone wondering why he’s not getting national team callups can take last night’s game as exhibit A.

But Port were having much the better of things, and after Nurul (31) tested Prasit with a fairly tame shot from the edge of the box, Port almost took the lead on the stroke of half-time. Nitipong played a long ball up to Suarez whose delicious flick found Boskovic on the right; the big Montenegrin played a perfect pass into the box back to the Spaniard but his shot was spectacularly turned away by Prasit.

0-0 at half-time then, and MTU would’ve been the happier team going into the changing rooms, relieved at having stayed level despite Port bossing the game. They were certainly the happier team within a few minutes of the restart, as they flew out of the traps and stunned Port with 3 goals in the first 7 minutes of the half, leading to a lot of baffled fans returning from their HT beer to find they’d missed 3 goals (or in Toby’s case, 5).

The first went in a mere 30 seconds in, with that man Tristan Do (who indisputably won his much-hyped battle with Kevin) putting in a deep cross which was nodded in by Sanukran, with Rattanai (17) out of position and Port’s defence as a whole still sucking on their oranges. Assuming players still eat oranges at half-time. Probably not. Probably some kind of energy pods or something. Ah, the good old days. Jumpers for goalposts. Isn’t it?

Things got worse 2 minutes later when Heberty skinned Kevin, having by far his worst game for Port, on the edge of the box and picked out Sarach on the 18-yard line, who slotted it into the corner for 2-0. Muangthong’s blood was clearly up and on 49 minutes a pass from the left found Sanukran totally unmarked in the Port area, but luckily his shot went wide of the post. But with Port’s defence in utter disarray, a third goal looked inevitable and it came on 51 minutes when Heberty broke clear, was briefly held up by Dolah (4), and then returned passes with Jaja to create enough space to get a shot past Rattanai.

This was a return to the darker days of 2017, when Port’s defence was leakier than a Welshman’s vegetable drawer; but the 2018 Port side are made of sterner stuff and, spurred on by a crowd whose already considerable loathing for the Pathum Thani bumpkins had just reached new heights, they set about clawing their way back into the game.

And it took them all of a minute, when a blocked Boskovic (23) shot found its way back to Suarez (5), who volleyed it emphatically into the back of the net. The game was well and truly back on and Port set about their opponents in an atmosphere of pure unbridled hysteria. On 55 minutes Pakorn found himself in a great position on the right of the area but, as per usual, elected to shoot rather than pass to a teammate. But 2 minutes later the Midfield Monk finally turned provider when his peach of a free-kick was flicked on by Rochela (22) for Boskovic to nod home. 2-3, and had there been a roof on Zone B, it would well & truly have been blown off by now. And on the hour mark, pure mayhem broke out when a Suarez shot deflected off a defender and found its way onto the boot of Boskovic. 3-3, or so we thought, until we spotted the lineman’s flag aloft. No goal. Bosko stomped over to the touchline, presumably to tell the official exactly what he thought of his flag and make some suggestions as to where it might most effectively be stored, and watching the video afterwards it was clear that Bosko had every right to be aggrieved as he was clearly onside.

The PAT was now in absolute uproar and a match that had started out as a cagey tactical battle descended into the pure chaos of an U11s game, with no pause for breath as both teams, realising that neither could defend, attacked relentlessly. Port almost got their equaliser on 68 minutes when a spectacular Suarez header hit the crossbar; theb on 80 minutes a rasping drive from Kim (8) was parried into the path of Boskovic by Prasit, but the Port striker, faced with an open goal, fired over the bar, his blushes fortunately spared by another incorrect offside flag, and his miss sparing the linesman a difficult exit from the stadium. On 84 minutes an almighty scramble erupted in the MTU box which, in 20 glorious seconds, included a two-footed tackle on Kim that should’ve been a penalty, 2 shots on goal, a spot of Sunday league head tennis, Kim trying to head the ball out of Prasit’s hands, resulting in the keeper indulging in an extended display of injury-feigning right in front of Zone B (his post-game attempt to salute said stand was not well received and I doubt he’ll do it again), and Chappuis rather laughably trying to square up to his equally chunky Korean counterpart during the ensuing handbags. This was exactly what a Port v Muangthong game should be all about and the fans were absolutely lapping it up.

 

Heberty feigns injury; stretcher bearers dump him right in front of Zone C; gets welcome he deserves (pic by Nig Dammusig)

 

Port had one more chance on 88 minutes, with Arthit (29) heading over at the far post when it would’ve been easier to score, but thanks to a combination of canny game management, balls to the wall defending and increasingly desperate shithousery (Heberty, take a bow), the visitors held on for an ill-deserved win. Despite the result, we all partied in the Sandpit like we’d won the league with the result that I have now almost completely lost my voice. I’m exhausted just writing about it, and have lost all feeling in my middle finger (thanks Prasit).

So a first defeat in 6 games for Port but a performance that deserved much better. But for that insane 7 minutes at the start of the second half they defended superbly, attacked relentlessly and bossed the midfield, and really should be celebrating 3 points now. Once again we’re left ruing a lack of streetwiseness, and the absence of some really big, nasty exponents of the footballing dark arts, though Kim showed flashes of it in the game’s later stages. Muangthong played the old Ali rope-a-dope game to perfection, and left Port with just a little bit too much to do in the last 35 minutes, but Port will certainly play worse than this and win.

 

Panpanpong Fanclub AGM

 

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

Whilst this was a good Port performance, there weren’t many standout individuals. Apart from that crazy 7 minutes, Rochela & Dolah had Heberty & Jaja in their pockets (and you’d need pretty big 1970s flares to find a pocket big enough for the latter), and Kim had his best game at the PAT so far.

But the standout man for me was Suarez. There’s nothing the Spaniard loves more than a sense of injustice and trying to drag his team back into the game, and the way he set about Muangthong in the second half was a joy to behold. Yes, as usual he gave the ball away far more than a player of his ability should, but when you’re playing at such a pitch of intensity you can’t always place passes on a sixpence (or a 1-baht). With just a bit more luck he’d have had a hat-trick and an assist to his name.

 

Sandpit Songs of the Season: Week 18 – Muangthong Utd

 

Ah Muangthong we meet again. Choosing songs for this fixture is probably easier than any other. Whilst it’s hard to find fitting songs for, say, Suphanburi or Sukhothai, when it comes to our old friends from the Ballardian wastelands of northern Bangkok we’re spoilt for choice.

For the away fixture I picked the rather obvious choice of ‘Scum’ by Nick Cave. This time round the song is a lot cheesier but no less appropriate, as we head back to the early 90s for a bit of grunge-lite vitriol from the long forgotten Ugly Kid Joe…