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Hard-Working Khlong Toey Side Exiles Scum Back To Nonthaburi. Port FC 1-0 Muangthong United

 

In what is typically Bangkok’s most anticipated game of the season, matchday 5 would bring us the “Slum vs Scum” derby at PAT Stadium. In a week that saw restrictions eased, the lack of transparency meant that fans had absolutely no idea as to whether or not they’d be able to go through the turnstiles and take their rightful place back on the terraces. It was only a day before the game when fans were informed that the game would be played behind closed doors, and we were dealt the additional sucker punch of being told we could collect our season tickets at the club shop. Not the smartest strategy in my opinion, but customer service hasn’t exactly been Port’s forte in recent seasons. It meant that we had the choice of heading to a bar that would be showing the game, or yet another night in front of the telly watching: a bit anti-climactic for a derby if you ask me.

A few days before the game, when a Muangthong fan site Thai League Central were doing their previews for the league, the following was said:

“Port are yet to find their feet under head coach Dusit Chalermsan, conceding an average of 1.5 goals per game, compared to his 0.43 tally with BG Pathum United last season. Their 2-1 defeat last week against Suphanburi showed that the side still struggle with game management and holding on to leads, something which the coach was explicitly brought in to help with.”

Now I’m not entirely sure how he came to thinking the boldened part, considering that we played over 75-minutes of that game with 10-men, but it was certainly one of the dumbest most interesting “takeaways” of that game. For a site that pretends they’re here to cover the entire league, they sure can’t get past their biases.

Meanwhile, as a fan site: we don’t have to pretend. We just don’t like Muangthong: simple as that.

 

FIRST-HALF ENTERTAINMENT

We were forced to make a change for the game due to Jaturapat’s suspension, with Nitipong [#34] replacing him. It meant that Roller [#33] moved over to the left, so that Nitipong could take up his familiar spot on the right. I’ll admit that I’ve been extremely disappointed in Nitipong in the last 12 or so months, but I was hoping to see him play well and show that the “old Niti” might still be there. Dolah [#4] hadn’t managed to force his way back into the matchday squad either, which either suggests that he’s injured or out of favour. There’s been nothing released regarding an injury, so my guess is that he needs to knuckle down and show that he deserves to play for the club again. The level of performance from him in recent months hasn’t quite been at the standard that he initially showed for us, but there’s no doubting he’s a quality defender when he’s on form.

It was our visitors that would get the first chance of the game, with just 2:52 on the clock, with Picha [#37] having an effort blocked, with the ball eventually making its way to Popp [#19], who was in the 18-yard box, but out-wide. His ball across the face wasn’t a bad idea, and if they had a legitimate striker on their books [hmmm, Derley?], it might’ve been the Scummers who took an early lead. Worawut [#36], fresh off of getting married, got down quickly to get the ball, and the chance fizzled out.

5-minutes later, we carved out an opportunity of our own, with Bonilla [#9] playing a good ball to his left to Bordin [#10]. With him being marked by the captain of the Scum, and a second defender quickly joining him, it must’ve been infuriating for Scum fans to see Bordin get in enough space to play a delightful ball across the face of the goal. In my opinion: this should’ve been 1-nil! Bonilla was a split second too late to poke it home, whilst Pakorn [#7] made a back-post run. Boontawee [#39] had a chance to clear the danger, and he made no mistake with that. A missed opportunity, but considering the ease at which we’d carved it out: it wouldn’t be our last.

 

 

From the resulting corner, Rochela [#22] had a good chance, which he headed [narrowly] over the bar. It was a few good moments from us, and if fans had been allowed in the stadium: the noise would’ve gone up a few decibels. Our opposition just didn’t appear to be very good defensively, and at full-time, I was once again left wondering as to how their fans can rate Lucas Rocha [#3] so highly.

Our next opportunity came close to the 17-minute mark, with Suarez [#5] playing a ball to Go [#8] on the right, with the Korean midfielder playing a perfectly weighted first-time ball for Bordin to run onto. Considering the condition of the pitch, all of the players did quite well with their weighting of passes, or maybe the groundsman and his staff had done a great job of clearing off all the puddles. Regardless: Bordin was through! I thought his first touch let him down a bit, which isn’t something you can typically accuse him of, and it meant that the defenders had more of a chance to put him off. The ball was now stuck in his feet, and his effort on goal was a bit tame in all honesty. It just wasn’t a great piece of play from the tricky winger, and Somporn [#1] stayed big: blocking his shot, and it was cleared soon after.

We’d now given Muangthong the Scum two massive warnings: there was a strong chance that the next time we attacked, they wouldn’t be so lucky.

 

 

It’s exactly what happened, and boy oh boy, what a turn of events. It’s not a well-kept secret that I don’t rate Đặng Văn Lâm in the slightest, but the mistake that led to our opening goal in the derby made the Vietnamese shot-stopper look like prime Lev Yashin. It was absolutely horrendous from Somporn, and despite the efforts of Boontawee: there was NO CHANCE that Bonilla wasn’t smashing the ball into the back of the net. I’ve skipped ahead a bit, so let’s go through the play by play, because honestly: there’s nothing better than taking the lead against the Scum.

It all began on the left-side of the pitch, with Suarez absolutely rinsing Lucas Rocha [imagine my shock], before playing what [initially] seemed like an aimless ball across the face of the goal. What I hadn’t seen was that the ball had taken a massive deflection off the Brazilian defender, so my apologies to Suarez! So the ball has been deflected, but there’s no pressure on you whatsoever, what do you do? You fumble the ball of course! Despite his best efforts to try to regather control of the ball, Somporn wasn’t able to, and Bonilla wriggled the ball free and fired home. Cue protests from the Scum players, who seemed certain that a VAR check would chalk the goal off. In a time when goalkeepers are so ‘overprotected’, it was nice to see one held to account for his mistake, with the goal standing. Somporn will learn from this, but it’s a harsh lesson to learn in a derby of this much importance. Good thing there were no fans in the stadium eh!?

 

 

There were a few tit-for-tat chances for both sides in the final few minutes of the first half, with Pakorn blazing a left-footed shot high and wide of the goal from distance. Considering his performances for us this season, I’ll cut him some slack for it, but it wasn’t the best effort from the midfield monk. Minutes later, Adisak [#11] fired an effort straight at Worawut, with us then going up the other end and having a shot of our own.

For me: it was [another] bad pit of play from Bordin. There’s no doubting that he had the better of Suporn [#5], who seems to have followed the Muangthing tradition of “let’s name our worst player captain”, with his predecessor [Wattana] now playing in Thai League 3 for Uthai Thani. That’s probably the level that Suporn should be at, based on his performance last night. He was horrendous, and we attacked him at every opportunity, so to me, that says that Dusit thought he was their ‘weak link’ too.

In my opinion, there were better options for Bordin to take, with Bonilla standing on the edge of the box unmarked, and Go making a run to the back-post: unmarked. Whilst I’m pleased that he had the confidence to take the shot, it wasn’t a convincing effort, and this was probably our best chance of doubling our lead. Hindsight is always 20:20 though, and I’m sure that it’s something that’ll be discussed in the review that they do of the game.

It was the final act of what had been an action packed first-half and it was the home team that had looked good value for the 3-points. It was now up to Dusit to show his “game management” skills, and prove that he could get the lads to hold onto the lead: something he was “explicitly brought in to help with.”

 

 

SECOND-HALF BATTLE

The thing that I seem to have noticed [so far] this season has been that we always seem to start games strongly, and then in the second half: we play a bit more defensively. I’m not sure whether it’s due to us not having the energy levels to maintain our first-half performance, or if that’s something that Dusit changes during the break, but it’s something that happened again last night. The lads were still getting through a mountain of work, but it just felt like there was less impetus put on attacking.

What we saw in the second half was our opponents enjoying a majority of the possession, and to their credit: they carved out a fair few chances for themselves. With that being said, there was a noticeable lack of quality in their efforts, and the effort from Mirzaev [#10] just before the 46-minute mark didn’t test Worawut in the slightest. I really rate the Uzbek midfielder, and I still think he’s the best foreign player on the books of the Nonthaburi-based club, but last night probably wasn’t his best performance for them. Not that I’m complaining!

There was a serious warning for us in the 53RD minute, with Picha finding himself in acres of space on the right-side, and firing in a low cross that Tanaboon [#17] would cut out for a corner. Job done in that regard, but considering the time and space that Picha had found himself in: he really should’ve done better. It’s no surprise that Samut Prakan City were more than happy to sell him to Muangthong, rather than [the much more talented] Jaroensak, and whatever the fee was: Muangthong paid far too much. 4 goal contributions in 31 games [1 every 7.75 games] certainly suggests that, with the player having managed 30 goal contributions for Pattaya United Samut Prakan City in 104 games [1 every 3.46 games]. (Those stats are according to Transfermarkt).

From the resulting corner, Adisak leapt like a salmon to head the ball at goal, and thankfully: it rattled the woodwork. It wasn’t the greatest defending from us in all honesty, and Worawut’s decision to charge off his goal line wasn’t the wisest one either. There’s no need for him to do it every time: only leave your line if you’re 110% confident that you’re going to be able to get to the ball! It was a big bullet dodged for us, and the saying of “if you play with fire, sometimes you’re going to get burned” quickly came to mind as I watched it all play out.

 

 

It was our visitors that made the first substitution of the match, with Jesse Curran [#17] entering the field for Teeraphol [#6]. When you consider that we’d been heavily linked with Teeraphol after missing out on Thitiphan, I’m quite relieved that we hadn’t upped our offer for him, based on his performance last night. With that being said, I don’t think that his role for the Scum suits him: you need his energy in the attacking third of the pitch.

The substitution saw Picha tuck into a more central position, with Jesse bombing up and down the right-hand side, and it was his cutback that Picha butchered with 63:53 on the clock. It was a [somewhat] straightforward opportunity on goal, and the fact that he couldn’t even hit the target must’ve had his coach ready to smash a few water bottles or [in Thiago Cunha style] slam a door off its hinges.

We were pushing our luck, no question about that, and a few minutes later: we made our first changes. Nurul [#13] came on for Bordin, whilst Worawut “Baresi” [#24] came on for Tanaboon. For some reason, I think Tanaboon might’ve gone off injured, but considering his last few performances: I hope not. I’m not sure whether I would’ve brought on Nurul personally, but at the same time… he’d brought a lot of energy when he’d come on against Suphanburi, so he did deserve another opportunity. For me, I thought we were giving up a bit too much of the possession, so I would’ve considered making the changes to try and rectify that.

Picha seemed to be the player that was getting into all of the dangerous positions, and it was a mishit cross from him that Worawut was forced to tip over for a corner with 69:52 on the clock. When you consider how many times in this game that Picha was able to find time and space in dangerous parts of the pitch: his lack of goal contributions in his time at Legoland becomes even more bewildering.

 

 

It took us until [just before] the 72ND minute to carve out our first proper attack of the second half, which again… sums up how we’d adjusted our focus to a bit more of a defensive approach. When you consider that we’d shredded the Scummers quite a bit in the first half, I really believe that we should’ve kept doing just that, but as we constantly hear these days: trust the process. A cross from Pakorn was heading towards goal by Suarez, but rather than nestling in the back of the net, it hit the side-netting and got the hopes of a lot of the fans sky high.

A second goal would’ve killed the game because there’s no doubt in my mind: our opponents weren’t scoring 2. Hell, I didn’t even think that they’d be able to score 1!

The next effort that we saw on goal came from the incredibly overrated Weerathep [18], with his effort not convincing in the slightest, and it became a lot clearer as to why he’s been selected to be the ‘base’ of the midfield. When you factor in that he’s not much of a ‘screener’, it’s of little surprise that the Scummers midfield offers next-to-no protection for their defensive unit.

Both sides had made more changes by this stage, with Kannarin [#31] replacing Siwakorn [#16], whilst Korawich [#8] replaced Adisak. Siwakorn had put in a massive shift for us, so it made sense to bring on Kannarin, and I had faith that he’d come on and continue what Siv had started.

As we edged towards full-time, it seemed like the left-side of the Scum had tired, because there were multiple times where Pakorn embarrassed the fullback, and whipped in a dangerous cross. With the clock at 83:55, he put in a cross that Nurul would head over the bar. Anyone else: it hits the back of the net! There’s no doubting that Nurul is able to find some incredibly dangerous positions, but his lack of ‘killer instinct’ means that there’s a lot of frustration towards him at times. I honestly just can’t see him becoming a more prolific attacker, and it’s now 2 games in a row where you feel he should’ve found the back of the net.

 

 

As we edged closer to the end of the game, we saw both teams send out their final changes, with Poramet [#20] and former golden boy Wattanakorn [#33] replacing the wasteful Picha, and tired Boontawee. Dusit on the other hand, brought on Nattawut [#45] for Pakorn, whilst Thitathorn [#3] replaced Nitipong. I don’t think I would’ve subbed Niti, as I thought he’d done well, and I would’ve instead sent Thitathorn on for Pakorn, and added an additional defender to kill off the game.

Thitathorn’s impact was almost immediate, with him mugging off Jesse Curran, with the Australian-Filipino winger voicing his frustration towards the referee, who paid no attention to it.

The game took a turn for the worse during the added on 5-minutes, with a sickening head clash between Kannarin and Chatchai [#4] seeing the game immediately halted and medical professionals enter the field of play. Watching the match highlights, you can hear the “crunch” of the impact, and it was quite sickening in a way. Just to be clear, there was no controversy whatsoever in the collision: it was two players committed to winning the ball. The fact that Kannarin had come out of it with a pretty serious injury is a shame, but it happens in football sometimes.

I have to give credit to the referee for acting as quickly as he did, and I hope that both lads recover quickly from their injuries. Chatchai needed some pretty serious bandaging, whilst Kannarin was taken straight to hospital. The injury update from Port’s social media sites suggest that there’s some fractures for him, so I wish him the best of luck in his recovery.

Once everyone affected was safely off the pitch, the game resumed, with our visitors having the final shot of the game with 101:03 on the clock. With the effort going out for a goal kick, the referee blew for full-time, and the 3-points were officially ours! Normally this is the part where I say “good luck next week” to our opponents, but that won’t be the case this time around. We’ve just shown that we can win a derby in a game with no atmosphere whatsoever, so travelling to Legoland for the second leg shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

 

 

THE LACK OF VAR!

It was amazing to go through almost an ENTIRE game without a single VAR check, which is made even more amazing when you considering the VARcical decisions that the Scum have benefited from this season. The only VAR check that occurred was for Nelson’s goal, and I’ve no doubt there were probably a few fans on the edge of their seats when they saw that there was a VAR check going on. It was nice to see that the process went through in a timely fashion, rather than taking what seems to be the standard 4-5 minutes, and the game continued soon after.

The annoying thing [for me] was that as soon as the ball was in the back of the net, some of the Muangthong players ran straight to the referee, and started demanding a VAR check. I’m not trying to single Muangthong out, because it happens all across the league, but I’d like to start seeing bookings for this type of behaviour. Simply put: it needs to stop. It’s a black eye for the league, and maybe if we start showing the match officials a bit more respect… they might start showing a bit more competence. Leave it to the fans to voice their disagreements with the decisions!

Players play football, the match officials officiate: everyone just needs to do worry about doing their own job.

 

 

MY THOUGHTS – PORT FC

Our first-half performance was magnificent, and the way that we controlled the game was quite pleasing to watch. I thought Nitipong did quite well, so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Jaturapat comes straight back into the side. Whilst I don’t think we’re playing to our full potential at the moment, we’re seeing regular glimpses of it, and if we can get to the stage where do almost all of the time: I think we’re a scary proposition.

With the fans scheduled to [slowly, but surely] return to the terraces, it appears that the season is truly about to take off, and for any clubs that are headed to PAT Stadium: watch out. For me, fans returning is the shot in the arm that the league has needed, because it’s no secret that a lot of interest  has somewhat faded with only being able to watch games on television. 9 times out of 10, it’s the day out, meeting up with fellow fans, that I look forward to during the week: not what I see on the pitch! The football is just the added bonus, though it doesn’t feel that way at times!

I’m quite content with what I saw last night, though there’s definitely a part of me that wishes that we’d continued to attack in the second-half. With that being said, we’ve kept our second cleansheet of the season, and although the Scummers had a fair few efforts on goal, and the majority of the second-half possession: we came away unscathed. That has to be a good confidence boost for everyone, and it’s almost like Dusit knows what he’s doing… who’d have thought that!?

We’ll travel to Chiangmai United next week, who [you’d imagine] should be without Boli due to him being on-loan from us, and hopefully we can get a good run of form going with another strong performance. Chiangmai United will be feeling very confident after such a strong win this week, but I’ve no doubt that if we play to our true potential… we’ll bring them crashing back down to Earth.

 

MY THOUGHTS – MUANGTHONG UNITED

It must be so demoralizing for Mario and his assistant [Dagno] to watch their side play at times, due to the overall lack of quality available to them. There’s no denying that Mario is one of the greatest attacking players to ever grace the ‘Land of Smiles’, yet he currently has a team that has little to no quality in the front-third. Willian Popp is doing a great job so far, yes, but can he be relied on to do it for the whole season? I’m not so sure. Then you have Dagno, who [to me] is one of the best midfielders to ever play for Muangthong, and he has to watch a midfield that is so disorganized, offers little to no protection to the defensive unit: it’s just a giant cluster-youknowwhat. The lack of signings made by the club during the off-season suggests that the coffers are almost threadbare, though they did manage to splash out and spend a few quid to bring in Teeraphol from Samut Prakan.

This is a Muangthong United side that truly lacks any real quality, and honestly: Mario is doing a brilliant job by being able to keep them competitive. At the rate that he’s going, you have to wonder: if he had the same resources as Gama enjoyed during his time at Legoland, would he bring them silverware? Possibly, but it appears that we’ll never know.

A quick trip to wiki showed me the following stats:

 

 

If those statistics are 100% accurate, Mario deserves a lot of credit, whilst it also suggests that Gama’s time at Legoland might not have been as brilliant as some would make it out.

 

MAN OF THE MATCH – PORT FC

It was impossible to single out an individual for the award, and considering that multiple players had their best game of the season: it just made sense to go with the entire team. Derby games are completely different to your “normal” fixtures, and you could see early on that the lads were up for it. Did we push our luck at times? Certainly. But there was enough about us to get in the way of the Scummers attacks most of the time, and we didn’t make it easy for them at all. Players were consistently putting their body on the line over the course of the 90-minutes, which is a nice change from the “I’ll dangle a foot, so it will look like I tried” that we’ve had to [begrudgingly] become accustomed to over the course of the past few seasons.

For me, there’s certainly been a change in our mentality since Dusit has arrived, and what we’re regularly seeing now is a team that will put in a shift for the 90-minutes: rain, hail, or shine. So far this season, there’s not been a game where you can say “have we even shown up?” because we’ve seen a side willing to graft every time out. It’s a first for me, since I started following the club in 2016, and honestly: a welcomed change. You can certainly say that some of our performances haven’t been too “polished” if you like, but I’m certain that that’ll come in time. The biggest issues that we’ve had over the years [in my opinion] has been a mentality issue, and credit to Dusit: he seems to have gotten it sorted early on.

The level of performances that we’re getting from some of the lads this season has been magnificent, and I’m eager to see if they can maintain it for the entirety of the season. If we’re going to make a proper push for 2ND or 3RD: we’re going to need them to.

 

 

Bangkok Set For It’s Var-y Big Derby. Port FC v MuangThong United Preview.

 

“We don’t play football anymore….everything is about VAR VAR” – Mario Gjurovski

 

If l made whatever the football blogging equivalent of new year’s resolutions are, then this season’s would have been to try and avoid talking about VAR as much. Last Saturday as l sat down to watch Port’s trip to Suphanburi and thought about what was going in this preview l reluctantly concluded that a fair bit of it, was going to be taken up talking about the way VAR calls had impacted the opening three games of MuangThong’s season. Come the final whistle of a 2-1 defeat that was flipped on its head by VAR it felt completely unavoidable. So, strap in (again) as we run through the (occasionally) good, bad and utterly bizarre of VAR in Thailand.

We might as well start with the good.

If VAR exists to show us what we miss from the first viewing, then it was absolutely on the money giving a penalty to Muangthong v Ratchaburi in the Friday night game last round (clip here). Viewed in real time everyone, including the referee, seems to miss what happened. There’s a tangle between Chatchai (4) and Pawee from a Muanthong free kick that leaves the Ratchaburi man on the ground in the box. What only becomes clear with a replay is that the Ratchaburi skipper has lashed out whilst on the ground, kicking the Muangthong man. It’s an incredibly stupid and vindictive thing to do and was rightly punished with the penalty that allowed Muangthong to take the lead.

Equally the MTU to make it 1-1 (clip here) v Prachuap in round one is good VAR, Popp (19)’s onside when the initial cross is played but he is offside if there is contact from Mirzaev (10), there isn’t and the goal rightly stands.

I’d add the penalty awarded to Supanburi to the list to correct calls (clip here). Jaturapat (15) is the last man, on the line and the ball ends up striking his arm as he jumps to his left and the ball arrives where he was initially standing. The result is to deny Suphanburi a goal and a penalty is a fair punishment. Where we get into the complexity of VAR is with the red card. Some have pointed out the similarity to Reece James’ penalty and red card at Liverpool, the big difference is the Chelsea man’s arm is moved with intent to stop the ball crossing the line, Jaturapat appears to be unaware. Of course, it’s opening up a minefield of interpretation regarding when there is intent and l’d really rather not have to watch officials attempt to solve them. I’m also not sure the double punishment, in this case, was merited.

In a similar vein, the late penalty Prachuap equalize with v Muangthong came about after a Chatchai handball in the box (clip here). It’s one of those where some people will tend to argue for or against it. In the main depending on if the penalty has gone for them or against them. It’s much the same as the one Bangkok United earnt and missed against us. The problem with these calls is what constitutes a natural position for the defender’s arm, is always going to be subjective. The rule makers tried making the situation an absolute with any contact between ball and arm being a pen and it was a disaster. I think both were penalties. However, the current set of rules are always going to cause debate and provide examples, once we get into the marginal, where ball strikes a very similar positioned arm and on some occasions results in a penalty and on others doesn’t. We can’t have absolutes on subjective calls and are we really any better off when things still come down to an officials decision but with a 5 min delay added to the game, rather than just going with the on field call?

The penalty not given in first half injury time at Supanburi for a shirt pull on Bonilla (9) is an equally divisive one (clip here). For me, it’s a clear pen. The defender pulls Nelson’s shirt denying him the movement to strike the ball. Do that anywhere else on the pitch and get seen, it’s a freekick and so  do it in the penalty area, get seen and it should be a penalty. Others disagree and again we see that ultimately VAR is trying to be the absolute authority on matters that will always be subjective.

If you’re going to have an omnipresent all seeing eye then its probably a good idea that its….. you know…….omnipresent and all seeing. Rather than what we have now where which seems to be at times neither.

Firstly it doesn’t seem to be omnipresent as shown by the first Chonburi goal in the el classico of the fallen, the league’s youtube highlights and much of the initial complaints focus on a possible offside that even if not clear with the naked eye in real time, VAR gets it right as the video replay and addition of lines, showing the attacker to be onside. However, the real issue occurs just before the goal highlights cut in on the youtube coverage. As there’s a blatant handball by a Chonburi player. Not only is the system blind but those covering the league seem to want to hide the shortcomings of their system.

The one they didn’t see. Chonburi handball in the build up to the first goal.

 

While the lack of ability to see everything is shown by Ports 58th penalty shout at Suphanburi (clip here), the system is ultimately deeply flawed if, as here, a player stood in the line of sight of a camera and their limited number mean there are no alternates that can provide conclusive proof. Given the league needed a bailout to get the system to where it is, there’s very little likelihood of additional cameras any time soon. And given how long reviews take already do we really want the extra time more angles would add. I suspect it hasn’t hit the Supanburi players arm but the system isn’t working if it only operates fully on some parts of the field or dependant on where players are stood.

And now for the really bad (clip here) Where do you even start with the total joke that ended up with Muangthing getting the penalty from which they equalized v Chonburi. It was the perfect chance for VAR to show its usefulness, as the ref makes an onfield call of penalty. Anyone with experience of the game beyond playing under 7s needs one replay to see he’s made a mistake and Junior Eldstål gets the ball. It’s the clear and obvious error that VAR exists to correct. Instead, what occurs is unfathomable and would have caused outrage in any major league around the world. It’s simply not occurring in a major European league. All those claims that Thailand can get its football to the level seen in Korea and Japan, forget about it whilst this is the norm. The absolute best case scenario is that an entire officiating team is incompetent, not one of those looking at replays, saw what happened and could say “hold on, l think the defenders got the ball there”. That it’s been followed by nothing, no come back, no demotions or suspensions or attempts to get the officials trained to be of a better standard and a deafening silence from the media is a major factor in why so many that give Thai football a try, quickly decide they’d rather get their football fix of a weekend, sat on the couch watching the Premier League.

I don’t have an answer that can simply rectify the situation. Way back when the concept of VAR was first becoming a reality l was all for it, on the condition that it didn’t change how the game flowed. I still think it’s a good idea, in theory, it can even work in practice, as we saw at the Euros in the summer passed. Hardly surprising when you have Europes best referees supplemented by a couple of world allstars (If such a thing exists in officiating). However, what we have here in Thailand is a long way from that. Rather what we have is a total mess, inconsistent, at times fussy, at others myopic and all too often long winded, the game is regularly stopped for 4 or 5 minutes, even in one case l saw 8 minutes, to conclude the review while back at the Euros “Uefa [kept] a chart of the average time taken when VAR intervenes. After 36 matches it was at the lowest [experienced] …..at about 100 seconds per intervention.” The main thing that needs to change is getting the thing done quicker. It was brought in to stop clear and obvious mistakes. If you can’t make your mind up one way or the other in say 2 or 3 mins, then it’s not clear and obvious, the on field call should stand and get on with the game.

Gjurovski points to the lack of information given to clubs on how rules will be applied, you’d hope the officials have a better idea but fear they don’t.  To admit that the officials in the league aren’t up to operating the system, or that there are few in number who are, just doesn’t seem to be an option with the resultant loss of, that oh so important, “face” to a Thai organisation. Besides to turn it off might gain the league some attention (some of which will be positive from those against VAR) but will also only serve to make Thai football look even more tinpot than normal. Then once it’s gone how do you decide that you’ve reached the point to turn it back on? Whilst officials can’t improve at something they don’t do. And lack of experience playing under VAR conditions will only see the officials and league fall further behind local rivals. Sadly, l feel we’re best served to stick with it (as poor as it is) and pushing for improvements in the implementation and standard of those who use it or to put it another way, blindly hoping it all magically gets better.

 

Muangthong United 

Mario Gjurovski, impressive management style. Terrible sock game.

 

If l alienated half the readership before l really got going, using a Mario quote and some more of you with another lengthy VAR rant, l might as well keep going. Right now the greatest asset Muangthing posess is Mario Gjurovski, who looks like he could become a top coach, destined for far greater things than this league, if he wants it.  While the Samut Prakan Don’s Masatada Ishii has (rightly) had heaps of praise this season for his achievements with a limited squad, stripped of key players due to budget limitations, Mario has done much the same, in his first appointment, without over 150 games of J league experience to call upon, with a more limited squad and seen two key players leave with limited attempts to replace them. Former loanee (from Port) Chatmongkol moved on to BG Pathum United and when Derley’s wage demands couldn’t be met he headed to Ratchaburi. Derley has been replaced by Adisak (11) who returned to his parent club having spent last season on loan with us. As good as he is, it’s telling that he’ll probably be the only Thai striker to play as the figurehead of a club that finishes in the top half.  While circumstances mean that there was simple nobody signed to replace Chatmongkol and the squad so far has looked bereft of anyone to undertake the defensive midfield role. Rather what we have is a well drilled unit, programmed to play some pretty football and attack. Its main strengths are three attacking midfielders in Sardor Mirzaev, Teeraphol Yoryoei (6) and their standout player so far this season Willian Popp, who has four goals. For its merits going forward this is not a team that enjoys or has the personnel to spend long spells on the back foot. They’ll offer up chances and we should look to control the ball as much as possible. At Prachuap they conceded their first goal as Dos Santos is picked out with a nice flicked through ball from Mota but Rocha (3), Chatchai and Suporn (5) are all near by and combine to do nothing ( we can go for the full set and say Somporn (1) in goal really should be doing better if he’s the national team keeper some have hyped him up to be). Its these moments at the back and they’ve occurred consistently for Muangthing, that Port will need to take advantage of.

 

Willian Popp, MTU star man this season

Port

 

The game v Suphanburi really became a bit of a non event with regards to figuring out where Dusit is going with the side after the sending off. What was pleasing to see was that from that point on everyone on the field dug in and put a shift in trying to get something from the game.  Where once the collection of individuals rather than a team label, would have been true of Port.  Here no heads went down and everyone fought till the final whistle. A few stood out to be worthy of mentioning. Tanaboon (17) had what was possibly his best performance in a Port shirt, it was a throwback to the levels that earned him the reputation he has and hopefully we see more of it. Nelson Bonilla put in an absolutely huge performance, got a goal (yet again), was robbed of a penalty and was at his spikey, combative best. Just an absolute pain in the arse for the Suphanburi defence all night as he ran himself into the ground, having seemingly taken the red card as a personal affront. If there were flashes of him back to his best last season, its looking almost the norm currently. While Phillip Roller (33) seems to be flying a little under the radar so far, there hasn’t been the big stand out performances of last season at Ratchaburi but he’s been absolutely superb, playing at points everywhere on the right flank. And finally Nurul (13), after a couple of seasons where he seemed to lose his way, the little fella was everything you’d want from an impact sub on the night and long may it continue.

Phillip Roller, quietly impressive so far.

 

Prediction

 

Right now, I suppose what the league needs is one of these big games to pass without VAR being the main talking point postmatch. And I hope that’s the case win, draw or……..who am l kidding? Lets destroy the soulless McClub vermin…. 3-1 to the hero’s of Klong Toei.

 

Today its been annoched that this game will be played without fans. The match will be shown live on AISPLAY (possibly limited to AIS network users) at 1700 on Saturday 2nd October, 2021. So the best way to watch with fellow Port fans is to head to The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13 who will show the match on a big screen.

 

Club statement re-attendance.

Port’s “Battle of Who Could Care Less” Muangthong United 2 – 1 Port

Derby day: the day where no matter what’s going on, the players should be up for it. Despite our current form, which is mediocre at best, we could draw confidence from the fact that our recent form against Muangthong was good. Looking at the starting-11: I was nervous.  Steuble (15) has been shaky at best in recent games, and Tanasith (11) hasn’t done enough to justify a place on the bench, yet surprisingly: they were starting in a game that is of the utmost importance. Rattanai (18), after playing well, was dropped to the bench, which shows that if you like and share a certain person’s Facebook posts, you’re more likely to get a game.

Before I forget here’s a lovely picture of Pang from earlier in the week. Anyway back to the match report.

 

With that being said, we started quite well, though we ultimately did nothing with it. Muangthong looked quite good too at times, and it’s hard not to be impressed with Mirzaev, who in my opinion is the best foreign player on their books. The first-half was end to end at times, with neither side able to find the back of the net, though Suarez drew first blood (the claret kind) when he collided with an obstructing Muangthong player. So, we went into the interval level, but in standard Port fashion: we came out for the second-half looking nothing like the team we were in the first half.

Muangthong drew first blood (of the goal kind) in the 51st minute, when we allowed Wattanakorn all the time in the world to pick his cross to an untracked back-post run by Mirzaev, who slammed it home. It was horrendous defending, and sadly… it’s not the first time this has happened. There are certain players in the backline that are so badly out of form at the moment that they could use a few games in the stands, although they appear to be at the point where they just wouldn’t care if they were dropped. Regardless, we were soon awarded a penalty when Chatchai collided with Adisak (9), in what was his only meaningful contribution after replacing Boli (94) at half-time. Sergio (5) stepped up and tucked the spotkick away with venom in the bottom-left corner. Game on.

But this is a Port game, and we don’t like to do things easy! Instead of taking control of the game, we began to play around with the ball at the back, and instead of building out from the back: we built our downfall. Go (8), who is usually quite reliable, made a mistake, and although we scrambled well: VAR called upon a check from the referee on the monitor. To me, it looked like the ball hit his body and deflected onto his shoulder/armpit. Usually, that would mean that it wasn’t a penalty, but this is Thai football, and we do things a bit differently! My expectations of Thai match officials are incredibly low, so I was hardly surprised when a spotkick was awarded to the hosts. To which, Popp tucked it away, and ultimately consigned us to defeat.

 

The ball hits the back of Go, unquestionably a penalty and a yellow card. All hail the miracle of VAR that has come to save the game.

The final 20-minutes was dire at best, with the only meaningful thing to happen being Nattawut (45) handling the ball twice and tucking it away, with it correctly being chalked off. Apart from that, we were aimless in attack, and the final whistle was soon blown. It’s never easy to lose a derby, but when you see some of the performances tonight… it’s tougher to swallow.

 

Sergio Suarez, goal scorer and bright spot

 

So: what next? We have Rayong on Sunday, and if we play as we have been recently… they’re getting their 4th win of the season. With his time at Port well and truly up, it’s time for Oud to wield the axe, and show the bigger name players that enough is enough. There are only a few players at best that aren’t playing poorly in my opinion, with Suarez and Worawut Namvech (24) the only players to come out of this game with pass marks, though I felt that Bordin did quite well too, but his end product was lacking.

What would I do for the Rayong game? Drop a lot of the players. Watchara (1) seems to not be allowed to play, so get Rattanai back in goal. Nitipong (34) out for Thitawee (2), who despite being underwhelming in his games so far for the club: deserves a chance at redemption. He couldn’t be any worse than what we’re getting at the moment… Get Tossapol (6) in for Dolah(4) and Jaturapat (21) in for Steuble. It might be a makeshift defence, but again… it couldn’t be any worse than our defensive unit at the moment, which funnily enough [for opposition fans at least] has forgotten the basic skills and requirements of defending.

In the midfield, get Kannarin (31) in at the base of it, and play Go alongside Sergio, with them both being given a bit more license to go forward. Suarez is carrying us at the moment, and his back must be incredibly sore from all the deadweight. We’d be in a world of hurt without him, and we really can’t afford for him to get injured. Go looks a little tired to me, but he’s still a good player, but that mistake that led to the penalty, was frustrating, to say the least! Sometimes you need to just pump it long and push the defensive line up and get the shape, maybe we can try that next time?

For our front-3: drop Tanasith from the squad altogether. He’s had more than enough chances now, and we’re better off giving them to Nattawut (45) instead. We should persist with Bordin (10), who will play himself into form, and if Bonilla (99) isn’t fit, persist with Boli. It’s a real shame what we’ve done since signing him, as he’s a proper number 9, but if we can’t give him any service, he’s going to struggle. That being said, he’s had a few chances in recent games, and fluffed them, so it’s up to him to stick a few in the back of the net and silence some of the boo boys.

At the rate that we’re going, 2nd place is looking very unlikely, and at the end of the season when we’re reviewing what went wrong, we’ll be highlighting this run of games. I think there’s less than a 1% chance that Oud remains in charge next season, and I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t make it to the end of the season. When you consider our form before the break, and what’s happened since the resumption of the league… Questions should [but won’t] be asked. To me, it appears that he’s gone from being allowed to pick his own team, to being told who he’ll play, and it’s little surprise that we’ve struggled since that’s begun.

Hopefully, we will see a better performance on Sunday, one that can make us believe that the players ACTUALLY care, because looking out there tonight: you wouldn’t know. With a return of fans to stadiums rumoured to be on the way, there’s at least some hope that we can play our part in a return to form. We can make the PAT a fortress once again, and let the lads know exactly what we expect from them. To put it simply: we expect BETTER.

 

Another match another frustrated Oud pic

 

The game on Sunday is at PAT Stadium, with kickoff at 6pm. If the rumours are true, PAT will be allowed 50% of its capacity. If you’re unable to make it to the stadium, the Sportsmen will show the game on one of their big screens. Despite this appearing to be quite negative, I’m hoping to see the lads turn things around ASAP.

Let’s finish this season strongly, and start that off by getting a convincing win on the weekend!

,

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.