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Dragan’s Boys Crush Dragons: Ratchaburi FC 1-4 Port FC

 

After consecutive defensive collapses against Muangthong and Sukhothai, Port responded in the best way possible by turning on the style and absolutely destroying Ratchaburi at the Mitr Phol last night. Solid in defence, dominant in midfield and absolutely unplayable in attack, this was by far the best Port performance I’ve seen in 4 years of following the club – and by far the best away following too.


The Sandpit crew rolled up to Ratchaburi to find that things have definitely improved since our last visit. No, the Dragon Bar still isn’t open, but they’ve added a new food & drink zone, and the chicken & chips immediately took pole position in the Sandpit Best Away Ground Food Awards for 2018. The scene was further enlivened by the presence of two leather-clad dancing girls, one of whom immediately endeared herself to us for two particular reasons. Never let it be said that the Sandpit doesn’t keep you abreast of the important matchday incidents, and this is one that will live long in the mammary memory.

 

“They’re real…and they’re spectacular”

 

This was potentially a banana skin for Port, with Ratchaburi just 5 points behind in the league and Rochela & Siwakorn both suspended. In came Todsapol (6) and Jack Russell Adisorn (13), and, in an inspired move, the captain’s armband was given to Boskovic (23), who provided the on-pitch leadership & motivation Port so often lack.

Banana skin? Bollocks to that said Bosko, and after just 45 seconds the big striker dodged a  Ratchaburi midfielder and floated a delicious ball up to Nurul (31) which was just a little bit too quick for the Midfield Marmoset to latch onto. But Ratchaburi had been warned, and on 8 minutes the floodgates opened. Kim (8), enjoying playing in a more forward role in the absence of Siwakorn, set Kevin (97) free down the left, and the young defender, inspired by the boos of his former fans at Ratchaburi, skinned a defender with some lovely footwork before driving the ball into the box where it was met by the inrushing Suarez (5), who couldn’t miss.

 

The best stadium in Thailand

 

Port were happy to let Ratchaburi have the ball for long periods, comfortable in the knowledge that they didn’t have the strikers to hurt Port’s defence. New signing Mark Hartmann is a real Brent McGrath of a striker, whilst big new Lithuanian striker Nerijus Valskis is so wooden and immobile one can only assume they picked him up at IKEA. Surprisingly, failed moustache grower Kang Soo-Il, who has already scored 10 goals this season, was left on the bench. Even when they did break through, they found Todsapol and particularly Dolah (4) in defiant form.

Port doubled their lead on 33 minutes with one of the best team goals you’ll see all season. In a move that started on the edge of their own box, Port worked the ball out to Boskovic, who left Ratchaburi’s left-back on his arse and fed a lovely through ball to Suarez; the Spaniard crossed into the box for Nurul whose sublime first touch took out the one remaining defender and left him with an easy chip into the far corner. We’re not used to seeing Port play on the counter-attack but they’re seriously bloody good at it, and Ratchaburi just couldn’t handle them.

It could’ve got much worse for the Dragons before half-time, with Suarez volleying wide when picked out by a lovely cross from Kevin, and a Pakorn (7) free-kick stinging the keeper’s palms; but 2-0 was a pretty fair reflection of the first half and it was a very happy bunch of Port fans who headed down to the concourse for half-time beers.

If the first half was good, the second half was simply stellar. Once in a blue moon teams suddenly get in the zone and reach a level of football previously thought impossible (England’s 4-1 win over Holland at Euro 96 for example), and that’s what Port delivered. Ratchaburi simply couldn’t get near them and it was as good a display of attacking football as you’ll see in Thailand this season. Kim shaved the post after being nicely teed up by Cap’n Bosko, and then fired narrowly over from 20 yards; A Nurul cross/shot was almost turned in by Suarez; a superb Nitipong (34) cross was almost headed in by Boskovic.

It was only a matter of time until Port went further ahead and on 76 minutes it was that man Suarez again, picking up the ball on the halfway line, running unchallenged into the box & smashing it in off the crossbar for 3-0, sparking mayhem in the away end. And it got even better 9 minutes later – Bodin robbed a Ratchaburi attacker deep in his own half, ran the ball up to the edge of the box and fed Boskovic, who curled a sublime shot into the top corner. The best goal of the night, and cause of some ecstatic scenes in the away end, including a certain Port fan waving a seat in the air.

 

Throw ya seats in the air/Wave ’em around like ya just don’t care

 

It wouldn’t be Port without a bit of late drama of course, and a defensive mix-up between Port debutant Worawut (24) and keeper Rattanai (17) allowed Ratchaburi’s MOTM Yannick Djalo to tap in a consolation goal. Clean sheets? Who needs ’em.

Understandably, the drive home was 2 hours of drinking, singing (including a couple of ditties for absent friends who had inexplicably chosen to go to Chonburi for the futsal) and improving Anglo-German relations – “I just want you to know I don’t mean any harm” said a well-oiled Keith to the backseat German contingent, after a chorus of ‘Two World Wars & One World Cup’. “I’M A GLOBAL CITIZEN!!!” Hands down the best away trip I’ve done in 3 years of travelling with Port.

As for the football, what can I say? This was a stunning win for Jadet’s team, and one of those nights when everything comes together. Dolah & Todsapol made a mockery of our worries over Rochela’s absence; Adisorn & Kim are a much better midfield pairing than Kim & Siwakorn; Nurul & Kevin tore the full-backs so many new arseholes that the proctologists of Ratchaburi will be doing a roaring trade for weeks to come; and Bosko & Suarez were just unplayable, their race for the Port golden boot becoming increasingly fascinating viewing. This wasn’t a 7-1 win against a joke team like Navy; this was a composed, organised, dominant dismissal of serious top 6 contenders, and sets Port up nicely for what should be a thrilling second half of the season. And a special note about the Khlong Thoey Army who turned up en masse tonight, filling the away end and creating a deafening din throughout. “Absolutely amazing support today!” Dolah messaged to me after the game, commenting that they couldn’t hear the Ratchaburi fans at all. One of those nights when being a Port fan is simply the greatest feeling in the world.

 

THIS IS KHLONG THOEY!

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

So many excellent performances I hardly know where to start. So let’s do a top 5 (with honours also going to Adisorn, Dolah & Todsapol). In 5th place, Kevin, who shoved the home fans’ boos right back up their arses with a fantastic performance. In 4th, Nurul – the little winger was at his cheeky best and scored a lovely goal. In 3rd, Boskovic, clearly revelling in his role as captain and scoring one of the goals of the season. In 2nd, Kim, who is a much better CM than he is a DM, and one can only hope that the Adisorn-Kim pairing becomes Jadet’s default setting.

 

Men of the match

 

And in 1st, yet again, it’s Suarez. The Spaniard has had his critics this season and last, myself amongst them, but when he focuses on playing football he’s one of the best players in T1 and tonight Ratchaburi just couldn’t get near him. I had a very tasty serving of humble pie on the bus home.

 

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.

 

Magnificent: Port FC 7 (Seven) – 1 Royal Thai Navy FC

 

The Lions of Khlong Toey roared to their fourth successive victory, ruthlessly dispatching a woeful excuse of a Navy team, playing the type of football we know we are capable of, but rarely get to see. The result also keeps us at the head of the chasing pack in 3rd, standing us in good stead for the second half of the season. If Bangkok United or Buriram have a dip in form, an on-form Port could well pounce and push on up the table.

This was my first game as a paying supporter since the Chainat 10 incident when I decided to use my GCSE in Spanish to tell Rochela what I truly thought of his and the team’s performance. Since then Port have responded to the criticism with the maximum possible total of points, with certain players putting decent shifts in and not letting their heads drop once they concede. I’ve been on a brief sojourn in Europe since then so it got me wondering if I was the Jonah in the situation and maybe I should stay away from the PAT just in case?

 

 

 

Well, the first 45 minutes truly dispelled the notion that I was cursed with an assured display of attacking football that somehow only finished 3-1 at half time. Within 10 seconds Pakorn (7) was driving towards the full back, who clearly thought defending was optional, setting up Suarez (5) for a tame effort. Minutes later Suarez and Nurul (31) again conspired to miss before Rochela (22) scared everyone by almost putting the ball into his own net. Then in the ninth minute Nurul went for his customary dive when he clearly could have got a shot away. Very quickly it was becoming clear that Navy were lambs to the slaughter, with Pakorn and Suarez dancing around their midfield like they didn’t exist and Siwakorn (16) indulging in a little jogo bonito more than once.

The goals were inevitable and the first came in the 22nd minute with some good work between Nitipong (34) and Pakorn on the right flank. Pakorn’s cross was inch perfect for Suarez to nod in at the near post with the hapless Intharat (19) jumping too late. Navy then started to show a little initiative, especially Amadou (81) and Vitor Junior (10) who asked questions of our defence, leading to a few speculative long ranges efforts, the third forcing a smart tip over from Rattanai. Then came the controversy; a Pakorn free kick from deep found Rochela, who got a bullet header on target but straight at Intharat. Now, to say that Intharat was already having a bit of a stinker would be an understatement, and true to form he spilled the shot under him, but did he manage to get both or one hand on the ball on the goal line before Dolah (4) stabbed it in? TV replays suggest both hands but from my viewpoint, and only 2 Leos deep, I saw only one but you know what? Fuck ‘em; they then proceeded to throw all their toys out of their pram complaining and remonstrating to the referee and his assistant. Chief toy-thrower Intharat then had to suffer the indignity of returning to his besieged goal to receive some choice words from the Zone B crowd.

 

Dodgy ‘keeper number one

 

Port continued to pile on the pressure and were rewarded with a third goal in the 42nd minute from flat track bully Pakorn. Buzzing down the left flank, he cut inside part time full back Chalitpon (35), looked up at goal and fired a lofted shot that looped over the hapless Intharat from 20 yards out. Hold on – have I used hapless already? Ah yes, so let’s go with doomed. There was still time for Navy to pull one back to their credit; Amadou cut into the Port area and worked his way to the byline and delivered a fine cut back across goal that Quak (22) could not miss. So, halftime and with almost all the momentum with Port the half time chatter was more about how many we would score rather than if Navy could pull level.

Now your intrepid reporter was too busy discussing the finer points of the first half outside the stadium to witness the first goal of the second half and Port’s fourth. Kim (8), clearly fancying his chances of getting on the scoresheet, advanced into the box and forced a corner. Pakorn’s delivery found Nurul, whose dangerous flick on flashed across the goal and was volleyed in from inches by Boskovic (23), who up until then had shown a lot of effort but little end product. Sadly, the inept Intharat had been hauled off at half time after his less than stellar performance and was replaced by the equally underwhelming Wanlop (27) who like his predecessor was a mere bystander. Port by now knew that they could make this very ugly for Navy and adjusted their team shape accordingly; as a unit they played 10 yards further upfield, Kim and Siwakorn joining the attack at will, with Boskovic floating deep and out on the wings and Suarez operating as a false 9. The next goal was only 5 minutes away; Siwakorn robbed the ball in midfield and powered forward, releasing Suarez who strode into the box unchallenged and cut back for Boskovic to fire into the net.

Then a profound moment; my American companion with her scant football knowledge asked me if the Navy players are actually sailors or real footballers. It certainly gave me food for thought; maybe these players would be better if they jacked in their day jobs and sailed off to the high seas? Maybe the club should sign some actual sailors? Would they do a better job than this bunch? Navy are easily the poorest team I have witnessed as a relative newbie and many veteran supporters were inclined to agree. One fellow supporter described them as a team of mannequins but I think that’s doing a disservice to all hard working mannequins around the world. For me it was like watching a cemetery but the bodies hadn’t been buried yet. Ubon and Air Force Central should hang their heads in shame for being below this rabble too, and that question was probably my Navy highlight of the second half.

And there was more to come. Pakorn lost possession out wide but won the ball back with very little pressure and sent a cross to the far post which found Rochela, clearly done with his defensive duties for the day, and nodded it in past the flapping Wanlop. By now it was wave after wave of port pressure, with Bodin (10) putting in an impressive 30 minute appearance. He looks a great player and hopefully Jadet will use him more often over the coming months as he’s wasted on the bench. Pakorn, who was substituted soon after, clearly dines out on weaker teams and is a Jadet favourite but Bodin has the skill and talent to become a more complete footballer. Then came the champagne moment that will definitely be among the candidates for goal of the season. Kim, still with an eye for goal, played two one twos (two one twos FFS! You couldn’t make it up) with Suarez, bamboozling the Navy back line and bursting into the box to calmly dispatch the ball into the bottom right hand corner. It was a goal of great simplicity and beauty and a fitting way to wrap up such an exemplary performance.

 

A rare sighting of Thailand’s no1 expat football fan amongst the riff raff

 

So that was that and it was time to the return from Zone D (very nice atmosphere there in my opinion) to the sandpit for the celebrations. Of course there were drums, flares, leo (AKA Khlong Toey champagne), and a rendition of my favourite song (Muangthong hua kuay) but this time there was a bonus moshpit for those inclined to throw themselves about.

So it’s happy days right now. The recent return to form has vindicated Jadet, who has cut out the drastic tactical measures and fine-tuned the shape of the team and the positioning of individual players to get the best out of them. Kim slots into a 3 man central defence with ease and pushes the team higher up the field so Nitipong and Kevin can join the attack without having to worry about defensive duties, giving Pakorn and Nurul more options. The midfield 3 are more comfortable with their positioning, especially with Siwakorn playing a little more to the right of central midfield to allow Kim to surge forward when he feels like it and not crowd out Boskovic and Suarez. Suarez is now thriving as a false 9 and I’m sure bigger clubs will come knocking at some point, plus Boskovic (née Russell) has had a magnificent run of goals with 6 in the last 3 games. He isn’t the number 9 we were expecting and I’m always shouting at him to get into the box but if he continues this form I’ll keep schtum. So next up is a trip to Chonburi, followed but The Scum at home; 2 games we must view as winnable to keep up the chase, and you can guarantee the PAT will be rocking come derby day.

 

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

 

 

A lot of fine performances; Siwakorn’s industry, Pakorn’s tormenting and Bosko’s quickfire double but the man who gave Navy the most nightmares during the match and probably for the coming weeks in their sleep was Sergio Gustavo Suarez Arteaga. Relishing his role as a false 9 and understanding the positioning of his strike partner, Suarez has developed into a player of great quality in recent months, destroying Navy’s defensive set up time and time again, plus two one twos!

 

Suarez, Nebihi & the Maranhao Scale

 

A few weeks ago I came up with the concept of the Maranhao Scale – a measure by which all future Port transfer fuck-ups will be judged, with the 2017 Maranhao/Kaludjerovic debacle earning a maximum fuck-up factor of 10, and other transfer shenanigans rated as follows:

Signing lots of new players for Gary Stevens then firing him before he can use them: 9

Serginho arriving at Port, running over & killing a pedestrian (allegedly), & buggering off back to Brazil pretty damn sharpish: 8

Signing Mathias Jadue on an 18-month deal and never registering him: 7

Manucharyan running away from Ratchaburi on the eve of the 2016 season, turning up at Port, then disappearing: 7

Loaning out Tatchanon for half a season when we don’t have any decent DMs: 6

…and so on.

This time round, Port’s transfer business has been decidedly efficient, timely and, it has to be said, spectacular – the Maranhao Scale has barely been mentioned in recent weeks as Port have signed up some of T1’s top players and built a side that many feel can mount a genuine title challenge.

But in the last week or so the needle has begun twitching, as Sergio Suarez and Bajram Nebihi square off over the last foreigner slot. One source told us that Port signed Nebihi believing he was a striker, and were somewhat surprised when, after putting pen to paper, he told them what everybody in Thailand – apart from, it seems, Port’s management team – has known for a long time: that he’s actually a midfielder. Another source told us that Nebihi arrived at Port believing he was filling the final foreigner slot, only to get a shock when informed that he’d be expected to compete for his job with the incumbent Sergio Suarez, last season’s second-highest scorer.

On the one hand you can see this as Port merely hedging their bets and making sure they start the season with a good foreign AM: on the other, you have the club legally bound to lose one quality player before the season starts; you have Suarez, who might reasonably think he’d done enough to guarantee his place for 2018, pissed off at the club signing a potential repacement; and you have Nebihi, thinking he’d joined Port as one its big swinging foreign dicks, finding out he has to sing for his supper. Right now it’s only a 1 or 2 on the Maranhao Scale but the potential is there for the needle to go into the red.

So who is going to get the nod? It’s a tough one. I’m not Suarez’ biggest fan – it took him half a season to get used to playing at T1 level, he was very inconsistent, and he has a tendency to get distracted on the pitch by running battles with opponents and referees; but he was arguably Port’s best player in the second half of the season and his tally of 13 goals in all competitions was very impressive. Nebihi scored more T1 goals last season, is physically more imposing, and is more of an attacking threat; yet he spent a lot of the second half of the season on the bench and the Ubon fans we’ve spoken to weren’t exactly heartbroken to see him leave.

It all comes down to what Port really need. Nebihi is very much an attacking midfielder, and as such has plenty of competition for his place from the likes of Bodin, and also Pakorn & Nurul who can play in his position. Suarez, whilst he spent much of 2017 shoehorned into an AM role, is happiest in central midfield, where Port have yellow card collector Siwakorn and…not much else. On that basis, and on the basis that he’s a known quantity, Suarez should probably get the nod. But on the basis of Nebihi being a strapping 6’4″ brick shithouse who can more easily fill in for Boskovic as a backup striker if needed, his slightly superior T1 goal record last season, and the fact that Jadet’s sole tactic involves putting in crosses to a big striker (even when no big striker exists) my money is on Nebihi being given half a season to prove himself whilst Suarez either gets loaned out or sits on the bench giving the burly German that smouldering Latin glare that can tighten referee sphincters from 20 metres away.

But whoever gets picked, it’s a nice dilemma for the club to have, and there’s no doubt Port are going to be a lot of fun to watch next season, both on and off the hallowed PAT turf.

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

1. David Rochela 38%

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

 

 

2. Sergio Suarez 36%

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

 

 

3. Pakorn 6%

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

 

 

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

 

Rampant Lions Pound Wet Pussies: Port FC 3-1 Nakhon Ratchasima FC

 

After yet another paws for international matches, the Lions & the Swatcats convened at the PAT for a T1 catfight. With both teams still facing, albeit distantly, the spectre of relegation, I had the feline it would be a tight game – would Korat go fur it, or park the puss? During a pre-match Twitter chat with Cap’n Rochela, he predicted that the wet, muddy conditions wouldn’t make for good football, so mewl be surprised to learn that, despite the far from purr-fect pitch, it was actually a very entertaining and eventful game. Here’s my re-paw-t.

 


 

Port started the game with the classic Jadet 4-5-1 lineup, with the only changes coming in defence where Rattanai (17) returned in place of Worawut, and Todsapol (6) came in for the suspended Dolah, two changes I’d like to see made permanent as both players give Port’s defence a much more solid look.

There was also a familiar face in the Korat lineup, with our old friend, the Comedy Keeper himself, Weera Duckworth returning to the PAT to delight the crowd with his slapstick antics.

The game began in lively fashion, with both teams doing their best to play good football despite the pitch resembling a litter tray. But it was Port who looked the most likely to score, with Suarez (5) shooting narrowly wide on 15 minutes, closely followed by Pakorn (9) curling a free-kick into the arms of Weera Duckworth a couple of minutes later, and Josimar (30) hitting a disappointingly tame shot into the former Rovers Return landlady’s grateful arms after being released by a lovely Siwakorn through-ball. Korat too had their chances, with Rattanai making a smart one-handed save from a rasping drive by Chanatphon (22).

The deadlock was finally broken in the 38th minute. A Panpanpong (19) cross from the left found Josi, but for reasons best known to himself the big Brazilian headed the ball down rather than into the net, allowing Duckworth to make a save. However, in the resulting melee, Suarez was deemed to have been barged over by a defender and, to much hissing and spitting from the Swatcats – which, having just seen it on video, was entirely justified – the ref pointed to the spot, and, as per usual, Rochela (22) buried it in the old bolso de cebolla for 1-0.

Korat were further aggrieved 4 minutes later when Suarez again, and Ekkachai (20) clashed in the box, with the latter going down rather spectacularly. Too spectacularly for the ref’s liking – he gave the Korat player a yellow for simulation which, given that he’d been booked earlier in the game, meant an early bath. It was a little harsh as it was no more or less a penalty than the one given to Port minutes earlier, but given the number of harsh penalties given against us this season we weren’t complaining.

There was another somewhat unsavoury incident just before the break. Rattanai dived for the ball at the feet of Brazilian striker and serial irritant Paulo Rangel (9) and as the latter jumped over him, he deliberately stamped on the young keeper’s leg. The referee and his assistant may not have seen it but all of us in Zone B did, and proceeded to inform Rangel of our displeasure at his ungentlemanly conduct.

The rain began to fall again at half-time making the pitch even more slippery, but it didn’t stop Port who were 2-0 up within a couple of minutes at the restart. I’d just succeeded in smuggling a can of Leo past the less than attentive Zone B stewards when I noticed Suarez bursting into the Korat box. His chipped cross to the far post was fumbled by Weera Duckworth right onto the feet of Josi, who hammered it home from 2 yards to double Port’s lead. And two minutes later it was nearly 3, when an absolute thunderbastard from Pakorn was tipped over the bar by the much-loved former Coronation Street star (RIP). Josi was next to come close on 55 minutes when his near-perfect header from a Panpanpong cross beat Duckworth but came back off the post.

On the hour mark, Jim & myself were busy discussing Rangel’s shortcomings as a human being when who should get on the end of a Korat free-kick to nod it past Rattanai, but Rangel himself. It was the kind of confused defending (Rangel being marked not by a central defender but by Josi & Panpanpong) that has let Port down on so many occasions this season, and with the Swatcats’ tails now up, it looked like Operation Fuckup was once again underway.

Rangel came close in the 70th minute, with his shot being turned wide by the excellent Rattanai, but 4 minutes later it was pretty much game over, when a superb inswinging corner from Pakorn was bundled in off Suarez’s shoulder, the Spaniard showing the kind of desire to get on the end of corners that has been absent from his – and the team’s – game most of the season.

There was time for some late drama, with Korat being reduced to 9 men in injury time after a shocking tackle from behind left Nitipong (34) in a crumpled heap, before the referee finally blew the whistle.

One of Port’s better performances this, with the team looking energetic and committed after the recent limp cup exits. More importantly, the 3 points guarantee Port’s T1 status next season and the team can now enjoy the rest of 2017 without pressure, starting with next Sunday when we have a chance to effectively end Muangthong’s title hopes. Come on boys, you know what to do.

 

Man of the Match – Sergio Suarez

What’s this? Tim giving Suarez MOTM? Well, it’s true. There were several good performances from Port, notably Rochela, Rattanai and Adisorn, but the Spaniard gets the nod this week. Clearly revelling in the muddy conditions, he was at the heart of everything Port did, winning the penalty for the first goal, setting up Josi for the second, and scoring the third. It was a skilful, hard-working performance which earned him a warm ovation when he was substituted. And as ever, it begs the question – when he can play like this, why the hell doesn’t he do it more often?

 

We Fought the Law (And the Law Lost): Port FC 2-1 Police Tero FC

 

Port FC stormed out of the tunnel with guns blazing in the second half to finish off Police Tero and record a comprehensive 2-1 win at the PAT. There was only one change from the squad that travelled to Sukhothai last weekend as Siwakorn (16) returned to the lineup after suspension to replace Genki (18).

The home team started the game attacking the famous B end and wearing their familiar blue and orange. The visitors, wearing battleship grey, looked more like cadets on a 5am run and the atmosphere at kickoff could have reflected that early start.  Sluggish was the word flying around the stand as Port set the tempo at a light jog in the early minutes.

 

 

The first chance of the game came to the visitors in the 3rd minute when Datsakorn (7) sent a long ball down the right wing that was quickly crossed to the six yard box and narrowly miss by the opposing striker.  Port quickly regrouped behind the midfield leadership of Siwakorn who played Tana (99) into the box but he lost the ball after one too many stepovers.  

Barely able to string two passes together, Port had their first real chance when a misdirected clearance landed at the feet of Pakorn (9).  He danced into the box from the right side only to boot the ball to the top of B stand with his attempt on goal.  Several minutes of sloppy play from both teams was interrupted at the 15 minute mark when Police Tero earned their first corner.  Datsakorn sent a curling ball to the back post that was brilliantly cleared by Josimar (30).  Siwakorn took the clearance and raced down the middle of the pitch, feeding Pakorn on the wing. Pakorn’s cross landed at the feet of Tana but his attempt on goal was blocked.  

The speed of the game really picked up when Sergio Suarez (5) charged down two consecutive throw outs from the keeper and possession and pressure was now in the opposition end.  Port were on the attack and the midfielders were dominating play.  In the 25th minute Suarez intercepted a pass at the halfway line and played Josimar through by dissecting the center of the Police defense.  Josimar took the ball on his left foot and ran at the keeper, calmy finishing to give Port well deserved lead.   

With the crowd now in full voice Port continued to dominate the midfield with creative passes and hustle from Suarez, Siwakorn and Adisorn (13).   Port had the momentum but couldn’t increase their lead as Dolah (4) failed to get on the end of a free kick from Pakorn at point blank range.  Police Tero then equalised completely against the run of play as Port goalkeeper Worawut (36) misjudged a laser by Wichan (4) from 35 yards out.  The first half finished much like it started with both teams playing out the final minutes and retreating to the locker room with the score level at 1-1.

 

 

Port manager Jadet must have said something special at halftime because the boys came out with a sense of urgency supporters have not seen for a long time.  Port’s midfield, that played so poorly against Bangkok Glass, was now the leading force behind a second half assault on the Police goal.  Wave after wave of attack down both wings excited the crowd but could not produce a second goal for Port.  

In the 51st minute Tana galloped down the left wing cutting into the box and was chopped down by the Police right-back but no penalty was given.  However, Port kept up the relentless pace and the pressure. Their hard work was finally rewarded when a Pakorn (9) cross was headed down by a defender and Siwakorn smashed the ball into the center of the goal from just behind the penalty spot.  More of the same followed as Port continued control the game until the final whistle. In the end they were deserved winners.  

 

Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

Sergio’s hustle, nifty footwork, well timed tackling and crisp passing was the biggest difference on the day.  He had his best game of the season season complementing Siwakorn and spraying passes to Pakorn, Tana and Josimar on the attack. Let’s hope he can continue this good form.

 

Photos by Tim Russell

 

Sergio Suarez: Super Agent?

 

Sergio Suarez has been Port’s most impressive player so far in pre-season, but could he be having even more impact off the pitch than he has had on it?

The 29-year old Spaniard began his career in Las Palmas, where he progressed through the ranks alongside his twin brother Francisco. The two were loaned out to Castillo to gain experience in 2005-06, and impressed so much that there was apparently interest from Barcelona. As you might have guessed, Suarez didn’t end up making the move to the Nou Camp. Not this Suarez, anyway. He stayed at Las Palmas for a further six seasons – scoring 15 goals in 125 games – before eventually falling out of favour. After being loaned out to CD Mirandes in 2012, Suarez returned to Las Palmas and was not even given a squad number.

That’s when he decided the time was right to move on. He joined Police United in the TPL, then the following season moved South to Songkhla in Division 1. His two seasons in Thai football have yielded an impressive 13 goals in 52 games, but Port have already benefited in a different and perhaps unexpected way from Suarez’ presence before a single competitive game has even been played.

Sergio and Francisco Suarez, 29

Whilst still at Songkhla, Suarez facilitated the transfer of his twin brother Francisco to The Southern Fighting Bulls, but Suarez’ agenting skills have since come back to haunt Songkhla and help Port. Since making the move to Khlong Toei, Suarez has been instrumental in convincing both Elias Dolah (a former Songkhla teammate) and Asdrubal (a former Las Palmas teammate) to join him at PAT Stadium. Port have struggled in the transfer market in recent seasons, so after deals for Frenchman Saer Sene and Argentine Bernardo Cuesta fell through, Port fans could be forgiven for fearing the worst. But now things are really starting to look up. Suarez has not only looked the real deal on the pitch, but has brought with him the fire-power that could prove crucial in T1 next season. And with two more foreign players to come in, should we be poring over lists of Suarez’ former teammates to figure out who will be arriving next?

Regardless, we’re certainly happy with what we’ve seen so far from Sergio Suarez. We hope he continues to prove his worth on the pitch, and bring us as many of his best former teammates as he can!

 

Dolah Swaps Krona For Baht

 

Just days after The Sandpit suggested that Elias Dolah should be considered for selection by Thai national team coach Zico, the Thai-Swedish centre half has declared his intention to represent the War Elephants at international level.

Dolah started his career in Sweden, where he played for Lunds BK and then FC Rosengard. From there he made the switch to Thai Division 1, signing with Songkhla United where he played 23 times last season. Despite suffering an injury setback, the 6 foot 5 colossus impressed enough to attract the attentions of some of Thailand’s biggest clubs, including Buriram United and Bangkok Glass. Dolah was reportedly even offered trials by clubs in Japan, but the youngster chose Port FC, citing the atmosphere around the club and the fans as key factors in his decision.

Elias Dolah, 23

“I came to practice with the team, and they gave me a very warm welcome. My friend [Sergio Suarez] also recently moved to the club. We both work well together.”

“I was impressed by Port FC last season when we played at PAT Stadium. The fans were full of passion. If I compared them to a team in Sweden, it would be AIK. The atmosphere is similar.”

Turning his attention to his hopes for the future, Dolah said recently in an interview with Skånesport that he has set his sights on playing for the country of his father’s birth.

Of course, the Thailand national team is the best team in Southeast Asia. They recently drew with Australia in their World Cup qualifier. I hope that I will get to that point, but I have to play in the top league first. And now I am here.”

So, what of Dolah’s chances? At 1.96 meters Dolah offers something unique to the national team: height. Thailand have struggled defensively with long balls and set pieces for as long as I’ve been watching them. Playing in the recent Suzuki Cup with other South East Asian nations this was rarely an issue, but in the World Cup Qualifiers when Thailand have faced more physical teams like Iraq and UAE, their weakness has been brutally exposed. Surely a player of Dolah’s stature would help the team in a way that current starting central defenders Adisorn Promrak and Prathum Chuthong, who both stand at 1.75 meters, just can’t.

The switch to 3 centre halves that Zico first trialled with great success in the draw against Australia also opens up room in the squad for another defender. Pravinwat Boonyong from Bangkok Glass came in to the recent Suzuki Cup squad, but was distinctly unimpressive the few times he played, meaning Zico is likely to be looking elsewhere when he picks his next squad in March.

If Dolah makes a good start to the season, striking up a strong partnership with captain David Rochela and getting on the end of Pakorn’s ever-threatening deliveries, then Zico would be well advised to take a very close look at Dolah. He took a risk on young, inexperienced but physically dominant Ubon forward Siroch Chatthong last year, and ended up unearthing a gem.

Port fans will be hoping first and foremost that Dolah’s performances for his new club merit this kind of recognition, as a strong central defensive pairing will be crucial in next season’s push for a top 10 finish.

 

Tom’s Transfer Talk – 4 Dec 2016

Rumours of comings and goings have been dominating discussion among Port fans in recent weeks. The Sandpit can confirm that Rodrigo Maranhao (29), despite talk of his departure, turned out for the first team in Saturday’s friendly, but compatriot Wagner Carioca (35), who announced his departure earlier in the week, was not involved. Despite his dominant displays at the heart of Port’s midfield last season, the combative midfielder has been deemed surplus to requirements for the coming season, but will continue to train with the team as he looks for a new club.

Sergio Suarez, 29

Sergio Suarez, 29

Talk of his replacement has repeatedly centred around Sergio Suarez. The 29 year old former Las Palmas and Songkhla midfielder was spotted running laps around the pitch by The Sandpit’s eagle-eyed scouts, seemingly confirming rumours that he is set to join the Klong Toey Army for the 2017 season.

In other rumours, French trialist Saer Sene scored twice in Port’s 4-1 friendly win against Thonburi University, potentially putting him in the frame to lead the line next season. Playing in a position that no Port player has really made his own over the last two seasons, the towering physical forward staked his claim with a composed finish to put the Klong Toey Army 1-0 up. He showed some skill with a deft flick in the build up to the third goal, but in the latter stages missed two chances that he probably would have expected to do better with. He found the target again at the death to round off the scoring, but The Sandpit was busy buying beer at the time.

Captain David Rochela, speaking exclusively to The Sandpit when we bumped into him outside The Sportsman later that evening, commented that the trialist had been with the club for two days,and that turnover of trialists has been fast and furious. We think that Coach Jadet Meelarp will likely want to see the striker face a tougher defence than that offered up by Thonburi before making up his mind.