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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.