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It’s Bodin Well For A Title Challenge: Port FC 3-2 Suphanburi FC

Games like that win titles”, Tommie Duncan and I agreed, managing to conduct a relatively calm discourse, panting breath restored, after the absorbing drama we had just witnessed. Port have made a few statements of intent over the past few weeks: 14 goals in 4 consecutive wins, including an assured away victory over bitter, ailing rivals, Muangthong, but perhaps none more so than this: a comeback (twice) victory over a resolute Suphanburi team, won, gloriously, with a thrilling breakaway goal from Boskovic in the 87th minute. It was significant that last year, in a game that Port had dominated for an hour, Supahanburi struck twice to establish a lead that was then never threatened. This Port team is made of sterner stuff.

I have to admit that this game did concern me. Suphanburi, in spite of their lowly position, still carried a threat; their twin, Brazilian strike force of Jonatan Reis (7) and Cleiton Silva (23) one of the best in the League. Goalkeeper and Captain, Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakul (18), who defied Port so frustratingly last season, was restored to the team after injury. The War Elephants would also have been buoyed by their 3-1 win over Nakhon Ratchasima last week. Port, not for the first time, were missing key players, and, once again, this was largely self-inflicted. Pakorn had been injured needlessly in a mid-week friendly while both Nitipong and Go were suspended after receiving 4 yellow cards in 7 matches. 4 in 7 – that is some going and this indiscipline has and could continue to lose Port points. Rochela is still not fully match-fit while Nurul was on the bench.

 

 

This meant, of course, that the mercurial Bodin, quite rightly, kept his place. It will be interesting to see what Jadet’s first XI is when all players are fit but for the moment the ‘Fresh Prince’ is undroppable.  Arthit made his first start of the season, Suarez was restored to the midfield and Adisorn replaced Nitipong. We have a strength in depth this year that I can never previously recall and a team that has grown together with the just the odd tweak or two to strengthen. Certainly, a solid base upon which to build a title challenge, but first Suphanburi had to be swept aside.

Suarez was to be a major influence in this game and, on 7 minutes, taking a lofted cross from Bodin, he cut inside from the left to force a De Gea style, foot-save from Sinthaweechai (Sintha from here on). On 22 minutes, the silky Spaniard set off on a mazy run into the heart of the Suphan defence before setting up Sumanya, whose left foot shot was brilliantly turned around the post by Sintha. With the ex-National keeper in this form, Port fans worst fears were confirmed when, 5 minutes later, Reis worked his way onto the edge of the box following some sloppy defending down the line, and turned inside Kevin to smash an angled drive past a despairing Watchara.  A goal very much against the run of play but the War Elephants were on the rampage now and spurned two golden chances to increase their lead before half-time; Reis firing over the bar from inside the box and Silva shooting wide from an even better angle after slipping between a static Dolah and Todsapol, like a hare, long ears flapping in the wind, dashing for cover between two hesitant hounds. Two goals down at half-time would have left even this Port with a mountain to climb.

It was clear that Port needed an early second half goal and the Lions did not disappoint. After Siwakorn had tried his luck with a speculative long-range lob, fairly comfortably dealt with by Sintha, Port got the break they needed on 48 minutes; Bodin scoring with a towering, powerful header from a measured Suarez cross.

The lead was to be short-lived. In the 56th minute Reis got behind Kevin in the box to put in a driven cross which Watchara could only parry for Silva to smash home. The deadly duo had struck.  Port’s nerve was to be put to the test, or ‘bottle’ as they put it nowadays.

But, bottle they had in crates. Within a minute, Bodin calmly brought down Adisorn’s cross, 10 yards out, only for his carefully aimed, side-foot shot to be headed off the line. In the 63rd minute, another Adisorn cross was headed over by an unmarked Arthit, waiting inside the 6-yard box. He should have done better. It was his final contribution to the action, instantly replaced by Nurul. ‘Pele’ has worked wonders as an impact sub this season when teams are tired and stretched by his energy and tireless running but he maybe lacks the guile to be a starter. This had been the only real chance he had got on the end of.

Ten minutes later came the game-turning goal, setting up the grandstand finish. Suarez, once again cleverly finding space on the right hand side of the box, popped over another delightful, left-footed cross for the imperious Bodin to calmly side-foot into the corner with his left foot. That is three goals in a week from Bodin and a perfect goal-scoring trinity: right foot, left foot, head. There is a kind of mystical serenity around Bodin when he receives the ball, even in a crowded box. He seems to have the ability, that all really good players possess, of ignoring all the distractions around him to calmly deliver, as if he is on his own down a back alley knocking the ball into a circle chalked on the wall, headphones on, listening to Ed Sheeran, while his mum is calling him in for his tea.  His first touch doesn’t just kill the ball, it subjugates it, bending it to his will, before he proceeds to caress, almost fondle it, lavishing the ball with protective devotion, like Gollum and his ‘precious’ ring. At times like this, he is an absolute joy to watch. Oh, and that scoop!

2-2 and the stadium was on the boil, matching the temperatures earlier in the day. On 82 minutes Athibordee replaced Sumanya and five minutes later came the destiny defining (we hope) moment. Suarez, on the half-way line, picked up a loose ball, looked up, before threading a slide-rule pass between two flailing Suphanburi defenders to set an on-side Boskovic free. Bosko advanced into the box while the crowd held its breath; the Montenegrin had not scored a goal from open play all season and had been especially profligate when one-on-one. Sintha advanced, arms and legs spread-eagled to narrow the angle, but Bosko’s aim was unerring, side-footing the ball to nestle just inside the post.  A volcanic roar resounded throughout the stadium as grown men, women and children (we’re a community club) hugged each other in unbridled joy.

There was still enough time for Bosko, Kevin and Bodin to interchange passes by the touchline to the exultant sound of ‘Ole, Ole’ from the crowd before the referee’s whistle brought this compelling football match to a close.

Port still top the League, at present, 4 points clear of Buriram who have a game in hand. It is all building up nicely for an epic encounter at the PAT on June 16th. After the FA Cup tie against Samut Sakhon on Wednesday, there is a break for the Coronation and then we face a tricky away fixture at Chainat on Sunday, May 12th.

 

The Sandpit’s Men Of The Match

 

 

This just has to be shared between 2-goal Bodin and 3-assist Suarez, both at the top of their game. Suarez, at times, was unplayable, while Bodin is confirming every week the originality and drive he brings to the team. A special word also for Siwakorn, who is becoming more and more influential as the season progresses. He truly is back to his best, constantly dropping back, demanding the ball, linking and changing play, whilst offering his trademark ‘challenges’, for which, sadly, he was booked again. Dolah also received a yellow card.

The Future is Orange and Blue.

 

Ratt-sody in Blue

 

Kawin, Sinthaweechai, Chanin and Rattanai

 

Sport MThai have reported that Thai National Team Coach Zico’s appearance at PAT Stadium on Saturday was not just to get a closer look at new Port signing Elias Dolah, but also our exciting young goalkeeper Rattanai Songsangchan.

As The Sandpit wrote about in early January, Dolah has been on Zico’s radar ever since he made the switch to Khlong Toei. His height makes him a potentially great asset to the diminutive Thai National Team, and the change to playing 3 centre backs would seem to create space in the squad for the big Thai-Swede.

Rattanai, however, has not been tipped to make the step up to full international level until now. Indeed, until Port’s starting XI to face Ratchaburi was announced on Saturday, many thought that Rattanai wouldn’t even be Port’s first choice ‘keeper this season. They should have known better! The 21 year old stopper was given his debut last July in the 2-1 League Cup victory against BEC Tero, and impressed so much in the Cup competitions that by September he was already being selected for crunch games against Muangthong Utd in the League Cup semi-final and promotion rivals Ubon UMT in the league.

It’s his lightning reactions that are the most obvious sign that he is a seriously talented ‘keeper, but Rattanai has also looked comfortable collecting crosses; often preferring to catch the ball rather than punch, which is unusual and refreshing in the modern game.

Arguably, the only weakness in Rattanai’s game last season was his distribution. He looked nervous with the ball at his feet, and often seemed to avoid kicking it long wherever possible. In the off-season, though, he trained with the National Team Under 23’s and appears to have worked particularly hard on that aspect of his game. Against Ratchaburi on Saturday, Rattanai picked out a few nice long passes with his left foot, and kept Port on level terms early in the second half with a crucial point blank save from Alharbi El Jadeyaoui. There was one slightly worrying moment when he waited for what seemed an age for the ball to roll in to the area before smothering the danger, but he had judged that he had enough time, and was proved right.

It’s not just Rattanai’s performances which have endeared him to the PAT faithful though, but his personality too. He is a down-to-earth youngster who can often be found eating Isaan food at a local Khlong Toei restaurant with his family and girlfriend after the game. Before his ascent to the first team, Rattanai would come and go with quiet anonymity, but after some of his heroic performances he was entering to the sound of applause, and having to deal with all sorts of star-struck lunatics and their photo requests!

 

 

On the pitch, too, Rattanai has increasingly found his voice and began to express himself more. He seems to be communicating well with his defenders, and isn’t afraid to tell them when he isn’t happy. As the photo below beautifully illustrates, he celebrated as passionately as the fans on the terraces when Port scored their injury-time equalizer on Saturday. That’s what we like to see!

 

 

So what are Rattanai’s chances of making the step up to international level? The 3 goalkeepers named by Zico in the last several squads have been Kawin Thamsatchanan, Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool and Chanin Sae-ear. 27 year old Kawin – not just the best goalkeeper in Thailand but quite possibly in Asia – is not going to be dislodged in the foreseeable future. His understudy Sinthaweechai, however, will be celebrating his 35th birthday when Thailand face Saudi Arabia on March 23rd. After making 83 appearances in the last 14 years for Thailand, the Suphanburi stopper’s international career can’t go on forever, and when it does come to an end Rattanai should surely be one of the names in the frame to replace him in the squad. With Kawin expected to continue as Thailand’s number 1 for many years to come, it makes sense for Zico to look to the future and pick players who could one day be Kawin’s successor.

Expect to see Chonburi’s 24 year old Chanin, 21 year old Rattanai, and a host of other young ‘keepers vying for places in the squad in the coming years. If he continues to develop the way he has done in his first year at Port, we’re backing Rattanai to earn his chance at international level. He may have to wait a while, but time is on his side.