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The Queen Bees’ Knees & the Return of a King: Port FC 5-3 Sisaket FC

 

In the end, this was a thoroughly entertaining match to round off what has been, despite some frustrations, a solid season from Port. Any place from 10th–8th is now possible and would represent progress. The last time we went into a season sitting comfortably in mid-table with no excitement of promotion to look forward to, or relegation to fear, was in 2011! So, joining the rest of the Sandpit in Zone B in a carefree, happy, Leo enhanced mood was indeed a rare treat.

The Port line-up raised a few eyebrows but every cloud has a silver lining. Some players were being given, we suspected, a final run-out in a Port shirt, most notably, the often, deservedly maligned Tana (99) and he was certainly to live down to expectations. 33 year old Ittipol (7) is already confirmed to be on his way at the end of the season, and he was also given a final 90 minutes at PAT Stadium.

Apart from some typical left wing raids from Genki (18) and a header which went close from the same player, the opening half an hour was typical of Thai League football: great first touch, fast, neat, incisive passing, tricky wing play, rash tackles and the odd dash of theatrics but, like a Japanese tourist in a Nana Plaza pay-by-the-hour hotel, short on penetration.

It might be an age thing, but at times like this my mind does wander; random thoughts started to meander through my head, though still obscurely connected to the scene unfolding before me:

  • Madame Pang’s legs are far too pale for her to be wearing skimpy shorts on a wet Saturday in November
  • I wonder how much it would cost to rent a flat in the orange and blue painted apartment block behind Zone D
  • I miss seeing the temperature updates on the old scoreboard
  • Is Tana the square root of nothing?

 

 

Then, just as my thinking delved into the existential, a goal of infinite beauty, yet stark simplicity, lit up PAT Stadium in the 37th minute; Pakorn (9) delivering a defence splitting pass for Suarez (5) to race on to and power past the keeper. The Spaniard has been on fire recently and was having another of his better games.

Half-time did nothing to disturb Port’s new-found momentum and, after a couple of narrow misses, on 53 minutes, Genki Nagasato ran on to another through ball to the right of the penalty area and smashed in a shot off the post. Beats ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’, the Sandpit in Zone B reminded him. He had laboured hard for that goal and it was well deserved.

 

 

Three minutes later, Zone B was again in raptures when Todsapol (6) seemed the most likely scorer with a glancing header from a corner. At one point it appeared that Tana was about to claim the goal but the hapless midget would have needed a stepladder to have nodded that one in, so his celebrations were largely ignored.

Port were rampant now and chances came and went, at both ends of the pitch to be fair, with Rattanai (17), who had been superb, pulling off a couple of acrobatic saves to deny Sisaket a consolation goal. Then, in the 73rd minute, came possibly Port’s best worked goal of the season, Suarez expertly side-footing the ball into the net after a rapid exchange of passes in the box, the final assist from the recently introduced Ekkapoom (8): 4-0.

 

Image by การท่าเรือ เอฟซี Port FC

 

Sisaket pulled one back before the always energetic ‘Poom’, who adds more to our attack in two minutes than Tana (whom he replaced) does in 200, was to figure prominently for the 5th goal in the 85th minute; the Sisaket keeper bringing him down illegally after another burst into the box. As soon as the penalty was given, David Rochela (22, or David Roosevelt according to Google Translate) left his place at the back to assume his duties and, despite some muted protest from Josimar, duly dispatched it well out of the keeper’s reach.

 

Image by การท่าเรือ เอฟซี Port FC

 

And that, really, should have been it. Port were leading comfortably, and quite deservedly, after a compelling second half performance. But, just as if to remind us that old habits die hard, Port performed at their most Portsy in extra time, conceding two sloppy goals to give a slightly distorted look to the result. Still, none of us would begrudge Sisaket and their wonderful travelling fans this belated consolation.

So, some home comfort to send the fans away happy, which is more than I can say about the club’s, and Queen Bee Madame Pang has to be heavily implicated in this, feeble attempts to commemorate 50 years of Thai Port football and appropriately reward her worker bees. I did mention this in my match preview, but quite frankly, it has been pathetic. My memory may be playing tricks, but I am sure we have had end-of-season parties on the field outside the club shop in recent years, the two most memorable being the promotion party in 2013 and the relegation party (!) the season before.  For various reasons I am sure, the turn out today was very disappointing, but those of us who were there deserved better.

Still, there was one supreme consolation at the end, which will live long in my memory certainly. King Leandro was in the Sandpit. And looking trim. He shook my hand, signed my shirt and said, in a warm, cuddly tone, “I remember you”. Amazingly, all this after we had just been discussing his Port career over post match beers. Those of you who have read my footballing love letter to him: ‘Leandro, Portrait of an Icon’ will understand my turning into jelly – it was man-love at its finest and no doubt cringingly embarrassing for those who witnessed it. I offer no apologies.  Ratchaburi – here we come!

 

 

Tim’s Man of the Match – Sergio Suarez

OK, I hold my hands up on this one – I’ve spent most of the season criticising Suarez for only showing up for one game every 3-4, but in the last few weeks he’s been absolutely superb, and last night he was magnificent. Two goals, and bossing the game like no player I’ve seen since Zidane tearing Howard Wilkinson’s England a new one in 1999, or the peerless Berndt Schuster silencing Old Trafford for Atletico Madrid in 1991. Admittedly this is a slightly lower level than that but if he can keep up this kind of form then SS (er, maybe not) may be lining up in Port’s midfield next season. And maybe he’ll unblock the Sandpit on Instagram now…

 

The Party’s Over – Did We Miss It? Port FC vs. Sisaket, 11 November 2017

 

Port end their home season, in what has been their 50th anniversary year, with a fixture against newly, and sadly, relegated Sisaket.

Equally disappointing, is the fact that, apart from the odd souvenir in Port’s dismally run shop, and some independently made t-shirts, there has really been nothing of note to mark this very special year. Perhaps Madame Pang is saving it up for a final shindig – our loyal fans deserve nothing less.

 

 

Port’s form at home has been equally underwhelming, with 7 games won, 5 lost and 4 drawn; 26 goals scored and 26 conceded – there has, at least then, been some balance to our play.

We started with some really tight, scrapping thrillers against Suphanburi (3-2), Navy (1-0), Ubon (2-1) and, despite a lack of goals, probably the best of all against Buriram (0-0), in front of another packed house. Defeats against Bangkok Glass (0-3), Pattaya (0-2) and Bangkok Utd (0-3) kept our feet on the ground as the boys failed to fulfill their early season promise.

Our opponents today, Sisaket, will not be short of support; a good number of their fans live in the area, certainly judging by the number I met on the way home from the last encounter. They have a short, but controversial history.

The club was formed as Sisaket FC in 1999 and won the Provincial League that same season. By 2010 they had improved enough to gain promotion to the Premier League and it is shortly after this that it began to get messy. What follows is a story which will sound depressingly familiar to regular followers of the dark side of Thai football and, like most of its controversies, has more twists than a pig’s penis.

In 2012 the club were relocated to Ubon Ratchatani after the local Sisaket government decided to back the newly formed Sisaket United F.C., which then promptly changed its name to Esan Utd. There were, naturally, loud and vehement protests from the Sisaket fans at the prospect of losing both their team and its name. The BB-CU FC v Esan United match had to be interrupted for five minutes after Sisaket fans invaded the pitch in protest. Local Sisaket fans were also on Zone B, in force, at an early Port game to make another protest and were loudly cheered by the Klong Toey faithful. Sisaket fans were to pay this back in 2014 when Port needed to beat them in the final game of the season after a 9 point deduction by the League put us firmly in the 5 team relegation zone. Port won that game 4-1, I believe, generously applauded by the sympathetic Sisaket fans, the only ones ‘officially’ allowed in.

Back to 2102, and despite the protests, Esan United carried on and finished the season in 6th, a record for the club, in that guise anyway. Did you get all that? There will be a test later.

Keith and I traveled down to Ubon for the Port game in early August 2012, the only two farang Port fans at the game and watched in dismay as Port threw away a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 to a ten man Esan Utd, (not much has changed!), featuring former Port keeper Munze and, quite possibly, Tana! Efforts to find out if he was on the score sheet have floundered.

If you thought 2012 was dodgy, the scandal deepened in 2013 when the Football Association of Thailand found Esan United guilty of forging documents, causing the club to return to Sisaket. It then descended into farce when, due to legal conflicts, Sisaket were suspended for the rest of the season after only playing three games, but were not relegated. The club returned to the Thai Premier League in 2014, returning to their old name of Sisaket F.C and using Sri Nakhon Lamduan Stadium as their home ground, where they play to this day. So, Port fans of long standing will have a certain fondness for Sisaket and their welcoming, lovely fans and their presence in T1 will be sorely missed.

The reverse fixture this season was notable for an excellent away social weekend and the first of a double header of Port giving up a two goal lead for a dismal draw (the next was Navy)  – goals from Leroy Lita and Leandro Assumpcao (a penalty in the 95th minute) cancelling out efforts from Pakorn and Siwakorn.

Assumpcao is now at Muang Thong and Leroy Lita is also missing so a quick glance at the current squad on the transfrmarket site lists their three most valued players as Mariano Berriex (20, Argentina) – 250,000 Euros; Isaka Cernak (32, Australia/Uganda) – 200,000 and Denis Silva (2, Brazil) – 150,000, the latter featuring in Tom’s ‘players to watch’ earlier in the season. With the first two down as attacking midfielders Siwakorn may have to get in early. Incidentally, all Port’s players, in a post-Brexit homage, are listed in pounds sterling, with Josimar topping the pile on 360,000 quid. Tana is 68k.

 

Denis Silva, Mariano Berriex and Isaka Cernak

 

Having not seen the game against Muang Thong or tonight’s match at Super Power, I will leave the potential line-up to Tom.

Whatever it is, Port should have enough for a win, added to the three points gained in Samut Prakarn, to help in that push for 8th place.

 

Tom’s Predicted Starting XI

 

 

Two changes are possible from Wednesday’s win against Super Power, with Rochela (22) and Siwakorn (16) missing through a leg injury and suspension respectively. Rochela wasn’t in the match day squad, but is recovering well and hopes to be fit in time for Saturday, and Siwakorn should come straight back in to the team for Piyachat (88).

 


 

The match will be shown live on True Sport HD3 at 18:00 on Saturday 11 November, 2017. For those who can’t make it to PAT Stadium, The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13 will show the match on a big screen with sound if you ask them nicely. Mention the Sandpit or wear your Port shirt for a 10% discount while you’re at it!

 

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You Know the Rules, & So Do I: Sisaket FC 2-2 Port FC

 

As is so often the case, a cracking away trip was rather let down by a football game taking place in the middle of it – not a bad game as such, one of the better ones we’ve seen this season in fact; but one where, once again, rather than coming away celebrating a win, we’re left talking about poor quality refereeing and Port’s inability to see out games against inferior opponents. A pattern is beginning to emerge.

At some point, back in the mists of time (yesterday morning in fact, but it seems so long ago as to almost belong to another era), our select away gathering convenes at the Don Muang branch of McDonalds for that cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast, a round of Sausage & Egg McMuffins. Duly muffined, we board our Nok Air flight to Ubon Ratchatani, where we are greeted by our advance party (Hockers), who is waxing lyrical about the delights of the local taxi services, and introducing us to our driver for the day, Mr Somchai. After waiting for Kenny to receive his luggage (“Liquids” he mutters gnomically) we’re soon aboard the Somchai-mobile and heading off to our first stop, the rather worryingly named Rapeepan Ville Hotel in Ubon – heartily recommended at around 800BHT per night including breakfast, and boasting not one but two ponds should any Port fans fancy a post-match dip.

 

Port take over the Ubon Irish Pub

 

For lunch we head to the Ubon Irish Pub, an excellent choice for many reasons, one of them being that it is somewhat steeped in local footballing culture – not only is the barmaid the girlfriend of Ubon UMT’s physio, but it seems the place is owned by Ubon and former Buriram coach Scott Cooper. It’s a marvellous little spot with a well-maintained draught Guinness that puts many Bangkok bars to shame, and the barmaid does a wonderful job of preparing lunch for all 8 of us – and the fish & chips were well worth waiting for.

 

Like a Thai Honda midfielder, we left the Port team in our wake

 

Then we head off on the 65km drive to Sisaket, stopping en route to load up on the obligatory beers (both Tom and I can confirm that Singha’s new premium brand U Beer is very nice indeed) and passing the Port bus on our way. Alcohol of course often leads to ill-advised choices and for some reason, after singing Singh Chao Ta and the Genki Nagasato song, someone – possibly James – suggests listening to Rick Astley, so we eventually pull up at Sisaket’s charmingly ramshackle, rural stadium with Never Gonna Give You Up blasting out of the van.

After procuring beers from a beer stall for some reason situated on an ants’ nest, and being duly bitten, we meet up with other Port fans and head into the away end, which quickly fills up with several dozen locals who turn out to be Wuttichai’s family, which explains why the no14 was making a rare start and wearing the captain’s armband (note to Jadet: this isn’t a school team and you can’t pick a player just because his mum & dad are in the crowd). Wuttichai’s dad is a top fella and kindly shares his beer with me after the stall outside runs out. Siwakorn’s dad is also in attendance and there’s a touching scene when Hockers prostrates himself at the feet of his hero’s father.

 

Yours truly with Wuttichai Senior

 

After Sisaket’s extravagantly-horned Kouprey mascot comes over for a wave – to be greeted with drunken chants of “You’re extinct, and you know you are” and a less than note-perfect rendering of late 90s handbag house classic Horny by Mousse T ft Hot & Juicy – the game kicks off and – whisper it – but it rapidly looks as if Port are going to boss this one, with the Koupreys looking less than Dangerous and restricted to the occasional counter-attack. But as usual Port are having difficulty turning their possession into scoring chances with Wuttichai (14) non-existent and Pakorn (9) having another one of “those” games where he looks like a man nervously confronting a football for the first time.

Nevertheless, it’s Pakorn – sort of – who puts Port ahead on 42 minutes when a vicious inswinging corner is comically palmed into the net by Sisaket’s keeper. Where would be we without shite Thai goalkeepers eh? In the bottom half, for sure. Wuttichai nearly makes it 2 on the stroke of half time when Nitipong (34) puts in arguably his best cross of the season, only for the ageing striker to head it over the bar from just 6 yards out.

But we don’t have long to wait for a second, as 4 minutes into the second half a Pakorn free-kick bounces into the Sisaket area and onto the foot of Siwakorn (16), and the Thin White Duke buries it into the back of the net. But hold on, what’s this? The referee, who has had little to do at that point other than allow Sisaket to kick Josimar (30) every time he has the ball, rules it out, then consults with his assistant, and then allows it again, sparking lengthy protests from Sisaket which result in a red card for their coach and 7 minutes of injury time, which will – sadly – end up punishing Port.

So, 2-0 up and Sisaket struggling and it looks as if Port have this one in the bag. But as we know of old, Port are not the best at managing these situations and on 70 minutes the game changes, as a fairly tame Sisaket cross from the left is watched by an alarmingly static Dolah (4) and Rochela (22), allowing former Reading striker Leroy Lita to head it into Worawut (36)’s bottom left corner. 2-1, and the Koupreys have most definitely got The Horn and at that point you just know Port are going to let this slip.

The moment is a long time coming, but in the 95th minute Sisaket throw a free-kick into the mixer, Meechok (20) grapples with soon-to-be Muangscum striker Leandro Assumpcao who, no doubt fully aware of the referee’s desire to even things up after Port’s second goal, throws himself down in the box, and the man in green points at the spot. Yet another penalty given away and, as Leandro thumps it past Worawut, yet another lead thrown away. Just as the ball hits the net, the heavens open and we take this as our cue to vacate the premises and head back to Sisaket. During the journey it rapidly becomes apparent that, what with the levels of drunkenness on the bus, our plan to find a bar and watch the FA Cup Final isn’t going to happen. So after enjoying Keith having a goodnight Skype call with his dogs (captured by Linny for posterity should anyone want to hear it, though you’ll have to outbid Keith), we return to the Rapeepan and either watch the game in our rooms or pass out.

 

A rumble with the enemy at Ubon Airport

 

Sunday offers little to report other than almost universal hangovers, a cracking Isaan lunch at the airport and a photo session in the departure lounge with a random Muangthong fan. The late penalty really has taken the gloss off the weekend.

Still, this result completes a run of 8 points out of 4 games, including two tricky away trips to Isaan and a visit to the SCG, and with Port sitting in 7th on 28 points at the halfway point of the season, things are panning out better than most of us would’ve expected. It’s just a shame that, due to defensive lapses, a lack of attacking invention and the usual dodgy refereeing, it could be so much better. But we’ll be reviewing the first leg of the season in more detail shortly so I’ll stop here.

 

Man of the Match: Siwakorn

With Port playing a 4-4-2 for a change, the skinny genius had more scope to get forward and he revelled in the role, bossing the midfield and spraying passes out to the wings with efficient regularity, and of course notching another goal. His was the standout performance on a night when Port were solid but unspectacular and were crying out for some spark up front, which – hopefully – Maranhao and/or Asdrubal will provide after the restart.