On a typically chaotic night at the PAT, Port rather fortunately earned a point against 10-man Sukhothai, in a game decided by goalkeeping that went from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again. Before the game a draw would’ve been seen as two points dropped, but in reality Port were lucky not to lose a game that exposed how shallow the squad is.
Thanks to some surprise results on Saturday night, Port went into the game knowing that a win would take them above Bangkok Utd into second and also put them six points above the Forces of Evil; however we also knew that, with Suarez still injured, Kim suspended and Sukhothai’s forward pairing of Bonilla & Baggio no doubt looking forward to running rings around Port’s defence as per usual, this would not be as easy an encounter as the league table might suggest – and so it proved.
Port have had enough previous warnings about Bonilla’s threat in & around the box, so it was very surprising when, after just 4 minutes, a pass found him unmarked in the area, and he had all the time in the world to curl a peach of a shot past a despairing Rattanai (17) into the far corner to give the Fire Bats a shock lead. Sukhothai were clearly here for the win and were passing the ball around beautifully, testing Rattanai on a couple more occasions with Port’s defenders alarmingly static. Things were little better up front, with Siwakorn (16) and Nitipong (34) blazing good chances over the bar, Pakorn (7) having one of his all too frequent off nights, and Boskovic (23) unable to impose himself on the game. The best chance of the half fell to Dolah (4) on the half hour mark, but his cheeky backheel was saved by Sukhothai’s keeper Pairote, whilst the excellent Bodin (10), revelling in his attacking midfield role, tested the keeper on a couple of occasions and found him up to the job.
Port finally got the better of Pairote in the 39th minute, when a delicious ball over the top from Siwakorn left Boskovic in a one-on-one, only for Pairote to hack him down on the edge of the box. The ref, after needlessly consulting VAR, rightly produced a red card, which was the spark for around 7 minutes of protests from Sukhothai who, despite their recent change of coach, still show little respect for the laws of the game and should have seen a few more cards. Once order was restored, Pakorn stepped up and selfishly fired the free-kick into the side-netting. We say it every week – his selfishness is hurting the team and in my opinion it’s time to cash in and move him on.
At half-time Jadet brought in Todsapol (6) for the ineffective Adisorn (13) and moved cap’n Rochela (22) into midfield, as Port set about getting back into the game. And it nearly paid off in the first minute of the second half when Kevin (97) put the ball on a plate for Boskovic some 10 yards out but inexplicably he shot wide of the goal when you’d have put your shirt on him to score. For the next 30 minutes a familiar pattern took hold, with Port launching attack after attack, and Sukhothai trying to catch them on the break, with both Baggio and Bonilla coming close to making it 2-0, the latter only denied by a superb save from Rattanai.
Eventually however Port’s relentless pressure finally told, when Arthit (29) fed Siwakorn, whose wonderful cross eluded Sukhothai’s reserve keeper Kittikun and was accidentally turned into his own net by a defender. 1-1, and the momentum was most definitely with Port, with Kittikun making point-blank saves from Nurul (31) and Arthit. But the Bats were still dangerous on the break and with just 2 minutes remaining Madagascan midfielder Nijva broke into the box, provoking an insane charge off his line from Rattanai who brought him down for a clear penalty. Quite why the Port keeper saw fit to come out so far is a mystery, but it looked like costing Port the game as that man Bonilla stepped up to give Sukhothai the lead.
But the late cave-ins of 2017 are a thing of the past and the 2018 Port are made of sterner stuff, and they came right back at Sukhothai. In the very last minute, a speculative Siwakorn shot from outside the box was inexplicably ushered into the net by Kittikun, who looked like he was allowing Port to score. It definitely had a very fishy smell to it, though I hope that was just the dried squid seller setting up his stall in the sandpit.
2-2 it finished, after a thrilling second half from two teams intent on playing good attacking football. Port were poor, with little to offer from the bench (though you can’t help thinking we could’ve used Terens’ pace late on); Sukhothai looked much better than their league position and will stay up if they keep playing like this. An opportunity missed to go second, but in the end a lucky escape.
The Sandpit Man of the Match: Bodin
MOTM contenders were pretty thin on the ground tonight. Siwakorn with an assist and a goal should get a mention but he squandered too many chances and misplaced too many passes to get the nod. So the award goes to the Fresh Prince himself Bodin, who showed just how wrong Jadet has been to leave him on the bench so often. His passing was sublime and his workrate was unusually intense, and he staked a very strong claim to being the future of Port’s midfield.