Port in the AFC: What Happens Next


Port’s stunning end-of-season form (4 wins in the last 5 games, scoring 18 and conceding 3) means they’ve finished in lofty 3rd place. Not only does this mean we’ve finished ahead of Muangthong, it also means there is a strong possibility of qualifying for the AFC Champions’ League qualifiers.

AFC qualifying for Thai clubs works like this: the winning team qualifies directly for the group stages, whilst the runners-up and the FA Cup winners enter the 2nd round of qualifiers. However, if one of the top two teams also wins the FA Cup, then the team in third – Port – gets the third AFC place. And it just so happens that, on 27 October, T1 winners Buriram will take on Chiang Rai Utd in the FA Cup final, which means that if they win, Port get that third slot.

This graphic explains what happens next:



Should Port qualify, they will enter the qualifying tournament in round 2, where their opponents are already known – 2018 V League champions Hanoi FC, with the game to be played at home. Hanoi won the V League by a huge 20+-point margin this season and have several Vietnam national team players, as well as Vietnamese-Nigerian goal machine Hoang Vu Samson who had a brief & unhappy spell at Buriram earlier this season; yet it is almost certainly a winnable game.

That, unfortunately, is where the good news ends, for Port’s next game would see them travel to China – in winter – to face the team finishing 4th in the Chinese Super League. That team will be either Shandong Luneng Taishan, or Beijing Sinobo Guoan. Shandong have former Southampton striker Graziano Pelle in their ranks; Beijing boast players with international caps for Brazil & Spain, as well as a striker who scored 120 goals in 144 games for RB Salzburg. If (and it’s the biggest IF ever seen on The Sandpit) by some footballing miracle, Port get past that huge hurdle, they’ll be in the group stage.

Add in the fact that the PAT doesn’t meet the AFC’s host stadium criteria, and essentially what AFC qualification boils down to is a game against a Vietnamese team at Supachalasai, followed by a right shoeing in freezing conditions in China. But let’s ignore that now, & focus on the huge bragging rights value it would give us. Are you watching Legoland?


Third or Turd: Pattaya Utd vs Port FC Preview

So here we are. Last game of the season. We have something to play for, which doesn’t involve dropping in to the abyss of T2. We are on the cusp of an Asian adventure.

Wednesday’s training session was my first Port game in some time due to crushed balls at home. Seems 5-0 is becoming a trend. We didn’t play with a great deal of panache, but there was enough there to suggest we can comfortably beat Pattaya, who were a place below Chonburi before Wednesday’s game, and remained there following an epic tragi-comedy 5-5 draw with MTU.

For those not aware of events under the flyover in Muang Thong Thani (of which you must number about one, given the vibrations in Zone B on Wednesday), Pattaya raced into an unassailable 4-1 lead after 25 minutes, only to surrender like timid mice in the 96th (ninety sixth) minute to an equaliser to make it 5-5. Two bottles of Leo to the person who can tot up the amount of ‘injury’ time MTU opponents have ‘enjoyed’ this season. It must be at least a full game of 90 minutes, if not two. That result though saw us leap over MTU in to third.

I’m not one to trawl through statistics at this time of season, particularly given that it is win or bust for us. A win (or equaling) the result of MTU v. Bangkok United means we have a fair chance of making the Asian Champions League, providing Buriram lift the FA Cup. A sizable contingent of Port fans will be expected at the FA Cup final should this become a genuine possibility after Sunday.

So, what can we expect from a trip to Pattaya for the game? Well, a bus back. A bus back all the way to Suvarnabhumi or Ekamai given the consummate professionals of the Thai FA’s decision to move the game from anywhere near Pattaya to as close as possible to the middle of f*cking nowhere, due to electricity being in short supply around Dolphins Stadium. As far as their team is concerned we should be keeping a close eye on Lukian, who has bagged 18 this season, and Carlao who chipped in with a brace on Wednesday.

Us? Well, I’d be very happy to see Bodin start given his very perky display at the back end of the game on Wednesday. But who could blame Jadet for not changing a thing following back-to-back 5-0 wins? Stick with it Jadet, we’ve smashed the coastal teams of Navy and Chonburi. We’re about as welcome as a fleet of Viking longboats appearing on the horizon of the North Sea right now to any team down that way. My likely line up is a facsimile of Wednesday’s. I believe there were no significant injuries and there is no good reason to break up a team that’s scored 10 in two games. Particularly against a team who has leaked 8 in two.

We have our future in our own hands. FORZA PORT. SU-SU PORT. ALLEZ LE PORT. Fucking get up ‘em.

And in the interests of fair play, I asked the legend of Pattaya that is Robin Lennon a few questions. Yes Leos had been involved.

Q. Using a maximum of one word per goal – which must only be an adjective – care to talk us through each of the 10 goals from Wednesday?

A. Brilliant [0-1], shit [1-1], terrific [1-2], fantastic [1-3], orgasmic [1-4], jammy [2-4], sporny [sic] [3-4], cracker [3-5], flukey [4-5], heartbreaking [5-5].

Q. Can you guess how many minutes of ‘injury’ time the opponents of MTU have ‘enjoyed’ this season?

A. 1 minute too many [and then some, Robin].

Q. Is there a lack of electricians in Pattaya? Has nobody there got NVQ level 3 sparky certificates?

A. I guess this situation is a prime example why our owners want a new stadium so we are not at the mercy of Nongprue municipality who own the stadium. I was in Buriram so didn’t experience the storm but my friend who I was with saw the aftermath when we got back on Sunday and the damage was pretty evident in that area.

Q. Is anyone from Pattaya actually likely to bother traipsing up to Minburi?

A. I think everyone is gutted as I’m sure if it had been at home we could have expected something approaching a full house and a cracking atmosphere. As it is we’ll have a couple of bus loads and maybe the same again of independents. Probably be the first game in Thailand I’ve been to where the Away fans will outnumber the home fans (it’s pretty normal if you follow Port! Ed). A somewhat bizarre choice of venue.

Q. If you had to sum up your season in a facial expression, what would it be?

A. A smile

Q. For those readers who booked villas, other accommodation and transport to Pattaya this weekend, what words of comfort can you give?

A. None whatsoever as I can understand the frustration and disappointment, I’ve experienced the same thing the previous two seasons and they both included flights, Chiang Rai when the King passed and the remainder of the season was cancelled and then Ubon when our match was switched to Chonburi because a Farang held up a sign about ref corruption. I think the powers that be seem to think fans turn up on a whim rather than pre-plan their trips.

Q. And what words of comfort would you give the Thai FA?

A. No comment they aren’t listening or have a clue about fixture scheduling.

Q. Last season in Pattaya there were slight handbags between Pattaya farang supporters and the fence between them and the Port fans. Is Pattaya a hotbed of pathetic machismo?

A. Things have been particularly tetchy of late, maybe our beers are being spiked. Our VIP section had a somewhat heated altercation with the Korat manager and staff after the match the game before last and last game a riot nearly broke out caused by that Korean idiot from Ratchaburi inciting our fans, I understand he has form with Port fans as well. I didn’t see what caused that last season as we prioritise things and left our usual minute before half time to avoid the beer queue and get to our table. To be honest I had a bit of a concern something might happen this match but those concerns are now alleviated by sticking us in the middle of nowhere.

Q. Port have finally got a game to look forward to at the end of the season. Would you prefer Pattaya to gain an extra 3 points on Sunday and move up to 7th from 8th, or lose to Port and potentially drop 4 places so that Port can gloriously lord it over MTU?

A. I’m afraid finishing above Chonburi is more important for me so hopefully Muangthong will lose and you’ll finish above them anyway. The fact you have something to play for will hopefully make it an entertaining final game and if our goalie has as bad a game as he did on Wednesday we should be guaranteed seeing goals.

Q. Name your most favourite ever 7-inch single.

A. Geno – Dexy’s Midnight Runners


Pattaya Utd vs Port FC, Sunday 7 October 18:00 at 72nd Anniversary Stadium, Minburi.


Sharks & Recreation: Port FC 5-0 Chonburi FC



In the end, a rousing climax to the home season; just a pity there wasn’t a bigger crowd to witness it. Chonburi proved to be the perfect fall guys as Port racked up their second 5-0 win in a row – surely unprecedented; certainly since I’ve been watching the club anyway.


On a heavy, draining surface, Port aimed to carry on where they left off on Saturday with some neat link-up play, with the stylish Suarez at the heart of most of what was good. The silky Spaniard has been a bit of an enigma this season; at his best he is unplayable, making things tick and bringing out the beast in Boskovic; at his worst, he is a moody, argumentative, unproductive hole in the middle, like a Polo without the mint.


Kevin, who for most of the evening seemed bent on picking out every single Chonburi defender with his crosses, actually got it right on eleven minutes to set Nurul up with an unmissable chance on the penalty spot. He missed, skying his shot over the bar and probably Zone D as well. Minutes later, Suarez burst into the box only to slightly over-run the ball into goalkeeper Chanin’s legs, with Boskovic in a good position to his right. Nurul’s follow up shot was well saved by former Port keeper Chanin, who at this point had done enough to provoke fears of another heroic goalkeeping performance frustrating the home team before the inevitable breakaway goal.  It was not to last.


Chonburi at this stage were reduced to some long-range efforts, although one decent cross from the right was expertly guided over the bar by Dolah.


The game was becoming a bit scrappy with both teams finding the conditions  unconducive to intricate, flowing football, at which point Kim took the most sensible option, sending a route one ball over the top for Boskovic to pursue. Chanin had a rush of blood, charging out of his box and missing the ball completely, leaving Bosko with a virtually empty net to aim at. 1-0.  At the other end, Watchara had a similar panic, flailing at a left wing cross but his resultant weak punch was not punished. One disallowed Port goal later, it was half time.


Watchara, apart from that one moment of indecision, was catching the eye with his handling, distribution, defensive cover and general tomfoolery, like a Thai Bruce Grobbelaar. One particular save on 53 minutes, turning a fierce shot around his near post, would have made Bruce proud. With that mild fright over, Port were to extend their lead when Pakorn’s cut back from the right was met by Kim, arriving late in the box to send a perfectly timed header into the net off Chanin’s legs.


Bodin replaced Nurul in the 69th minute and two minutes later was brought down in the box after a nifty side step. There was some consternation on Zone B that Bosko might be taking the pen after his horror show last time out but Captain Rochela did indeed give him the thumbs-up. This time, there was to be no mistake, his stop-start run-up sending the hapless Chanin the wrong way, with the ball calmly dispatched into the opposite corner for what turned out to be, apparently, his 100th goal in the Thai League, thereby explaining Rochela’s selfless decision. Well done, Dragan, or Darius, as he seemed to be called by Madame Pang in her post-match tribute.


Port were on a roll now and ten minutes later were awarded a free kick in a perfect Pakorn spot after an unfortunate reflex handball by defender Kritsada Kaman resulted in a rather harsh red card. Pakorn delicately curled his shot to Chanin’s left; placement instead of power for once. Chanin was having a bit of a nightmare on his return to PAT, sad for a keeper who figured so prominently in our excellent 2014 season in the TPL, fondly remembered for his creative time-wasting in a 1-0 home victory over Champions, Buriram. The scorer of Port’s goal that day, Kroekrit, was also in Chonburi’s by now well-defeated ranks.


There was still time left though for a moment of pure theatre, involving Port’s best loved small person, Terens Puhiri. With Chonburi in total disarray, the ball was pushed forward to Terens, who found himself alone in the Chonburi half with a clear run on goal. The ball was dispatched ahead for himself to chase, like a dog in pursuit of a bus disappearing round the corner, with Boskovic, Bodin and Adisorn trailing in his wake but hoping to pick up some scraps. Zone B held its breath for a moment before urging Tiny Tot Terens to deliver us the goal we had been waiting for all season. Then, inexplicably, the diminutive dunderhead got all lovey-dovey and team-matey, unselfishly picking out Bodin at the far post to slot home, by-passing a now hat-trick, 101 goal-less Bosko on the way. The disappointment from the Port faithful was palpable – a moment frozen in time forever.


At the final whistle there was a nerve-wracking wait to get the final score from an insane match at the SCG, which at one point had Pattaya leading Muangthong by 4-1, only to be pulled back more than once for a final score of 5-5. Madness.


That draw to savour moved Port ahead of Muangthong on the head-to-head rule: a win each but 4-3 to Port in goals scored. Port now go to our most hated venue, after the SCG – the 72 years anniversary stadium in Minburi, home of Thai Honda and a ground on which none of us, I believe, have seen Port win or even play well. It would take another page to debate the ineptitude of the Thai League in allowing this late change to be made from Pattaya and the sorry choice of alternative venue but the positive side is we are on the back of two 5-0 wins and if that does not give the team the confidence and the momentum to grasp the chance of a third place finish and possible entry into the ACL, we will only have ourselves to blame. Plus, Muangthong are playing Bangkok Utd. There’s always hope.


The Sandpit Man of the Match: Watchara

Man of the Match is a tricky one as once again there were many good performances but no outstanding ones so, wishing to spread it around, I am going to nominate Watchara; a confident, eye-catching show – where have you been all season?


Red Lights Out! Pattaya Game Switched to Minburi


It was all going so smoothly. The pool villa was booked, the minivan was ready to go, and we were looking forward to the final weekend of the season. But no, once again the end of the season has been reduced to a farce, with a mere 4 days’ notice this time. To paraphrase John Lennon, “If you want to make the FAT laugh, tell them your plans.”

Apparently, last weekend’s storm did some damage to the electrics in the Pattaya area (whilst obviously leaving the rest of the country totally unscathed), and it seems the city’s electricians are unable to fix the lighting at Pattaya’s stadium, the Cialis Arena, in time for Sunday’s game. Too busy dealing with faulty vibrators one imagines.

One might think that the logical solution for this would be for Pattaya, unable to fulfill their obligations and provide a stadium fit-for-purpose for a fixture that has been on the calendar since January, to either forfeit the game or play it at the PAT, paying a fine either way; but no, this is Thailand we’re talking about it here, and so the game has been switched to a neutral venue – The 72nd Anniversary Stadium in Minburi, a ground so inaccessible that even Bear Grylls, when he attempted to get there for a Thai Honda game in 2016, said “Fuck this for a lark” and gave up halfway there (and even had he arrived, he’d have had to drink his own piss, so hard is it to get a beer at that godforsaken shithole).

The Sandpit has asked the FAT why the hell Pattaya have been allowed to move a game at 4 days’ notice and not get sanctioned for it; I doubt we’ll get an answer but we’ll update you if we do.


La Fin: Port FC vs. Chonburi FC Preview


Thai football’s biggest inter-club bromance resumes on Wednesday night at the PAT, as Port welcome Chonburi for the final home game of the season. The home side should be buoyed by a 5-0 win at the weekend over Navy, while the Sharks ensured another year of top-flight football thanks to a 3-1 win over Korat.

Having done more than was required of them on Saturday night in Sattahip, the advantage in the battle for 3rd place appeared to be back with us, as the forces of darkness from Legoland went into injury time on Sunday evening lucky to be at 2-2 with Sukhothai, only for substitute Sanukran to pop up with an entirely undeserved winner.  They play Pattaya at the same time as this match takes place. Good luck Pattaya, may you join the long list of teams to celebrate a victory in the away dressing room’s party lounge at Legoland, hopefully a party that stretches into the coming weekend.

Being the last home game you hope the club lays on something to mark the occasion. Back home you might see next season’s kit given an appearance. Given the recent record of Port failing to have kits ready for the start of the season I’ll hold my breath.


Our Opposition


As ever when playing Chonburi, I got in touch with Dale Farrington to find out whats going on with the Sharks (and save myself messing about on Wikipedia and and Transfermarkt trying to work out who their decent players are).

  • Chonburi secured top flight football for another season at the weekend, a pleasing end to the season?

Not really. Staying up is clearly better than getting relegated, but I don’t think it’s any cause for celebration. If anything, it should be a big kick up the backside to those who run the club. Sadly, I actually believe they think it’s an achievement. A sign of how far we’ve fallen and what little expectations we (they) have these days.

  • Overall a good or bad season for the club and do you expect an improvement next year?

Overall, a bad season. A new coach, who was showing potential and had the side well organised, was forced out after just eight matches and we never really recovered from that. Unless they employ a new coach – who actually knows what they are doing (unlike the current one) – and invest in some new players – preferably decent foreigners – next year will be much the same as this one. Or even worse!

  • Do you still have that goalkeeper who thinks he’s a sweeper, if so will he play and what other players should we look out for?

Chanin (35)? Yes. He’s still here. I’m not his biggest fan, but he has been outstanding over the past few weeks. His saves against Ubon Utd probably kept us up. Watch out for his kicking though. I’d say about 90% of his clearances go straight into touch! Otherwise, the centre backs, Gyeong Min (30) and Kritsada (42) are worth keeping an eye on. The former showed a lot of class before getting injured (he’s only recently returned) and the latter is a promising youngster, who hopefully will go on to bigger things.


Chanin Sae-ear, Kim Gyeong-min and Kritsada Kaman


  • And finally a prediction for Wednesday? Any chance your players have had a week off and want to donate 3 points to their besties up the road?

A prediction is almost impossible. I never know which Chonburi will turn up – the poor one or the slightly less than average one. If we’ve switched off after Saturday, you could get three or four.


Thanks to Dale for answering, especially at rather late notice.


Line Up


Given Jadet’s noted resistance to change and that his preferred outfield 10 just won 5-0 away from home, I wouln’t expect any changes by choice. Bodin (10), having served his suspension, will probably return to the bench and here’s the standard mention that should Rattanai (17) frame of biscuits be up to it he could start/be on the bench.




Despite only achieving mathematically safety from relegation with their win last time out, Chonburi have spent most of the season hovering just above mid table.  Their form in 11 games since a defeat to this season’s shock underperformers Rangsit Glass, has seen them win 4, draw 3 and suffer defeat 4 times. 3 of those defeats came against the current top 3 and the other in their derby against Pattaya, while the wins have come against 3 teams currently in the relegation zone and (woeful) Korat. Very much that of a solid mid table grinder. Only twice have they kept clean sheets in that spell, with those matches averaging just under 3 goals (2.91), which is just a tad above the league average of 2.84.

Port’s form is somewhat more unpredictable. The two wins since the resumption have come against a Navy side so poor they make the decision to reduce the number of teams in the top tier look prudent and a Korat team whose survival, could be used to justification a similar reduction next season.  The first half against Suphanburi was encouraging and the result would probably have reversed if we’d found the net in the first half.




If we are serious about third this is the kind of team – mediocre form and with an inability to keep clean sheets – we need to be putting away. As they also have nothing to play for, I’ll go 3-0 Port. Hopefully Dragon Boskovic can bag a brace and pass 100 career goals in Thailand as well.



True have had to get a bit creative with their choice of channels, what with all of the games being played simultaneously. This means that the match will be shown live on True Tennis HD at 18:00 on Wednesday 3 October, 2018. 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. Don’t forget to wear your Port shirt for a 10% discount on drinks.


The Decline of Thai Sea Power: Navy FC 0-5 Port FC


The headline for this report is derived from the title of the debut album of British indie rockers British Sea Power. A band with more than a passing similarity to Port, at its best a night spent with BSP is a near riotous evening of beautiful noise, with a band of likeminded souls. Its noisy, oddball (random stuffed animals replace Japanese guys in fancy dress) and you’re left with the sense that all those who have forgone the show to consume more mainstream fare (be it Coldplay or Man United at West Ham) have missed out. At their worst you know the people you are watching are professionals, you know they’ve performed together numerous times before, its just you question if since the last time you saw them if they’ve bothered to get together and maybe give it a run though and discuss how the 90mins they’ll be stood in front of their crowd should unfold. Saturday in Sattahip Port put in a performance very much in the former category. As the swagger the team played with though out May and June returned and Navy were gunned down 5-0.

Navy’s recent relegation, alongside Air Force having fallen though the trap door some time previous and Army finishing mid table in the second tier, means next season there will be no military representation in top level Thai football for the first time since records began (well as far back as Wikipedia goes and Hockers remembers, which is good enough for me). However, the weekend’s news from the second tier was generally good as PTT Rayong were crowded champions and Trat and Chang Mai took the other two promotion spots. So, three good away trips should the fixture computer be kind next season. PTT’s arrival will be applauded by the culture vultures who will had feared that the loss of the Navy away trip would mean the end of the annual cultural exchange to Bang Chang. Thankfully it is equally well positioned to act as a base for matches in Rayong as Sattahip so will remain on the calendar.

And it was from Bang Chang that the Sandpit representation arrived, thanks to that rarest of things an honest taxi driver who asked for less than the quoted fare. We made our way around the stadium past what looks like a great little bar overlooking some water that could be worth a visit should Navy return to the big time or draw us in a cup game with an early kick off. And moved past a boule pit similar to our own sandpit, now I’m not saying Navy lack fans, but this place was still being used to play weird French games an hour before kick off rather than as a make shift pub garden. Before reaching the away end where we were met with, thanks to the various thunderstorms of the past few days, a mud pit to enjoy prematch refreshments. The afternoons tour and cultural debate had moved on to when a chain of events is just a series of random events involving a pleasant end and when those events are “serendipitous”. (I think we may have imbibed a little too much holy water whilst on the pre match tour of temples in Bang Chang). Before this debate could be concluded however Ming’s party buses arrived, blasting their theme tune and those who piled off showed us what arriving at the game after one too many really looks like. The majority of those on board had attended the futsal earlier in the day and seemingly drank at a pace more suited to only seeing Port play once in the day.

The Navy stadium is a classic Thai affair with a running track leaving the away fans positioned in a corner about as far from the pitch as possible. Thankfully it does have a roof so had the thunderstorm that put on a more than impressive show of lighting passed over. Jadet made two changes to the starting line up with Dolah (4) replacing Todsapol (6) and Pakorn (7) in for the suspended Bodin (10). Meaning what is generally considered Jadet’s default outfield selections started. What followed was brutal, had It been a sea battle (come on they’re called Navy) the capitulation of the home forces would have taken much less than the 90 mins this one sided affair was drawn out for. You knew something was afoot when within a minute Pakorn had made a run, attempted to beat someone and reacted to being tackled by not sulking for a few minutes but rather making himself available to receive a pass from Boskovic (23), who the ball had broken too, who himself having made the pass darted into the box looking for a return ball. However the midfield monk decided to play the ball to Siwakorn (16) who had taken up a position on the edge of the box and unleashed a shot that was neither high or wide nor was it handsome but at least he had a go, inside 3 minutes Pakorn had rattled the cross bar from a fair distance with a free kick, Suarez (5) was also looking somewhat back to the level we saw a few months ago. Port were buzzing and it was the players who have been most blamed for the dip in form who seemed to have upped their game. Pakorn would show his ability to strike a ball like few in this league in the 13th minute, playing a ball from just inside our half perfectly for Suarez to run onto in the opposition box, the Spaniard played a first time ball across goal to the on coming Boskovic who finished from 3 yards. 1-0 Port and realistically game over. Pakorn would strike the post with a further free kick (which looked more likely to have been diverted by the keeper than the wood work) before the second duly arrived via Siwakorn who beat a man before firing from the edge of the box into the corner of the goal and beyond the hapless Navy keeper. Five minutes later a third was added as Siwakorn, who again looked great against the fodder at the bottom of the table, played a neat though ball for Nural (31) that dissected the heart of the Navy defence and the little man dinked the ball past the on coming keeper from near the penalty spot. There was still time for a fourth before half time as Boskovic found an unmarked Pakorn in an ocean of space who made his way into box and cutback for Kevin (97) to finish from a similar spot to Nural just moments before.

The second half was played out with a sense of merely going though the motions, the little dots at the far end had chances here and there but with the result assured the intensity of the game faded. Suarez was denied the goal his efforts deserved as a small dot in white a few kilometres from the away end cleared off the line. By this stage it was more entertaining to watch trainer Rod warm up Adisorn (13), Terens (28) and “Digger” Arthit (29), who in that order, were one by one recalled to the bench and sent on. It was particularly pleasing to see Terens “running around like a Labrador getting a first taste of the beach after a two hundred mile car journey, turning somersaults, biting his own tail, chasing squirrels up trees”, as Barney Ronay of The Guardian once wrote of David Luiz. With a little more than 10 minutes to go the biggest dot in orange and blue (Dolah (4)) met a near post corner and flicked the ball inside the far post for a fifth. There was time for Vitor Junior (10) to clip the Port cross bar before the end. However even with Port well clear it would have been more than this poor Navy team deserved. As they were seen off across the season 12-1 on aggregate. It’s hard to place the value of playing that well against a team as weak as Navy. However, it was considerably better than the recent showings and with both Chonburi and Pattaya more than safe, hopefully if we can find the same level twice more we’ll have done all we can to take third spot.

The Sandpit Man of the Match: Sergio Suarez

A tough one. Most of the team played well but Suarez gets the nod for a welcome return to form.