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Ratch Me If You Can: Port FC vs. Ratchaburi Preview

 

Just under 11 months ago, Port welcomed Filipino champions Ceres Negros to PAT Stadium for an ACL second round qualifier in which we were widely expected to advance. Port had already unveiled a garish gold Champions League shirt intended to be used in the next round, and some foolhardy fans had splashed the cash on tickets to Tokyo. Losing was just unthinkable.

One masterclass in missed opportunities later, and the plucky underdogs had deservedly turned over the home favourites. Our ACL journey was over before it had started, and we’d have to wait another year at least for another shot.

 


 

Well, as it’s turned out, it’s a bit less than a year since Port’s insipid surrender at the PAT, and yet we are already one step closer to qualification than we were last season. With T1 scheduled to drag well in to next year, the FAT decided to base ACL qualification on the league table at the end of the first half of the season, which ends two games from now. With Thailand also having been granted an extra automatic qualification spot due to overtaking Australia in the AFC club coefficient, this means a spot in the top 2 after the next 2 games guarantees Port a spot in the ACL group stages next season, while a 3rd place finish would land us in the qualifiers. So how do things stand now?

Well, the fight for second place is between Port and our opposition on Sunday: Ratchaburi. We are 5 points clear, with both teams having played 13 out of 15 games. That means that a win or a draw guarantees us a second place finish, and even if we lose we can still guarantee finishing second if we win our final game, a tricky trip to Chiang Rai which has been postponed due to the champions having been participating in this year’s ACL group stages. We’re sitting pretty right now, but neither of our next two opponents are going to be pushovers.

 

Ratchaburi Mitrphol FC

Sugar High

 

The Dragons have surprised some with their form this season, and they’ve had an awful lot of fun doing it. Taking the opposite approach to BG, who invested heavily in experienced foreign defenders, Ratchaburi have packed the attack with foreign talent, and have been rewarded with the second highest goal tally in the league. Second to Port, that is.

The key man up top is Yannick Boli (10), who is strongly rumoured (we think it’s a done deal) to have already signed with Port for the second leg. He’s registered 8 goals already this season, and is on top form right now. If a deal has indeed been agreed then the clubs may also have agreed for Boli not to participate on Sunday, which would be a massive boon for Port. His main provider-in-chief Steeven Langil (11), who leads the T1 assist charts, will definitely be missing out having picked up his fourth yellow card last week against Suphanburi. So far, so good.

 

 

Lossemy Karaboue (18) completes Ratchaburi’s foreign quota trio, and unfortunately this time I can find no reason why the French midfielder might miss out. He’s only registered one goal this season, but he’s instrumental in their build-up, and his work rate will mean that Go and Siwakorn will have their hands full in the Port midfield.

20 year old Filipino defender Justin Baas (22), who I identified as a T1 transfer target last year, was smartly snapped up by Ratchaburi this season, and the youngster has already made 5 starts since joining. He’s 50/50 to start at the back alongside fellow big fella Pawee (39). His countryman Javier Patino (20) also deserves a mention for his 5 goals. A Thai League veteran who guarantees you a few goals and doesn’t take up a foreign quota place is never a bad thing.

A clash which has been great to watch in the previous meetings between these two sides has been the battle between Port’s Thai-Swede Kevin (23) and Ratchaburi’s Thai-German Philip Roller (33). Roller is Ratchaburi captain nowadays, and my word has he been leading his side by example this year. Seven goals, and more than that some truly outstanding performances, have made him one of the most impressive players in the league so far in 2020. Yes some of his goals have come from the spot, but he’s been an all-around menace since moving in to a more attacking position this year. Stopping him will be key to stopping Ratchaburi.

 

 

Form

No one has been able to stop Ratchaburi getting on the scoresheet so far this season, but they have also conceded an average of considerably more than a goal a game.

They have 4 wins from their last 6, securing victories against Bangkok Utd, Rayong, Samut Prakan and Suphanburi, but have also been beaten twice at the hands of Chiang Rai and Chonburi. On their day they can beat anyone, but they’re far from consistent.

 

Port FC

Oud-standing

 

Coach Oud has really surprised me by how he’s managed to turn things around at Port since his return to the club. Former assistant coach under Choke, Oud has been able to fix a previously very leaky defence, and the attack is even starting to get back to it’s unplayable best. Seeing Port employing Go in an advanced role specifically to press Muangthong’s defenders when they tried to play short goal kicks last week exemplifies the kind of detail-oriented preparation we’ve lacked under previous coaches. I’m not going to give him credit for picking Worawut (24), who has been a revelation alongside Dolah in defence, but the fact that he has slotted in so effortlessly after struggling in past years is certainly a credit to the current regime.

 

 

There will be a forced change in Port’s back 4 though, which will mean we’re deprived of seeing this year’s edition of the Kevin vs. Roller duel. Kevin is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card against Muangthong, and who will replace him is an open question. Thitatorn (3) played in Port’s first FA Cup clash while Steuble (15) missed out, but the experienced Filipino full-back has been on the bench while Thitatorn has failed to make the match day squad for the last couple of games. I’d certainly pick Steuble as the best option to shackle Roller, as he’s excellent in just these kind of 1 on 1 duels where defence takes priority. A safe pair of hands, and surely the best man for the job.

 

 

 

The rest of the team should be mostly unchanged, save for Pakorn (7) potentially being replaced on the right flank. Nattawut (45) has impressed in his cameos off the bench, and his two goals in the FA Cup last week should make him the number one candidate ahead of Tanasith (11), who has looked lively but been a little light on end product. Bonilla (99) should continue to lead the line, with Adisak (9) coming off the bench, as he has been doing to great effect (on my wallet) this season.

 

Form

We haven’t conceded in T1 since October, and we haven’t been beaten since September. ‘Nuf said.

 


 

The match will be shown on Channel 5 and AIS Play at 18:00 on Sunday 13 December, 2020.

 

Playing Ratch-up: Ratchaburi FC vs. Port FC Preview

 

Port face their worst crisis this season, having suffered their third loss on the trot last Sunday. Before we get too down on ourselves though, it’s also worth pointing out that it’s our only crisis this season. Port had enjoyed the best start to a season in recent memory, and until just three matches ago, were top of T1. Having been beaten by champs Buriram – predictably if you weren’t getting swept away with the unlikely predictions that we would be champions – the next loss against high-flying Samut Prakan hurt more, and the third against a particularly objectionable Chiang Rai side more still. But remember, all three of these sides are currently in the top 4. Yes, we lost 3 consecutive games, but it’s not the end of the world. We’re not going to be champions, but an AFC place is very much still within our reach.

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