So looking back to last season, this fixture was something of a horror show?
Bloody awful. Two minutes into the second half and Samut Prakan were 2-0 up and cruising. We then contrived to concede five goals before the final whistle and were thumped 5-2. We capitulated in spectacular fashion and it was definitely one of the low points of the season.
How are the Dragons doing in this campaign?
As the T1 table stood (before the weekend's games) Ratchaburi were in 4th place, having collected 20 points from their opening 11 games. They've also won five of their six home matches so far, with surprisingly. PT Prachuap the only team to escape from the Dragon's den with a point, courtesy of a 2-2 draw in early October.
And they've been banging in an average of almost two goals a game?
Ratchaburi are always a difficult opponent to contain when they're in an attacking mood. There are three players to look out for (who currently have 16 goals between them). There's captain, Philip Roller, a German-Thai defender, who has made almost a hundred appearances for the club. Every time I watch Roller, he impresses me with his never-say-die attitude. Then there is the Ivorian attacker, Yannick Boli (who interestingly once had a trial period at Blackpool) and striker, Javier Patino, who has represented The Philippines twenty times at international level.
Sounds like you'd be delighted with a draw from this one?
Samut Prakan have looked great in their last two games. Team confidence is growing and our star players are hitting top form. Some club during the course of the season is going to beat Ratchaburi on their own patch. Errr.....no you're quite right, I'd be happy with a draw.
So how did you get there?
Ratchaburi is only a two-hour drive from Bangkok. Last season I took the slow train from Bangkok's Hualampong Station, and very enjoyable it was too. However, this time my wife kindly offered to accompany me so we took the car and made a weekend of it.
Our plan was to leave on Saturday morning and stay one night in Suan Pheung, an area of mountains and other natural attractions about an hour west of Ratchaburi. Then on Sunday (the day of the match) we would drive into Ratchaburi itself - where we had booked a second night's accommodation - watch the game, celebrate a win (hopefully) and return to Samut Prakan on Monday.
A day in Suan Pheung
Tun had compiled an impressive list of about eight or nine attractions to see, so we hit the road at 7.00 am with a view to ticking off as many as we could.
Although we hadn't planned to venture into Ratchaburi on the first day, it offers more dining options than Suan Pheung, so we stopped off for breakfast at a delightful old-style cafe run by an elderly couple who fussed over us with pathong-ko (Chinese donuts) and sweet coffee. We then noticed the nearby Ratchaburi Museum wouldn't be open on Monday so took the chance to visit now, and it was really quite splendid. Well-organised and informative, as all museums should be, it was a pleasure to stroll around such a beautiful wooden building and peruse the exhibits.
We drove on to Suan Pheung and I'm not sure whether it was the unseasonable heat or the third-rate attractions but we quickly lost our wanderlust. Ratchaburi's 'mini Grand Canyon' and the Queen Sirikit Forest were both desperately dull and despite it still being early afternoon, we decided we'd had enough and pushed on to our first night digs.
Le Provence Resort, where I had booked us a private bungalow in the forest, is designed to make you feel like you're in the South of France and to an extent it works I suppose. However, the room smelled musty, wasn't particularly spacious and the elderly woman who ran the resort was a trifle strange. All the information was given to you on a 'need to know basis' - what time they served breakfast, whether the restaurant was open in the evening, were those bikes for hire? You only got answers if you asked the right questions.
It's match day!
Rain hammered down as we enjoyed our Sunday morning breakfast but thankfully it didn't stick around. It became hot and humid by mid-morning and we dragged ourselves around Baan Hom Thien (The house that smells of candles) - a kind of retro market that had few shops but more than enough photo opportunities to keep the Instagram crowd happy. Then two minutes up the road was Highland Suan Pheung, an open air zoo where giraffes are undoubtedly the star attraction, but all the animals appear to be happy and well looked after.
A fantastic surprise
"There's the Samut Prakan team bus!" Tun exclaimed as we checked into Ratchaburi's La Lert Hotel in the early afternoon. As it turned out, we had timed things perfectly. Not only were we staying in the same hotel as the Samut Prakan team but in that last hour before the players boarded the bus and left for the stadium, we all ended up enjoying drinks in the same hotel coffee shop. It gave Tun and I the opportunity to chat with players and staff (including the manager) and take some photos. What an unexpected bonus that was! Manager Ishii-san remarked he had noticed me at away matches and thanked us for our support. Those words mean so much to a fan.
To the stadium!
When we reached the ground some 90 minutes before kick off, it was blistering hot. The Mitr Phol is one of the most photogenic football stadiums in the country but standing on its vast open car park trying to find interesting camera angles was no fun at all. But scorching temperatures aside, Ratchaburi FC does everything possible to make the matchday experience a good one. The ticket office is easy to find, the fan zone has plenty of chairs and space to sit and enjoy your food and drink, the toilets are spotless and the away end has a decent view - and even a roof! I'll wager there are very few stadiums in the country better than this one.
Good away following?
Not bad. About 70-80 fans had made the trip but strangely, I seem to be seeing fewer of the hardcore, familiar faces around - those who travelled to away games last season. I'm still going with the theory that stadiums banning flags and drums, etc, has had an effect and taken much of the enjoyment away for certain fans.
To the match itself. First half?
We needed to establish a foothold in the game and didn't. It took just six minutes for Ratchaburi to open their account. A delightful swivel and backheel in the box from Patino sets up Yannick Boli, who despite getting the ball tangled up beneath him, still has time to adjust his body shape and poke it home. Two minutes later and midfielder Chitpanya's long range effort forces a good stop from Izwan, deputising for Pathiwat in the Samut Prakan goal. This could be an extremely long afternoon.
Both Karoube and Kiattisak go close to doubling the home side's lead as Samut Prakan struggle to create anything worthwhile in the final third. Steeven Langil's shot almost breaks the net on 43 minutes but Samut Prakan are saved by the linesman's flag and what would have been a terrific goal is disallowed.
Then with the half-time whistle about to blow, the visitors grab a slice of fortune as a Ratchaburi defender is judged, somewhat harshly, to have handballed. After a lengthy VAR check, the penalty is awarded and Baros Tardelli makes no mistake, striking confidently to the goalkeeper's left.
Suddenly, out of nowhere comes hope. Samut Prakan will be kicking towards their travelling contingent in the second half. The crowd can always play their part but the players certainly need to up their game on the pitch.
Here we go again. The second period is just five minutes old and it's another handball (this time Baros Tardelli is the villain), another lengthy VAR check, and another penalty (this time for the men in orange). Danger man Philip Roller sends Izwan the wrong way and restores Ratchaburi's lead.
With twenty minutes remaining, Samut Prakan's Ernesto, with his parents watching from the stand, fizzes a shot past the upright, but it only serves to rouse the home side, who go straight down the opposite end and score the killer third. Substitute Pathomchai floats in a delightful cross and Yannick Boli applies the finishing touch with a looping header to score his second of the evening. The linesman thinks Boli is offside, I think Boli is offside. VAR disagrees.
Final score - Ratchaburi 3 Samut Prakan 1 (watch the match highlights)
Forget dubious penalty decisions, close offside calls and all that stuff. The best team won, end of story. I didn't honestly expect us to get a point at either Ratchaburi or Buriram anyway. It's our home games from now on in that are going to be crucial to us avoiding the drop. Not that I'm contemplating relegation for a second. I still think we have a squad of players that are far too good to go down and I still consider us capable of finishing mid-table at least. We were just nowhere near our best today.
From a personal point of view, we had an enjoyable couple of days exploring Ratchaburi Province and got the chance to meet and chat with players and staff at our hotel. That's a football fan's dream of course and it really made me feel part of the club!
Who's up next?
An away trip to the mighty Buriram, next Sunday 29th November. Kick off 6.30 pm.
Yes, sir! The flight and hotel are both booked. I've wanted to see Buriram's Chang Arena for some time and this will be my opportunity.
On a final note, the FA Cup draw was made on 12th November. Who did Samut Prakan get?
With 32 teams left in the competition, our reward for knocking out Nakhon Ratchisima was a home tie against Maejo United in the second round. Maejo United are based just north of Chiang Mai and play in the T3 North division (the third tier of the Thai football league). The match will be played on 5th December.