Kudos to the four fans who made the trip to Sukhothai because that is a long old journey. (photo credit: official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
So you didn't go to the last match against Sukhothai in the end?
No, I decided against it. Sukhothai is arguably the most difficult ground in the whole of the Thai league's three divisions to get to. I discussed the possibility of going with several other hardcore away followers and they all made tongue-in-cheek excuses (something was sure to crop up at work, etc)
The logistics of getting to Sukhothai's Thalay Luang Stadium are one big ballache. Firstly, you probably have to fly to Phitsanoloke. From there, it's one and a half hours by bus to Sukhothai. And when you're finally settled into your hotel in the city centre (where all the hotels are anyway), the stadium is 12 kilometres out of town.
It proved to be a good decision in the end because on my return from Suphanburi last Thursday, I went down with some sort of bug and I wasn't really fit enough to do the journey anyway.
So what happened in the game?
Firstly, Sukhothai were right in the deep brown stuff, hovering just one point above the relegation zone. Form-wise, their last six games had yielded just one solitary point from a goal-less draw with Nakhon Ratchisima. There was a very real possibility of Sukhothai playing second division football next season if they didn't buck their ideas up and start getting results.
Samut Prakan fielded a full-strength side with Daniel Toti back in the starting eleven. Sukhothai manager, Surapong Khongthep (ex-Samut Prakan manager of course) also put out his first choice team, with prolific strikers, Jon Baggio and Ibson Melo, both returning to the fray after being rested in mid-week.
The first quarter of an hour was a turgid watch as both teams struggled to establish any kind of rhythm and play was held up several times for injured players to receive treatment. We had to wait until the 19th minute for the first meaningful attack and it's the visitors who open the scoring; Jaroensak swings in a right wing cross and Tardeli is on hand to nod in his 20th goal of a prolific season.
It's something you rarely hear at Thai football grounds but the home fans started to voice their disapproval as The Firebats lost possession too easily or played the ball backwards from midfield. To add to the fans frustration, rare attacks resulted in overhit passes that only served to give Pathiwat in the Samut Prakan goal some easy catching practice.
Suphanan Bureerat, with his lilac hair shade, received a booking for an over-zealous challenge but there were few other incidents of note in an extremely forgettable first half.
Toti and Tardeli celebrate the opening goal. (photo credit: official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
The second 45 minutes were a vast improvement. Just two minutes in and Sukhothai are level. Veteran defender, Sila Srikampang, who scored just twice in almost 150 appearances for Ratchaburi, finds himself in the penalty area and has all the time in the world to lash a shot past Pathiwat.
The equalizing goal was just what any watching neutral fans had wished for and it seemed to lift both teams and the contest in general.
Six minutes later and Samut Prakan are back in front. Jaroensak leaves a defender in his wake and his measured pass leaves Teerapol Yoyei with an easy tap-in for his 7th goal of the season.
You would expect Prakan old boy, Ibson Melo, to get in on the act at some stage and with half an hour remaining, he seizes on a dreadful headed clearance from Bureerat and provides the kind of clinical finish that had us singing his name from all corners of the SAT Stadium when he was one of ours. He's dragged Sukhothai back into the game once more and it's two goals apiece.
Full-back, Suphanan Bureerat, is becoming one of our most consistent players and had another decent game apart from the error that led to Sukhothai's second goal. (photo credit: official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
It starts to get frenzied out there as both sides go in search of a winner. There's a bad tackle on Daniel Toti, which manager Ishii-san protests a little too vociferously and promptly goes into the ref's notebook. He responds by making a double substitution and sending on strikers, Chayawat and Apichai - and the two pairs of fresh legs combine to get the winning goal just two minutes from time. It's a cruel blow for the Firebats to concede so late having played their part in such an entertaining second half.
Final score: Sukhothai 2 Samut Prakan 3 - and we move up to 5th in the table. (Watch the highlights)
Not one of our best performances of the season by any stretch. We were often sloppy in possession and several of our big names looked a bit jaded. Actually, I think this match was a good opportunity to give two or three of the fringe players a run out with tougher games against Ratchaburi and Buriram just around the corner. That said, we've ground out another great result away from home and we move a step closer to that Asian Champions League dream.
After Tuesday's home defeat to Prachuap, Rayong FC became the first club to be relegated to the second division. I think I'm destined never to go to a football match in Rayong.
Let's get to today's game against Ratchaburi. Samut Prakan fans haven't been to a home game for a while?
Saturday 12th December to be exact, so virtually three months ago. Since then, five home matches have been played behind closed doors.
What was the result of this fixture last season?
Samut Prakan won 2-1 but I remember the game mostly for the torrential rain that fell during the opening ten minutes. You would expect that in September but not in April!
Ratchaburi led 1-0 at half time but Chayawat brought it back to level terms early in the second period. Then it became Ibson Melo's night (not for the first time) as he smashed home a last minute winner to make amends for a missed penalty earlier on. I described it in the blog as 'another fantastic night in Bang Plee! Not a big crowd but a terrific atmosphere'. I'll settle for a repeat of that this evening.
What sort of form are the Dragons in?
Results have been a bit iffy of late. Since the season re-start in early February, they've won just two of their nine games (and you would have expected them to beat Police Tero at home and Rayong on their travels) Against better clubs, they've struggled. I think we're playing them at a good time and we might just nick a win tonight. (and as usual these words would come back to bite me)
Just 683 fans turned up to watch this one - our lowest attendance of the season and well below our 25% allowance - but those that stayed away missed a decent game.
On arrival at the stadium and walking through the fan zone, it was good to see a few familiar friends. Manager Ishii-san was busy signing replica shirts and posing for photos in front of the club shop (which is still a van). In the three months I'd been away, it was good to see that the area around the stadium had been smartened up considerably, including a brand new Inthanin coffee shop with an outdoor seating area. Oh how desperately we needed something like this.
(Manager Ishii-san posing with fans before the match. My good pal Jon, who's also a fanatical Sheffield United supporter, often comes to the matches with his young son, Thomas. He's a valuable member of the Samut Prakan expat supporters club because you can almost count us all on one hand)
Samut Prakan once again fielded a full-strength side with the exception of defender, Suphanan Bureerat, who ended up sitting near me at the back of the W2 stand. I never got the chance to ask him if he was out injured or was serving a ban for reaching a certain number of yellow cards. And while we're on that topic, manager Ishii-san was also serving a touchline ban for a recent yellow card outburst.
To the game itself and Samut Prakan get off to an awful start. Just three minutes on the clock and Teerapol Yoyei loses concentration and gives away possession just outside the D. The ball is fed to striker Steeven Langil and the man from Martinique does well to score from a narrow angle.
At the other end, Jaroensak is brought down in the box on the quarter hour mark but the ref waves play on, much to Samut Prakan's annoyance. However, a word in the ref's earpiece means it's going to VAR and the penalty is awarded. Now it's the Ratchaburi players' turn to stamp their feet. Barros Tardeli puts away the spot-kick with trademark aplomb and we're all square again.
Philip Roller, the Ratchaburi captain, is a player I've always admired. The German-born winger with over a hundred appearances for the Dragons, is usually a handful, and it's he who puts the visitors back in front shortly before half-time. He turns Prakan defender Ernesto with ease and his shot cannons off the post, hits goalkeeper Pathiwat on the back - and just about crosses the goal-line.
Despite the low attendance, it was good to be able to see a home game again.
My half-time ritual is generally to go and chat to a few other foreign supporters in the Samut Prakan fan zone. I hadn't seen them for a while so we had much to talk about. Consequently, I was slow getting back into the stadium and missed Ratchaburi's third goal. Again it was that man Philip Roller, rifling in a low shot from a Ratchaburi corner.
3-1 down meant we had a mountain to climb and I honestly couldn't see us getting back into it. Ratchaburi don't surrender two goal leads; they're far too disciplined and organised.
The rest of the second period is fairly even with chances for both sides. Tardeli misses a sitter on 52 minutes with just the goalkeeper to beat and would've scored the goal of the season had his volley over the bar later in the half been better directed.
The match ends on a rather unsavoury note as we go into injury time. Toti is adjudged to have pushed a Ratchaburi attacker and the ref and VAR combine to deem it a straight red card. It looks an awfully harsh decision to me. Barros Tardeli is so angry that he refuses to play on and has to be forcibly pushed back on the field of play by the Samut Prakan touchline staff (not something you like to see) None of it really mattered though; we were were 3-1 down and well beaten.
There's never any shame in losing to Ratchaburi. In fact, that's three defeats out of the four times I've seen us lock horns home and away. They're a very decent side.
Tonight's game was actually very even but it was a case of one team putting their chances away and the other side not having their shooting boots on.
Who's up next?
With just four league games to go, we welcome high-flying Buriram to the SAT Stadium this Sunday 14th March.