(Which new places will the Samut Prakan army be travelling to next season?)
At home to Trat FC. Dare we say 'slightly meaningless end-of-season fixture'?
I think you would be forgiven for saying that. Trat are already relegated of course and the highest that Samut Prakan can now finish is 5th.
So what shall we write about?
This is a wonderful opportunity to take a look at the clubs battling for promotion from the second division and think about where we will (or might) be going to next season as away fans.
At the time of writing, the second division clubs all have three matches left to play, so still a potential 9 points to be gained.
Who's definitely coming up?
1) Nongbua Pichaya FC (69 points)
2) Chiang Mai United (68 points)
Nongbua Pichaya and Chiang Mai United are already guaranteed the two automatic promotion spots, so that's certainly a couple of northern adventures that await us next season.
Nongbua Pichaya (The Gamecocks) have led the way all season and thoroughly deserve their shot at the big time. I'm excited about getting to see the 6,000-capacity, shockingly pink, Pitchaya Stadium despite it feeling like a hell of a jaunt to the middle of the nowhere. Getting there certainly involves taking a flight to Udon Thani and then working out how to cover the 45-minute journey by road to the small town of Nongbua Lampu (which according to Google has just two hotels) Now if that doesn't sound like an adventure for an away fan, then nothing does.
Chiang Mai United, despite the distance, will of course be a much easier trip. There are more Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights than you can shake a stick at, and once you get there you, there are all the hotels, transport options, etc that you would expect from a second city that's also a major tourist destination. That said, I only want to go there once!
(We'll certainly be saying hello to the Nongbua Pitchaya fans next season)
Which other team could come up via the playoffs?
I think there are five teams in the mix at the moment. And they are (in league order);
3) Nakhonpathom United (54 points)
A sleepy little town just an hour and a half from Bangkok and a crumbling, rusty little stadium that appears to be part of a sports school complex. I mean, what's not to love? There's a decent selection of mid-range hotels as well given the size of the place. I make no secret of the fact that this is the team I'm rooting for to come up in third.
4) Phrae United (54 points)
Rely on Google for your research and Phrae United is a football club cloaked in mystery. Where in Phrae itself is the stadium? What's the stadium called? Even the mighty Google isn't going to give up the information that easily. All I know is that Phrae is up in that Lampang / Chiang Mai Province neck of the woods. It's far, let's put it that way. It does appear to have an airport though so at least that's a start.
5) Khonkaen United (54 points)
I've never been to Khon Kaen but always heard positive things about it. Getting there would involve taking a flight but the airport and stadium are just 20 minutes apart, with stacks of hotels in-between. This sounds like a prime candidate for long weekend potential.
6) Chiang Mai FC (52 points)
No disrespect to Chiang Mai FC fans because I'm sure they would love to see Thailand's second city have not one, but two teams in the premier league, but no, just no. I've never been that keen on Chiang Mai and the last thing I want to do is have to go twice! Although I guess it's probably a more agreeable football destination without the hordes of tourists.
7) Chainat Hornbill (51 points)
I never paid much attention to Chainat when they were in the premier league last season. Chainat sounded like a long way from Bangkok but actually it isn't. You can get there by bus in about three hours and the bus station is just six kilometres from the Chainat Provincial Stadium, where the team plays its home games. There isn't a great selection of hotels in town it must be said and I wonder if there's anything to see apart from the Bird Park, which every 'visit Chainat' website seems to bang on about. If you do a Google image search, the stadium looks very open-plan (hardly any roof cover in other words) so if you're away to Chainat in September or October, best take a brolly.
(It was a pleasure to welcome Jonathan, a reporter for a French football magazine, to his first game at Samut Prakan: photo credit: Paiboon James)
OK, let's get to today's last home game of the season. Who's with you this evening?
My wife had a work colleague's wedding reception to attend - but her season ticket didn't go to waste. Right at the start of the season, a young Frenchman by the name of Jonathan contacted me to say he enjoyed reading my Samut Prakan football blogs and could he hook up with me if he was ever in town to see a match. Well, 14 months later, we finally got the chance to meet.
Jonathan turned out to be a most likable chap from Marseille, who had lived in Chiang Mai for more than five years. Not only did he write about football and do interviews for a top French football magazine and social media channel, but his focus was on Thai football and trying to get French readers interested in the Thai game. And I'm always happy to help someone spread the word!
I arranged to meet him well before kick off to do a 15-minute YouTube interview, where I filled him in on why I had ended up a Samut Prakan supporter, etc. Then I introduced him to various hardcore Thai supporters, allowing him some great photo opportunities. After watching the match together, Jonathan rounded off an enjoyable evening by having his photo taken with several players and also manager Ishii-san.
I think he would say the trip from Chiang Mai was well worthwhile.
(I think this was when I realised I knew very little about French football: photo credit: Paiboon James)
To the game itself?
The occasion was very much a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's show'.
After the intensity and excitement of the last home match against Buriram (and a sell-out crowd) this game had the distinct feel of an end-of-season encounter with little at stake. However, the final attendance of 1,531 was encouraging and far better than I had expected.
Samut Prakan went into the match with a strong line-up but no Daniel Toti or Yuto Ono. As it happened, Yuto was sat near me in the W2 stand, watching the game with his wife. When I tapped him on the shoulder at half-time and asked him about his injury, he said he was feeling much better and was very hopeful of playing in the last game of the season at Chiang Rai.
Back to the action and it took just 8 minutes for Samut Prakan to open their account - and fitting it should be the king of assists setting one up for the king of goals. Captain Peeradol scoops a delightful chip pass to Jaroensak, and his cross is sidefooted home by Tardeli for his 23rd goal of the campaign.
Goal number 24 for the Brazilian striker supreme comes on 18 minutes, a sweet volley at the far post from an inch perfect Jakkapan centre. The home side two-nil up and it's all beginning to look embarrassingly easy.
Trat's own Brazilian striker, Carlos Santos, has been one of the few highlights of a wretched season for the Eastern Thailand club, scoring a respectable 9 goals and featuring in all but one of Trat's league fixtures. He looked the man most likely to grab a lifeline and as Samut Prakan frustratingly took their foot off the gas and had a 10-minute wobble, he capitalized on a parry from Pathiwat to slot the ball past the Samut Prakan keeper.
The goal celebration wasn't so much muted as non-existent. I guess that's how it is when your club is facing next season in the wilderness of the second division (not that Santos will be around to witness it)
The killer third goal for the home side comes ten minutes into the second period. Jaroensak once again proves too hot to handle as he skates past the right-back and his pass into the box is sidefooted into the roof of the net by Chayawat for his 7th goal of an injury-hit season.
Five minutes later and Trat are reduced to ten men as midfielder, Samsern Limwatthana, is given his marching orders for going over the top of the ball and planting his studs into Aris Jarifovic's knee. Thankfully the big Slovenian recovers quickly.
No further additions to the scoreline means the game ends in a 3-1 victory for Samut Prakan.
(Flying the Spanish flag with our defender, Ernesto Phumipha: photo credit: Paiboon James)
(Physio / trainer Vinny and goalkeeping coach, Saulo. Two of our Brazilian backroom boys who keep the team in top shape: photo credit: Paiboon James)
All in all, not a bad way to end the season at home. A professional performance from Samut Prakan but in all fairness, we never really had to get out of second gear against a poor Trat side. I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan's company and I'm delighted he enjoyed his evening down at Bang Plee. It always gives me a buzz when football fans sample our stadium and set-up for the first time and come away with nothing but good things to say about us!
(Looking forward to my first visit the Singha Chiang Rai Stadium next weekend)
Who's up next?
Our final game of the season is away to Chiang Rai on Sunday 28th March.
Yes, the flight and hotel are both booked and I'm going to fly up the day before and make a couple of days of it. I've always enjoyed my visits to Chiang Rai.