A rainy night in October and memories of BG Pathum away, when we became only one of three clubs to take points off them this season.
What's happened since the last blog?
Samut Prakan took on runaway league leaders, BG Pathum, at home. In the days leading up to the match, football fans all over the country got excited at the news (well, it was more of a strong rumour actually) that fans would be allowed into stadiums from the weekend of 27/28th February. Alas, it proved to be a false dawn as the Thai FA decided to have one more round of 'closed match' games.
So what is the Thai FA's master plan?
They announced that clubs could allow fans - up to 25% of the capacity - from March 2nd. Then from March 13th, this would be increased to 50% if - and only if - spectators behaved themselves, wore masks, observed social distancing and didn't cheer too loudly.
Let's not forget the league season ends on the 28th March anyway so we're only talking about seven or so remaining games. There's a part of me that just wants the season to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible and let's press the re-set button in August, without any restrictions. Frankly, I'm getting tired of all this stop / start, can we / can't we nonsense.
A first start for our Singaporean midfielder, Muhammad Zulfahmi bin Mohd Arifin (photo credit: official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
So what happened in the game v BG Pathum?
BG Pathum arrived at Bang Plee an incredible 19 points ahead of the team in second place - and barring a disaster of Biblical proportions, the league title was surely in the bag. Played 22, won 19 and drawn 3. That is some record for any team, let alone one that were down in the second division last season.
However, Samut Prakan could take pride in being one of only three teams to take a point from The Rabbits (the other two teams being Bangkok United and PT Prachuap) care of a 2-2 draw back in October. If there was one team that could stop BG Pathum going through the season unbeaten, could it be us?
The starting line-up didn't inspire a great deal of confidence against such a talented opponent but I guess it's good experience for some of more inexperienced, fringe players. Tardeli was unable to feature against his parent club, Captain Peeradol was demoted to the bench (probably in need of a rest) and Zarafovic alongside him (probably still not match fit). There was no Yuto Ono either.
Manager Ishii-san handed a first start to our big Singaporean midfielder, Zulfahmi, and he certainly couldn't have wished for a tougher challenge.
It was going to be a busy night for this young man (photo credit: official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
To the match action
It took 30 minutes for Samut Prakan to conjure up their first shot on target whilst BG Pathum had already carved out half a dozen goal attempts. BG were well-organised, physically strong and quick to break down any rare Samut Prakan attacks. Even though Apichai hit the post for the home team on 35 minutes, you were still left wondering where a Samut Prakan goal was coming from.
Right on the stroke of half-time, BG took the lead. A corner kick was only half cleared and the resulting cross was met sweetly by captain, Victor Cardoza, to head in his 13th goal of the season and put BG Pathum a goal to the good.
Probably sensing the game was slipping away, Prakan made two half-time substitutions. Captain Peeradol came on for Zulfahmi and it was nice to see striker, Chayawat Srinawong, return to the side after a lengthy injury.
Peeradol made an instant impact, spraying passes across the midfield (he has such a wonderful football brain) and the home side probably enjoyed their best, albeit short period of the game. So the second BG Pathum goal came rather against the run of play; this time, ex-Buriram legend, Diogo Santo, wrongfooting Pathiwat in the Samut Prakan goal with a neat header.
Five minutes later and it's game over. Noppon trips up a BG attacker in the box and Diogo sends Pathiwat the wrong way with the spot-kick. The fourth BG goal after 73 minutes is one for the season highlight's reel as defender, Santiphap, curls a peach of a shot into the top corner.
Don't worry, there's still time for more as the visitors take complete control and Samut Prakan begin to look ragged. Diogo completes his hat-trick with ten minutes remaining as he slots home a one-on-one with the keeper. The hat-trick celebration is muted and dare I say he looks slightly embarrassed.
With Samut Prakan supporters begging for the final whistle (from whichever sofa they are hiding behind), VAR has the final word and decides Noppon has handballed in the area (not a night he'll want to remember). Victor Cardoza smashes the spot-kick into the roof of the net to complete a 6-0 rout. You'll enjoy the highlights if you're a BG Pathum fan I'm sure.
I don't want to dwell on this result but I think the gaffer got it wrong tonight. You can't put out a seriously weakened side against easily the best team in the league and expect anything but a heavy defeat. And you just hope that such a heavy defeat doesn't dent the team confidence. I don't want to take anything away from a terrific BG Pathum side though. They are worthy champions and they've given us a sobering glimpse of how good we need to be if we're going to become a top three, top four side.
We're off to Suphanburi! The away zone is usually on the right in front of the scoreboard.
Let's get to today's away game at Suphanburi. Comfortable journey?
It's a strange old place to get to by public transport is Suphanburi. It's only about a hundred kilometres from Bangkok and on a good day, you can hop in your car and do it comfortably in an hour and a half. And yet many of the Bangkok to Suphanburi buses can take up to four hours if you get on the wrong one and end up doing a magical mystery tour via Ang Thong.
Most Thai passengers tend to go for the minibus services from Morchit Bus Station, which are faster and more direct. This is what I decided to do as well even though I'm not a great fan of minibuses. When I got to Morchit, the next one was leaving in ten minutes so I hurriedly bought a ticket (100 baht), had a quick chat with the driver and got on board, where I was one of only four passengers. Lord knows how these transport companies make a profit.
The minibus was everything I hate about this mode of transportation. The air-conditioning was poor, you were better off with rosary beads than putting your faith in the seat-belts and the leg-room was like some kind of cruel joke. Mercifully, we covered the distance to Suphanburi in well under two hours and frankly, I couldn't have stood it a minute longer.
Suphanburi bus station was sleepy (much like the rest of the city) and to get from there to my hotel, I had to rouse an elderly tuk-tuk driver as he napped under the shade of a nearby tree. I just loved that. Far more preferable to being hounded by taxi drivers the second you clamber off the bus.
The bus back to Bangkok (above) was bigger and much more comfortable than the minibus to Suphanburi.
I wanted a room that was walking distance to Suphanburi Stadium so I booked a night at the Lamoon Boutique Hotel for 730 Baht. Suphanburi isn't blessed with a great selection of hotels in that part of the city; in fact, the only other option, The Sports Hotel, is currently being used as a quarantine facility, so I didn't fancy that much.
The Lamoon was a great little hotel. The delightful, chatty lady on reception let me check in early and the room had all I desire from an overnight flop: good air-con, a strong wi-fi signal, a hot water kettle, a mini-fridge and a plug socket near the bed.
It was a comfortable 20-minute walk from there to the stadium along the busy Malaiman Road and Suphanburi has some of the best footpaths of any city in Thailand.
Getting to the stadium in daylight was easy but I'm always mindful of the walk home after a match when it's dark. It's always better to walk along a well-lit, main road with good footpaths than to negotiate narrow, dark side-streets where you might get bitten by street dogs or run over by pissed-up motorcyclists. I learned that lesson from the away game in Trat when I had angry dogs coming at me from all directions.
Anyway, let's get back to the football.
What sort of form were Suphanburi in?
They had lost nine of their last eleven games including a 4-1 defeat in Sunday's relegation six-pointer at Chonburi.
So they're one of the favourites for the drop?
I think they'll go down. Trat and Rayong have both got one foot in the second division already and that third relegation place looks like it's between Prachuap, Sukhothai and Suphanburi. I just feel Suphanburi are marginally the weakest of the three. And this is not sour grapes, but Suphanburi were technically relegated last season. It was only the demise of PTT Rayong that earned them a reprieve. Perhaps there's a feeling out there amongst the neutrals that they've outstayed their premier league welcome this time around.
One of my favourite photos of the season with fans, players and staff celebrating after the final whistle (photo credit: Paiboon James)
The game kicked off at 6.00 pm in fading daylight, and fair to say the first half was a rather dreary affair, not helped by one of the poorest away end views in the premier league. Thanks to the wide running track, you really are an unacceptably long way from the action. This becomes even more frustrating when the rest of the stadium is virtually empty.
The only goal of the half came on 17 minutes, Suphanburi midfielder, Sukanchai, slotting the ball home at the far post as the Samut Prakan defence got pulled out of position. Despite the home side desperately needing three points to avoid relegation, the game had a rather low-key, end of season feel to it. The 1,300 fans in attendance (including just 30-40 from Samut Prakan) did their best to lift the occasion, but there wasn't much to cheer apart from the solitary goal and several wayward efforts struck from distance.
With 15 minutes to kick off, I was the only one in the away end. Unbeknown to me, all the other SP fans had congregated in the car-park and decided to make a late entrance. (photo credit: Paiboon James)
The second half was much better though. With just under half an hour remaining, Samut Prakan made a double substitution with Daniel Toti making a return from injury and Chayawat replacing Teerapol Yoyei. The swaps proved to be a game changer. On 67 minutes, Suphanan Bureerat got his head on a Jakkapan corner and saw the ball crawl fortuitously into the net off a defender. As messy an equalizer as you'll see but we'll take it. Then just two minutes later, Suphanburi dithered in their own penalty area and there was Captain Peeradol to pick the defender's pocket and sidefoot neatly past a bewildered Suphanburi keeper. Now the travelling fans really had something to celebrate.
The last twenty minutes were not without incident either. VAR made its usual appearance to both rule out a Suphanburi penalty appeal and disallow a goal for offside, and as things got more desperate for the home side, there was a good old-fashioned handbags involving at least a dozen players pushing and shoving each other after an awful lunge on a Prakan player by the Suphanburi captain. Fortunately for the captain, the ref and players managed to intervene before Aris Jarifovic threatened to rip his head off.
The final whistle goes after five minutes of injury time and that's a very hard fought three points for the boys in yellow. Well done lads!
After the match, I had the pleasure of meeting star player Jaroensak's father. Nice man! He had come from nearby Kanchanaburi, their hometown, with Jaroensak's mother and a few other family members. It was the first time I had seen them at a Samut Prakan game.
The less said about the 6-0 home defeat to BG Pathum the better, but thankfully the trip to Suphanburi reminded us why we love supporting this club. We had to roll our sleeves up against a side facing the prospect of playing at the likes of MOF Customs and Andaman Ranong next season - and we got the job done.
Shame that there were so few Samut Prakan fans there to witness such a good away performance but I can totally understand it. The Co-vid 19 restrictions have really taken the gloss off things. Apart from having to wear a mask at all times and keep three metres away from the nearest fan, the palavar on entering the stadium bordered on ludicrous. I had no fewer than seven staff members around me, taking my temperature, making sure I scanned the QR code and recorded my details on a sheet of paper, plus checking the contents of my backpack.
Even in the away zone itself, we had our own security guard who ticked us off every time one of us loosened our mask or got too near another person. At one stage I thought he was going to get a thumping from one of our more vociferous fans, who was annoyed because the Suphanburi supporters were clearly not following the same rules that we were.
The team bus parked in front of the Suphanburi Stadium main stand.
Who's up next?
We are away to Sukhothai this Sunday (7th March)
Probably not. 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 felt that Sukhothai was a bridge too far.
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), Sukhothai's Thalay Luang Stadium is 12 kilometres out of town. The logistics are one big ballache. That said, those expat football fans who have braved the journey, all say it's a rewarding experience.
Never mind, I'm sure there will be future opportunities.