(photo credit: official Pluakdaeng Facebook page)
Right then, so this is the Thai League Cup competition?
Yes, this is the knockout round of 32 teams, where the 16 premier league clubs enter the competition and are all drawn away to play at the 16 lower league teams that have made it this far. So basically, the 'smaller club' is guaranteed a home tie against one of the big boys.
I think the Thai League Cup has always been organised this way. Last year, the competition was scrapped due to Covid restrictions and the Thai FA not wanting an unneccessary fixture pile-up. However, in 2019 - Samut Prakan City's first season - we were knocked out at the first hurdle by third division Thonburi University (now Thonburi United). So this is only the second time that Samut Prakan City have featured in a League Cup tie.
And we've drawn yet another third division club?
And another potential banana skin you might say. Pluakdaeng United play in the third division east, and the Elephant Warriors as they are known, are having a pretty decent season. They currently lie in 6th place, although a big ten points behind runaway leaders Pattaya Dolphins.
What else do we know about them?
Can we be totally random here? Pluakdaeng United were formed in 2005 as Prachinburi FC. They've gone through several name changes since then including Rayong United FC and Pluakdaeng Rayong United. I could also tell you about which divisions they've played in along with various promotion near misses and relegations - but trust me, it's far too complicated.
They play their home matches at the C.K Stadium in Pluakdaeng and the ground holds about a thousand. A Pattaya Dolphins fan told me on social media that it must have one of the worst playing surfaces in the Thai league. I've also seen the away fans enclosure on various YouTube videos and it's...how can I say?...rustic?
The town of Pluakdaeng (or whatever geographical entity it's classified as) is slap bang in the middle of an industrial zone. Doing my research and contemplating (somewhat optimistically) an overnight stay in perhaps a cosy hotel, I browsed 'the top 10 things to do in Pluakdaeng' and binned the idea in an instant. But if it's factories and manufacturing plants you're after...
To help you get your bearings, Pluakdaeng is two hours south of Samut Prakan, half-way between Chonburi and Rayong, but nowhere near the coast. It's about an hour inland from Pattaya.
According to Wikipedia, they appear to have one foreign player, an Argentinian striker by the name of Leonardo Ferrari. Looking at his playing record this season, he's either used as a sub or left out of the team altogether!
The star of the show is possibly Thai forward Warut Trongkratok, who at the time of writing had hit 5 goals in 11 matches. He was also Pluakdaeng's top scorer in 2018 so he's obviously been there a while.
Are fans being allowed in or will it be behind closed doors?
Pluak Daeng United contacted me on Monday to say tickets were 80 baht for home and away fans and available at the stadium on the day of the match. So it's all systems go!
(A wonderful lunch spot if you're ever in this part of the world)
We covered the 130 kms from Samut Prakan to Pluakdaeng in under two hours and what was most surprising was how beautiful the countryside was in that part of Rayong Province. So much for it being an industrial zone, it felt like I was back in England, in somewhere like Derbyshire!
About a mile from the CK stadium, we found the perfect place for a light lunch - the 3245 Craft Cafe was possibly the most attractive and well-run coffee shop I've seen in Thailand. It was a terrific place to kill an hour before the game.
Thoughts on the CK Stadium?
It was great to get a feel for what life is like in the Thai third division. Yes, the playing surface left a lot to be desired and the I'm not sure the rickety metal stands adhered to the most rigorous safety standards but it was a stadium with oodles of charm. The staff were friendly and welcoming, even inviting us into the club shop to take photos (what! they had a club shop!) There were no fussy vaccination checks (which made a refreshing change) and away fans could sit or stand where they wished. At these kind of intimate, open-plan grounds, you get more of an opportunity to interact with people, not only the local fans but also the Samut Prakan backroom staff and players who had travelled down.
To the match itself and Samut Prakan team line-up?
It's obvious where the gaffer's priorities lie because he selected a distinctly second string eleven for this one. Only Noppon Phonkham and Srayut Somphim were what you'd call 'regular first teamers'. There were also full Samut Prakan debuts for Anusit Termmee between the sticks, Kandani Thawornsak in defence, and Aphirak Suankan as part of a five-man midfield.
The opening half hour undoubtedly belonged to Pluakdaeng. It wasn't so much the home side played the better football but Samut Prakan were wasteful in possession and simply took time to adapt to the conditions: a tricky pitch that resembled a farmer's field and of course the 3pm start, which means kicking off in the white hot heat of the day.
Pluaekdang take the lead after 15 minutes, a neat side-footed goal from their diminutive midfield number 77 Jakkarin. As the boy wheels away in celebratory delight, the small Samut Prakan away following, who had a perfect view of that opening goal, start to wonder if this could be a replay of Thonburi University a couple of seasons ago and an early exit from the competition. However, Samut Prakan settle into the game and their premier league class begins to show. Jiraaut Wingwon pulls the visitors level with a super strike just past the half hour and a simple tap in from Choedwichit on the stroke of half-time sends Samut Prakan into the dressing room with a 2-1 advantage.
(That seating was quite tricky to negotiate, especially at my age!)
I'll be mercifully brief here because frankly, the home side never looked like getting back into the match. Choedwichit scored his second of the game ten minutes from time to extend Samut Prakan's overall lead but the winning margin could and should have been greater.
Final score: Pluakdaeng United 1 Samut Prakan City 3
The first half an hour was an awful watch if you were a Samut Prakan fan but it turned out to be a very professional job in the end. Once that equalising goal went in, you always felt it was a matter of how many Prakan would score.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day out and the chance to tick off another Thai League stadium. All the best for the rest of the season Pluakdaeng and I'll be looking out for your results!
(Life in the Thai third division is not without its charms)
So just out of interest, how many of the 16 Premier League clubs got knocked out of the competition today?
12 clubs got through (including Samut Prakan of course) and four were eliminated. Nakhon Ratchisima bowed out of the competition with a 2-1 defeat at Chainat Hornbill. Muangthong went out at Uthai Thani (would love to go there in the next round!) Suphanburi were beaten 3-2 at Krabi (wouldn't mind going there either) and in probably the biggest shock of the day, Port FC fielded a reserve team and in a game that went to extra time and penalties, were dumped out by Muang Loei.
Who's up next?
It's back to premier league action and a tough game away at Bangkok United this Sunday 16th January.