(Being a relatively comfortable game to get to, I'm expecting a decent Samut Prakan away following for this one. Photo above is from the recent game at Kasetsart)
A nice straightforward away trip?
Yes, the 6,000 capacity Ayutthaya Provincial Stadium is about a 75-minute drive from Samut Prakan so it's one of the easier T2 destinations for fans to get to. Plus there's the bonus that the game is being played on a Sunday evening so no one has to worry about sneaking away from work early. Oh, and the club are running a free bus!
Being the old Thai capital and steeped in history and culture, there are plenty of old temples and ruins in Ayutthaya so it's well worth a one-night stopover if old ruins are your bag. Or if you just can't be bothered to drive home after the match.
(The Ayutthaya Provincial Stadium)
What's the stadium actually like? Who better to ask than a man who's been a number of times - Rob Scott, Mr Championship himself.
Rob says - "It's a stadium with the standard municipal facilities for sporty types, including some outdoor exercise equipment that is probably best avoided. There is the usual running track around the pitch but no stands or seating behind either goal. There is also a small old city ruin located on the north side of the stadium. Actually there is not much else of interest around the stadium, which is in a residential area closer to the main highway back to Bangkok than to the historical city centre.
Away supporters have to fork out 200 baht for a ticket, which comes as a bit of a shock for an uncovered concrete stand parallel to the penalty area. What else? there are the usual food and drink options and the locals are very friendly"
(Rob was right. 200 baht a ticket)
It's the first time the teams have met so perhaps a bit of club background?
The club's Wikipedia entry is both brief and confusing but I'll do my best to summarize. Ayutthaya United (nickname: The Ayutthaya Warriors) were formed in 2007 as Sena Municipality FC and started life in the amateur system. They changed names to Ayutthaya United around five years ago after gaining promotion to the third division regional leagues. Promotion to the second tier was achieved in 2018 and this is their fourth season in T2. Up to now they've always been a lower half of the table side, but could that all be about to change?
They're having a fine season this time around?
They certainly are, and at the time of writing sit proudly at the top of the second division table with just two defeats (to Nakhon Pathom and Chainat Hornbill) in their opening 11 matches. I've watched them on TV a couple of times and they look a very useful side. Samut Prakan are going to have their work cut out here.
Who's banging in the goals?
A Brazilian striker by the name of Gustavo Alexandre Barbosa De Nascimento (imagine trying to get all that on the back of a shirt). Thankfully it's shortened to Gustavinho. He's hit the net five times this season.
Any player connections?
Yes, Krailas Panyaroj was a right back for Samut Prakan in their very first season back in 2019. He struggled to establish himself as a regular starter but still made around 8 first team appearances. I also notice he came off the bench to score the winning goal in Ayutthaya's last game (a 1-0 win at Rayong) Good lad! Sadly he was to be an unused sub for this match against Samut Prakan.
Oooh, a prediction?
I can see us winning this, I really can. I think the boys will be fired up after getting knocked out of the FA Cup by Buriram in midweek and they'll be well up for this one.
(At one of Ayutthaya's many riverside restaurants)
Journey and digs, etc
The 80-minute drive to Ayutthaya actually feels more like journeying to a suburb of North Bangkok than to a separate town altogether, but it's far from a pleasant journey, especially once you reach Ayutthaya itself. If you ever needed an example of a town that has a road network utterly incapable of handling its volume of vehicles, plus intersections and roundabouts that become almost a chaotic free-for-all, then you'd struggle to find a better example than Ayutthaya. The traffic is horrendous!
For a one-night stay, we settled for Baan Suan Krung Kao, right in the heart of the town and about four kilometres from the football stadium. Set in a large garden, it's an old-style Thai house that's been converted into half a dozen or so guest rooms, We were in the smallest room for 1,145 baht a night. Tun thought it was good value for money but I felt it was overpriced and 850-900 baht would've been closer to the mark. I sometimes feel Tun is too easily swayed if the hotel has a cat (or a dog or anything with four legs). There wasn't an awful lot of space in the room to walk around or even plonk down an overnight bag but at least it had a kettle (something that seems to be lacking from a lot of lower - mid-range hotel rooms these days)
For a pre-match lunch, a local (actually she was the manager of our hotel) recommended 'Mong Doo Rua' down by the riverside. It was a typically scruffy old school Thai joint with an accompanying strange smell and not what you would call an amazing view of the river, but the food was first-class. We ordered a fried rice dish to share and it was possibly the best I've ever eaten in my 32 years in Thailand. Afterwards we stopped off at a dessert cafe-cum-shop that was clearly one for the Instagram crowd. Punters were queuing six deep at the counter to part with considerable cash for cutely-packaged traditional Thai confectionery.
(Samut Prakan fans relaxing before the game)
To the match itself
On arrival at the Ayutthaya Provincial Stadium, many of the other 70-80 travelling Samut Prakan fans had beaten us to the best parking spaces and were already in high spirits, getting stuck into late afternoon beers and meatballs on sticks, etc. Judging by how enthusiastically the Ayutthaya United fans greeted Tun and I as we walked past them to the ticket booth, they'd also been sniffing the barmaid's apron for a fair chunk of the afternoon.
There were several changes to the Samut Prakan side that were beaten 5-1 at Buriram during the week, notably Japanese midfielder Sho Shimoji getting only his third full start of the season. Padsakorn returned to bolster the attack and Thatpicha took up his regular spot between the sticks.
The home side almost take the lead in the first minute but midfielder Kan's sidefooted attempt sails just wide. Samut Prakan go on to have most of the attacking opportunities in the first twenty minutes but the quality of the crossing lets them down, resulting in straightforward catching practice for Ayutthaya keeper Prin Goonchon.
Ayutthaya's busy pint-sized captain Jakkapan Pornsai impressed me throughout and the home side's opener was the result of him getting crudely up-ended and winning a free kick on the left wing. His floated free kick is only half-cleared by the Prakan defence and when the ball is put back into the mix, it's that man Gustavinho who heads home unmarked.
Gustavinho then turns provider to extend Ayutthaya's lead in the 32nd minute. The Brazilian's fairly harmless centre is intercepted by Wanchat, who then makes a dreadful hash of the clearance and Danuson pokes it home almost out of the goalkeeper's hands. Things start going from bad to worse as we approach the interval. Thatpicha is hurt in a collision and immediately replaced by Samut Prakan's number two keeper, the very capable Supawat, and only a last ditch block from Captain Saksit prevents Ayutthaya adding a third and putting the game out of sight.
Half time: Ayutthaya United 2 Samut Prakan 0
On the extremely rare occasion that I turn up late to a movie theatre, if I miss even the first five minutes, the movie is ruined for me. I'm one of these slightly OCD types who has to see things in their entirety. Missing a goal in a football match because I spent far too long dawdling during the half time break (visiting the gents loos and buying snacks) has pretty much the same effect. Yes, I didn't get to see Phanthapit hauling Samut Prakan back into the contest with a 47th minute tap-in. As I counted out 25 baht in coins to pay some drinks vendor for a Pepsi, all I could hear were the cheers from the away end. That's only the second time I've missed a Samut Prakan goal (the first was in the very first Samut Prakan away match at Chonburi in 2019)
Anyway, we are back in the game and deservedly so. As things get tasty out there on the pitch with several late tackles flying in, things get tasty off it as well. I'm going to dwell on this if you don't mind because it's the first time I've experienced 'trouble' at a Thai football match. I have no idea which set of fans started it or what was said, but the Ayutthaya hardcore section suddenly look royally pissed off and they're baying for blood. The target of their ire appears to be a small pocket of Samut Prakan fans in the bottom corner of the away section...and there is only a mesh fence and about ten metres of concrete terracing separating the two factions. Things escalate and the situation starts to turn very ugly indeed.
Let me say this now, the Ayutthaya Stadium security staff did an amazing job. About half a dozen big strong lads, looking more military than part-time security staff, stepped in and calmed things down in an instant. Ten minutes later and it was all forgotten, with both sets of fans holding up their hands, waiing or whatever gesture they needed to perform to restore order.
Oh, and there were no further additions to the scoreline.
Full time: Ayutthaya United 2 Samut Prakan 1
To add a footnote, once the game had finished, about a dozen hardcore Ayutthaya fans had made their way to the rear of the away zone to greet us as we left the stadium. Thankfully, it was purely to apologize for any misunderstandings, to shake hands and to offer us hugs, which we gratefully accepted. I for one breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I'm just going to talk about the football. Samut Prakan played well today. Some would argue we created more chances than Ayutthaya and deserved at least a point... but ultimately, it's goals that win football matches. Ayutthaya look a very decent outfit though and I wouldn't back against them for automatic promotion. Any T2 team is going to have to battle hard and play well to take an away point from Ayutthaya. As for Samut Prakan, we finish the weekend still in 9th place and just two points below the top six. And sneaking a top six place is still the realistic target. I still believe this squad is good enough to achieve it.
Who's up next?
We have a Friday evening game at home to mid-table Rajpracha United on the 11th November.