(Photo credit: Official Nakhonsi United Facebook page)
Away to the league leaders. It doesn't get tougher than that?
On paper it looks a daunting task: however, The Southern Dragons have been wobbling of late and have won just one of their last six games.
What was the score in the reverse fixture?
The two clubs met at The Samut Prakan Stadium back in October with Prakan enjoying their best run of the season. Moldovan striker Petru Lueca (no longer with the club) was the hero as he smashed home a late goal to give Samut Prakan a 1-0 victory. I grabbed this photo with him on the pitch after the game.
(The much missed Petru Lueca on what was probably his finest night in a Samut Prakan shirt)
Any Samut Prakan / Nakhonsi United player connections?
There certainly is. One of our favourite players Srayut 'Sweet Eyes' Somphim moved down south to play for Nakhonsi United a couple of months ago. After being one of our standout players in the 2021/22 relegation season, Srayut found himself frozen out of the squad due to contractural issues. I don't want to dwell on this or go into the gory details, let's just say he was poorly treated and we were delighted that he finally got the move to another club. Hopefully we'll get chance to say hello to him before the game.
(Tun and I were there to support Srayut when he made his Nakhonsi debut at Rajpracha FC but unfortunately he was an unused sub that day.
Who are the Nakhonsi United danger men?
Phillerson and Evandro are a speedy Brazilian strike partnership and have 15 league goals between them this season. Evandro, who has scored the lion's share of those goals, doesn't seem to stay anywhere very long. Nakhon Si United is his fourth Thai club in just two seasons, arriving via Sukhothai, Chiang Mai United and Police Tero. He also has what must be the blackest beard in world football.
So what's the travel plan?
Tun and I will fly down to Nakhon Si Thammarat on Friday afternoon, take in the match on Saturday evening, and then stick around for several days to explore an unknown province. The town is in relatively easy reach of the airport and the Nakhonsi United Stadium is nearby as well. However, we're not going to stay the whole time in Nakhon Si Thammarat town. Once we've done the football match, we'll be driving an hour north to spend several nights at an up and coming beach area called Khanom.
Journey and digs
Despite a slight delay to our Nok Air flight from Bangkok Don Muang, we landed at Nakhon's tiny provincial airport around mid-afternoon and were soon in our hire car driving towards the town centre. Frankly speaking, Nakhon looked a bit dull at first glance and a stroll around town after dark did little to change that perception. It was the classic Thai provincial town, where apart from the night market and a few clusters of bars and restaurants, the streets are in almost total darkness. The population retreats to their shophouses and disappears behind steel shutters until morning.
For accommodation, we had booked three nights at the Mandy Nok Hotel in the centre of Nakhon and not too far from the stadium. For 1,200 baht a night, the room was good quality but let down by a distinctly average breakfast.
It's Match Day!
We used the morning and afternoon to have a better look around Nakhon and the surrounding area, including a delightful river and ford at Wang Pla Ngae, the historic temple and cave at Wat Khao Kun Phanom, and finishing off in town with an amble around the old walls,
(The water was crystal clear down at Wang Pla Ngae)
(In several areas of Nakhon Si town, there is some fine street art dedicated to King Rama 9)
(When you are in southern Thailand, don't forget to sample the cha chak and kafee chak, the regional tea and coffee)
To the match itself, what's the stadium like?
We got to the ground around 5pm (about 90 minutes before kick off) and stood around chatting to the dozen or so other Samut Prakan supporters that had made the long trip. The stadium was the typical provincial offering but it was well-maintained and had a decent view from the away end. The two things that struck me most was the slight fiasco in buying a ticket for the away zone (the ticketing staff looked as though they had never seen an away fan in their lives, let alone sold a ticket to one) and the disappointingly gruff manner of the security staff (that southern Thai friendliness certainly didn't extend to this mob)
(Now that's how to watch the match for free!)
(Fan favourite Srayut Somphim came over to the Samut Prakan fans to say hi and pose for photos before the match started. Unfortunately he wasn't named in today's Nakhonsi United squad but it's always great to see him)
And to the match action
The biggest team news came from the opposition, with Nakhon's main goalscoring threat Evandro not even included in the squad. I couldn't pretend not to be delighted.
Samut Prakan defender Tirapon, making his 4th start since a January move from Rajpracha, is the first player to receive a yellow card in what's about to develop into a niggly contest. Several of the more dubious challenges are aimed in the direction of Phillerson, testimony to the threat the Brazilian posed throughout the game, even without his main strike partner.
It's Phillerson who carves out the first clear cut chance of the evening but his 14th minute shot flashes across the goalmouth. He's later mystifyingly fortunate not to have his name taken for a blatant shove on Phanthamit. The Samut Prakan midfielder is to have the last laugh though as he scores the opening goal on the stroke of half time. Ratchata Moraksa is cynically chopped down but the referee waves play on with Samut Prakan still in possession. Padsakorn feeds Phanthamit on the edge of the box, who checks inside and rifles a low shot into the corner.
Half-time: Nakhonsi United 0 Samut Prakan City 1
(Tun was on official flag duty tonight)
Yotsakorn has a wonderful chance to extend Samut Prakan's lead on 53 minutes but after picking a defender's pocket, shoots straight at the keeper.
Nakhon begin to up the tempo as they go in search of an equaliser but despite carving out several chances, Samut Prakan keeper Thatpichalooks comfortable and totally in command. Samut Prakan's modest away following begin to get the feeling this could be their night.
The game's most controversial incident happens with 13 minutes left on the clock. The Samut Prakan players think play should be stopped as Makan Diawara rolls around on the floor clutching his back, but Phillerson has other ideas. Bollocks to sportsmanship, he's not kicking the ball out for anyone. Tirapon decides to take one for the team and brings down the Brazilian number 11 in full flight. After a bit of pushing, shoving and finger-pointing, the Samut Prakan defender is shown a red and the visitors are down to ten men.
What should have been a nervy final ten minutes plus injury time turn out to be anything but, as Samut Prakan comfortably see out the game. Yotsakorn's powerful shot in the dying seconds (something he's been practicing in training apparently) proves to be the coup de grace. 2-0 to Samut Prakan and the travelling fans celebrate wildly in the away section. We are the first team to win at Nakhonsi United this season. It also proves to be the final nail for the Nakhonsi manager, who with automatic promotion starting to slip away, is relieved of his duties just hours after the final whistle.
Full-time: Nakhonsi United 0 Samut Prakan 2
The highs and lows of following football eh? Last weekend, we traipsed out of the Samut Prakan Stadium after a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Rayong. A week later, we put in arguably our best performance of the season and beaten the league leaders on their own patch. There were some terrific individual performances out there this evening. None more so than Makan Diawara. I embraced the big African centre half as he clambered onto the team bus in front of the player's entrance and told him just how much that performance meant.
A quick look at the league table after the weekend's games
That bottom of the table looks so much better now that Samut Prakan have a five-point buffer. Ranong and Udon Thani are both as good as down and I have a feeling Rajpracha will join them.
At the top of the table, Nakhonsi United are clinging on to second place after Chiang Mai United slipped to yet another home defeat, but have Nakhon Pathom breathing down their necks.
Who's up next?
What you might call a relegation six-pointer as we entertain Kasertsat FC on Saturday 4th March. Win this match and we'll be 8 points ahead of them!
And after the match?
Tun and I stayed on in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province for another three days. These were the highlights;
On Sunday (the day after the match) we took the opportunity to get outside the town and see a bit of Nakhon Province. The main attraction is the small village of Kiriwong, which boasts the cleanest air in Thailand. Dotted with one-night homestays, enjoy it now before it becomes too touristy.
On Monday we drove the hour north to the scenic coastal area of Khanom. There were a couple of well-known temples to tick off on the way. The very pink temple of Wat Yang Yai looked to be undergoing some major restoration. Wat Chedi was also interesting. Thais come from all over the country to offer gifts and make a wish to Ai Kai the child god. However the temple was surprisingly quiet on a Monday morning.
There is some amazing scenery once you get up on that Khanom coast. It's almost on a par with what I've seen in New Zealand...and I can pay it no better compliment than that.
On our second and last day in Khanom, getting a breakfast at 9.30 am proved difficult. The several places recommended to us on social media were either closed or opened at almost midday (no good to us). As Tun said 'Khanom is a weekend place mainly for Thai tourists. From Monday to Friday, it's all very sleepy"
Undeterred, we eventually tracked down a street-food stall and then hit the road to take in some more of Khanom's wonderful scenery, with stops at The Coral Pagoda, The City Pillar Shrine and Cape Pratap, where you can hire a boat to go out and hopefully catch a glimpse of legendary pink dolphins.
For our two nights in Khanom, we stayed at the Vish Cafe, a somewhat overpriced boutique hotel with small rooms on two floors above a coffee shop. The hotel was in a decent location though, just a few minutes walk from the beach.