2022/23 Phrae United v Samut Prakan
Our second game in the space of a week up in North Thailand
(We took three points from Chiang Mai United on Saturday. We couldn't possibly do the same at Phrae surely?)
We're still buzzing from Saturday
It's amazing what a win and three points can do for morale. OK we're still at the wrong end of the league table but the result has given us renewed hope that we are good enough to survive - and that any talk of life in the Thai third division is premature.
Can we seriously take three points from Phrae United?
It's going to be tough because I think they're a better side than Chiang Mai United. They certainly can't play as badly as CMU did on Saturday.
At the time of writing (before the weekend's games) Phrae are lying in third place on goal difference (it's getting very tight in that top six) Their home record actually isn't that great though and they've had some iffy results at the Huayma Stadium, including a 2-1 defeat against lowly Ranong United.
What was the score in this season's reverse fixture?
The two teams met in early October and Samut Prakan were worthy 2-1 winners. The match was played at the Chonburi FC Stadium while Samut Prakan still had an ongoing issue with their floodlights. It was also my first Samut Prakan match after returning from a 3-week trip to England.
Any player connections?
Defender Kandanai Thawornsak played around half a dozen times for Samut Prakan in their 2021/22 relegation season. I used to often nod and say a few words to his very proud father at home matches. Sadly it wasn't to last and Kandanai (and probably his father too) moved to Prae in search of regular first team football. So good to see that he's started almost all of Phrae's matches this season.
Phrae is a long, long way from Samut Prakan
It certainly is. It would take you the best part of 8 hours to drive that distance. However, Tun and I had decided to stay on in North Thailand after the match against Chiang Mai, so here are some photo highlights of the week that was.
On the Sunday morning after the Chiang Mai game (and a 2-1 victory) we drove the hour or so further north to the mountain village of Mae Kampong, stopping off at the Chiang Mai Art Museum and a riverside coffee shop or two on the way. Mae Kampong has become a darling of the Thai travel forums, especially among the Instagram crowd, due to its obscenely rustic location, coolish climate and back-to-nature homestay accommodation.
Our wooden bungalow was perhaps a bit too basic for us now we've reached our more mature years and there was little else to do except wander up the village's main street as far as the waterfall and then wander back again. Truthfully neither of us would be in a hurry to return...but we were glad to have experienced it once.
Tuesday dawned and we bid farewell to Mae Kampong. Our next stop was the town of Lampang, where we had booked a hotel for four nights. This gave us the opportunity to have a leisurely drive through Lamphun Province, taking in a couple of temples, the Chompu White Railway Bridge and The Kuntan Tunnel (the longest railway tunnel in Thailand). One of the highlights of the day was undoubtedly The Terracotta Garden (above photo), a coffee shop / restaurant set in magnificent grounds reminiscent of perhaps Angkor Wat. The restaurant served up probably the tastiest khao soi we had during the whole trip.
Being as this is primarily a Thai football blog, I should mention we also stopped by at Lampun Warrior's Provincial Stadium. It looked as if it was undergoing some serious development and then someone reminded me that premier league Lamphun FC are actually playing their home matches at Chiang Mai's 700th Birthday Stadium this season. So that explained things.
The following day, we poked around Lampang Town and its environs. Lampang is famous among Thais for its horse and carriages but sadly their numbers are dwindling as tourism in the area is slow to pick up after Covid (at least according to our driver) It would be such a shame to see such an iconic feature of northern Thailand die out altogether.
It was unbearably hot and uncomfortably smoggy due to the air pollution caused by farmers burning off their fields, but we loved Lampang! We enjoyed its slow pace of life and the warm welcomes you received from every local. It has some stunning street art too if you wander down by the river.
On our second day in Lampang, we drove around the province to see the Mae Kham Dam (impressive) the Mae Moh Garden (superbly maintained by Thailand's national electricity company EGAT) and the interesting and educational EGAT Museum nearby.
Time to say goodbye to Lampang and head to our final destination of Phrae, a couple of hours away. We couldn't leave town though without ticking off another Thai football stadium - The Municipal Stadium, home of premier league Lampang FC. There wasn't a soul around on such a humid morning so we were able to reel off plenty of photos from all corners of the ground.
From there we took in a couple of museums, The excellent Lampang Museum, which focuses on the history of the area, and The Natural History Museum, which wasn't quite so modern or imaginative but who doesn't love life-size dinosaurs that move and roar unexpectedly when you stand near them. I'm rarely disappointed by a museum in Thailand. They are something the Thais do so, so well. And when the temperature is nudging 35 degrees outside, to stroll around in an air-conditioned environment is always agreeable.
We spent the best part of 48 hours in Phrae and although our first impressions as we drove into town were not great, we soon warmed to it. It was like stepping back in time to a Thailand of yesteryear. Peaceful streets, very little in the way of traffic, a town boasting an adorable and enviable slow way of life.
Not only did we find lots to do there but we were able to ditch our hire car and get some much needed walking exercise in. We ambled around its night market, were delighted to find the monthly Phrae flea market was also happening while we were there, and enjoyed its interesting temples and varied architecture from the gaudy to the traditional and the brutalist 70s to the sadly abandoned. There was a surprise around every corner and enough to keep the most jaded historian satisfied. But of course, our main reason for being in Phrae was the football match. Phrae FC v Samut Prakan City...bring it on!
This was scheduled to be the last division two match of the weekend so didn't kick off until 7.00 pm. We knew that Phrae's Huayma Stadium was some 16 kilometres out of town but as the sun began to set and we drove down twisting country lanes flanked by rice fields, Tun remarked that surely there couldn't be a football stadium at the end of this. But there was...and a lovely stadium it was too. It might not have been premier league standard but it oozed charm. There was a commendable selection of food vendors and the view from the away section was decent. All of the Phrae staff and supporters that we came into contact with were lovely, as if they really appreciated the effort that the dozen or so Samut Prakan supporters had made to be there.
(Before the game, we got to chat with star striker Padsakorn's charming parents. Like us, his Mom and Dad had decided to take in the Chiang Mai United and Phrae games and do a week of travelling in-between. I still can't quite believe his mother is 50 years old, I thought she was Mos's older sister!)
To the match itself
Samut Prakan fielded what I would probably consider to be their best eleven (on paper), with perhaps the exception of Ratchata Moraksa, who started from the bench. There was no place in the line-up for African striker Toure either, and although I chatted to him briefly before the match, I couldn't work out whether he was injured or simply not selected. Both our Mali players were absent against Chiang Mai United but centre half Makan Diawara was back in the side for this one.
(Toure will have to wait a little longer for his first Samut Prakan goal)
Samut Prakan start confidently and enjoy the better of the early exchanges. Phrae certainly know they are in a contest. Makan Diawara almost opens his account by getting on the end of a Karn Jorates free kick but Ukrit in the Phrae goal tips smartly away for a corner. The visitors certainly take no prisoners in the opening half hour and both Pongsakorn and Nititorn find their way into the referee's notebook for over-zealous challenges. The impressive Taku Ito, who was central to most of the good things Phrae did, feeds Teerayut and with it a glorious chance to draw first blood, but the number 9's shot cannons off the crossbar. Replays show Samut Prakan keeper Thatpicha actually got his fingertips to it.
Cue biased opinion, but somewhat against the run of play, Phrae open the scoring on 38 minutes. Danger man Taku Ito whips in a free kick and Brazilian Elivelton rises highest and his glancing header finds the target.
Half time: Phrae United 1 Samut Prakan 0
Ito is at it again early in the second half and his direct free kick almost puts the home side two up but for a terrific save from Thatpicha, diving to his right to palm the ball away.
Midfielder Kittichai becomes the third Samut Prakan player to receive a yellow card and not long after is the victim of a horrendous tackle that has more than an element of retribution about it. It's a red card all day long but Teerayut is only shown the yellow. Fortunately x-rays long after the match finishes indicate Kittichai's leg isn't broken but it's quite possibly still the end of his season.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man as Ratchata enters the fray for the final thirty minutes. It's his delicious outswinging free kick that finds Padsakorn all alone on the edge of the penalty area to calmly volley the Sea Fang level. You know what? I just had a gut feeling we were going to find a way back into the match.
In the closing stages, Thatpicha comes to the rescue again with a decent save while Karn Jorates fires over the bar, missing a decent chance to see Samut Prakan go home with all three points. Final whistle and it's honours even.
Full-time: Phrae United 1 Samut Prakan 1
Hey! If you had offered me four points from the two away games at Chiang Mai United and Phrae, I'd have chewed your arm off at the elbow. OK, we're still hovering precariously above that relegation zone but we're not actually in it. And as I said in a previous blog, we just need to get through this tricky February and not get cut adrift.
I'm absolutely delighted with the way things have gone this past week and you can see the confidence growing in the team again.
(A final big up to Khun Pathomchai and the several lads who came with him, driving the 8 hours from Samut Prakan, waving flags and singing at the match, and then driving 8 hours back through the night. These guys are truly amazing fans!)
Who's up next?
It's back to our happy home - The Samut Prakan Stadium - as we take on Rayong FC on Sunday 19th February.
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