Let's start with the league table because it's all about results now
Yep! there's no point discussing current form and top goalscorers and results from previous encounters, etc so I won't. It's all about survival points. Let's take a look at who's got the best chance of staying in T2 next season.
With 37 points on the board, I would consider Chiang Mai FC and Chainat Hornbill as virtually safe. I really can't see Kasetsart overhauling either club and pulling back six points plus.
Rajpracha's unexpected 1-0 win over high-flying Nakhon Pathom last weekend has now given them a great chance of avoiding the drop. Their final three games consist of a difficult home match against Customs United (but if you can beat Nakhon Pathom, what have you got to fear from Customs?) and two away trips to Krabi and Phrae. Just one win from those final three games will surely be enough to guarantee second division football at Rajpracha next season. Possibly even a solitary draw and a priceless point might also be enough. However, we shouldn't ignore the rumblings that Rajpracha are experiencing severe financial difficulties. Might they even continue as a club next season?
(Memories of an enjoyable trip to Grand Anadaman Ranong. I'm glad we took the chance while we had it)
Grand Andaman Ranong still have a mathematical chance of staying up but will almost certainly need to take maximum points from Samut Prakan away, followed by Uthai Thani at home and then Chiang Mai FC away on the final day. It's not looking good for Ranong fans is it?
At the moment, that battle for 15th and 16th looks to be between Samut Prakan and Kasetsart. Let's go into more detail.
With Samut Prakan hosting Grand Andaman Ranong this weekend in a must-win contest, Kasetsart face a tough trip to promotion-chasing Rayong. There's no doubt who's got the easier game on paper but we're talking about a Samut Prakan team who has failed to register a victory in their last seven home matches!
In the penultimate gameweek, Samut Prakan have another home match, this time against Chiang Mai FC, while Kasetsart travel to Suphanburi, who are sure to be in the automatic promotion / play-off mix. Again, Kasetsart have the tougher task - if only games were played on paper.
If it all goes down to the final gameweek, 'nervous' is sure to become 'extremely nervous' as Samut Prakan travel to Nakhon Pathom and Kasetsart will finish the season at home to Ayutthaya United and possibly an ideal fixture against mid-table opposition that has 'nothing to play for'.
I've been saying for several weeks now that Samut Prakan do NOT want to be in the position of journeying to Nakhon Pathom and needing a result. And I still think that rings true.
(Even though it's an easy away ground to get to, I won't be shedding any tears if Kasetsart FC go down)
What happens if Samut Prakan and Kasetsart finish the season on the same number of points?
In the league table (such as the graphic at the top of this blog), league positions are arranged based on goal difference, however, in the Thai league that is NOT primarily how final positions are decided. The first thing to come into play would be the head to head record between the two clubs. Unfortunately that doesn't help because both matches this season between Samut Prakan and Kasetsart ended in goalless draws. Therefore - and there seems to be some uncertainty about this - only then would the positions be decided on goal difference. And what about if the goal difference is the same? The answer to that question would be 'who knows?' Possibly a play off match? It wouldn't be the Thai league would it without some big grey area that the majority of fans are by and large clueless about?
It shouldn't have come to this should it?
No, not after the two victories in February away at Chiang Mai United and Nakhonsi United. We're now paying the price of a dreadful March, where we took just four points from five games. Actually, it's four points from the last six if you include last weekend's defeat at Udon. What worries me most of all as we go into these final matches is that Samut Prakan simply have zero momentum. If they failed to take a single point in the remaining three matches, you would hardly call it a shock. Anyway...
To the match itself
It had been another unbearably hot day in Samut Prakan but thankfully the temperature had cooled down considerably by kick off. Samut Prakan went into the match with Padsakorn playing the lone striker role in front of a packed five-man midfield. Makan Diawara was the most notable absentee.
The home side get off to a perfect start inside three minutes as Sho Shimoji is clattered just inside the penalty area by Ranong's Burmese defender Nyein Chan. Padsakorn makes no mistake with the spot kick sending it low and hard into the corner. The early lead comes at a price though as Shimoji hobbles off after 16 minutes to be replaced by boy wonder Yodsakorn.
Ranong might have zero travelling fans to cheer them on (the first time I've seen a completely empty away section at a Thai football match) but they're not going to lie down and die. Chanchon gets on to a left wing cross and heads just over the bar, while minutes later, Chamsuddeen should have done far better, taking advantage of some sloppy Prakan defending and sidefooting wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
The home side have a golden opportunity to double their lead on 39 minutes as Padsakorn delivers a perfect cross but Phanthamit fails to make a clean connection with his outstretched leg and the ball sails wide with the goal gaping. As Prakan pile on the pressure, Karn Jorates, a strong contender for man of the match, blazes a shot over the crossbar while Padsakorn almost grabs his second but sees his curling shot well saved.
Half time: Samut Prakan 1 Ranong FC 0
The feeling among the Samut Prakan faithful is that we need a second goal before we can breathe easily, and it comes courtesy of a glorious move on 54 minutes. Kittikai picks up the ball just in front of his own penalty area and delivers a sublime pass the length of the field to Phantamit, who cushions the ball like a boss, shrugs off a poor defensive challenge and pokes the ball under the keeper.
The goal proves to be a game-changer. You can sense the collective weight that's been lifted off the Prakan players' shoulders and the spirit and desire just draining from their opponents. The contest becomes simply a case of how many the home side can score. However, several decent chances are squandered due to poor decision-making and selfishness while the one attempt that does find the back of the net is chalked off for offside. Whilst disappointing that we can't add to the scoreline and improve our goal difference, a win is a win and three valuable points is what matters...and that's what the fans came for.
Full-time: Samut Prakan 2 Ranong FC 0
It was pretty much the perfect Saturday evening wasn't it? Not only did Samut Prakan pick up three points but eventually the final whistle blew in the game between Rayong and Kasetsart with Prakan's relegation rivals losing 1-3. The gap in the table is now six points, meaning Kasetsart have to win both of their remaining games (including Suphanburi away) and hope Samut Prakan lose both of theirs. Yes, it's still possible and miracles can happen in football, but I think you'd get some pretty amazing odds at the bookmakers.
Going back to tonight's game, it actually turned out to be a rather comfortable win in the end. While I wouldn't describe it as our best performance of the season, every single player gave 100% for the cause and fans should be immensely proud.
I'll save the final word for Ranong, whose players sportingly came over to accept generous applause and best wishes from the Samut Prakan fans after the final whistle. That can't have been easy when you know your relegation fate has finally been sealed. Hopefully their stay in the T3 wilderness will be a brief one, if only because we do like an away trip to Ranong.
Who's up next?
We have a two-week break before taking on Chiang Mai FC at home in our penultimate game of the season on Sunday April 23rd.