(The Samut Prakan side that took the field for the last league game against DP Kanchanaburi. We can surely expect wholesale changes for a Wednesday afternoon Revo League Cup tie. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
So it's the Revo League Cup preliminary round? Remind us how this competition works.
The Thai League Cup competition (with various sponsors) was reformed in 2010 after a 16-year hiatus and is open to some 92 teams from within the Thai football league system. It's worth pointing out though that not every Thai league club enters the competition. Some clubs opt out to perhaps focus on league matches instead or simply to minimize travel expenses.
Now you'll need to pay attention to this.
The lower division teams (divisions 2 and 3) battle it out in regional matches (or get a bye into the next round) until just 16 teams remain - and that's the stage we'll be at after this round of games. In the next round (the round of 32) the surviving 16 lower division clubs are joined by the 16 Premier League clubs. Still with me?
In the draw for the round of 32, the teams are divided into two pots and ALL fixtures drawn feature a lower division team at home to a Premier League team. So even though there's not an awful lot of interest in this competition, today's game is a game worth winning because you are guaranteed a home tie against one of the big boys in the next round! Who wouldn't want a stadium-filling cup tie at home to Buriram?
All league cup games are single matches except for the semi-finals, which have traditionally been two-legged home and away affairs.
The current League Cup holders are Buriram, who beat BG Pathum 2-0 in last year's final.
What's Samut Prakan's record like in this competition?
Not great at all.
In our first season back in 2019, we were knocked out at the first hurdle by third division Thonburi University (now Thonburi FC) after a lengthy penalty shoot-out. The following season the competition was cancelled due to the Covid situation and to avoid fixture pile-ups.
When the competition started up again in 2022, Samut Prakan successfully negotiated the first round but were then drawn away at Buriram, not a game you want when you need to focus on battling for your premier league survival. We waved the white flag, sent up a seriously 'second string' squad and were well beaten on the night by four goals to one.
Last season was another evening to forget as Samut Prakan limped out of the competition against third division Bangkok FC, losing 4-3, despite being 2-0 up after barely ten minutes!
But surely we should have enough to beat Fleet FC?
You would have thought so. The Warship Warriors are currently 7th in the 11-club third division East and have won only one game this season. These are probably famous last words but even a Samut Prakan 'second eleven' should be strong enough to get the job done.
What about some club background?
Not to be confused with Royal Thai Fleet FC, who play in the Thai amateur league at a stadium five miles down the road, third division Fleet FC play their home games at The Battleship Stadium in Sattahip (about a two-hour drive south from Samut Prakan) Fleet FC have only been around for a couple of seasons and won promotion to the third division at the first attempt. In their first season in the third tier, they finished 6th.
What's the travel plan?
We enjoyed a few days in Sattahip quite recently so we'll make this trip relatively short. We'll travel down on Tuesday, catch the game on Wednesday (which kicks off at 3pm because the stadium doesn't have floodlighting) and head back to Samut Prakan the morning after.
Journey and digs
After the usual coffee shop stop on the way, we hit Sattahip in the blisteringly hot early afternoon, Being as we were passing, we first popped in to have a quick look at the Navy Stadium (home of T3 East table-toppers Navy FC). So is that three football stadiums within this area? An injection of cash could probably turn the Navy Stadium into one of the best football grounds outside the premier league. It certainly has the potential.
After asking for directions, we finally found Fleet FC's Battleship Stadium, our opponents in tomorrow's cup tie. The stadium was everything I hoped it would be; it almost gave me goosebumps. If you wanted somewhere to conjure up the magic of the cup, then this was it, a single concrete main stand overlooking the pitch with a VIP area that consisted of three plastic chairs and a stand-up fan. It was just brilliant. I can't wait for tomorrow.
The major cause for concern though was the state of the pitch. It looked awfully wet and muddy out there, especially down the flanks. We stood a while to watch the groundsman spike the grass to drain off any excess water but it looked like he was fighting a losing battle. Let's just hope there's no more serious rainfall in the next 24 hours.
For accommodation we had booked two nights at the Sattahiptale Guest House. Because we were the only guests staying there, the friendly owner gave us a free upgrade to their best room on the top floor with superb views over the lovely Sattahip Bay. This is one of the big advantages of travelling around Thailand in midweek when everyone else is working, It's often easy to snag a room upgrade or some other unexpected bonus.
Tun fell in love with the place instantly although I think the two playful resident cats had a lot to do with it. The hotel's best feature though was a terrific rooftop bar where you could lounge around in deckchairs and watch the sunset with a cold beer.
I quite like mid-afternoon kick offs as long as it's not too hot and away supporters have a roof over their heads. By the time you've had a lie-in, a lazy breakfast and a stroll along the promenade, it's virtually time to head for the stadium.
The Battleship Stadium is so basic and intimate, we're able to say a personal hello to most of the Samut Prakan playing staff and coaching team. I even get to shake hands with the manager and ask him what he thinks of the playing surface. In truth there has been no rain at all since we came yesterday and while you wouldn't describe it as 'a carpet', you couldn't hide behind any cliches such as 'it's going to be a great leveller' either.
(The official attendance was given as just 98, with about a dozen of those coming down from Samut Prakan. Most people are working at 3pm on a Wednesday)
To the game itself
As expected, the manager handed debuts or rare starts to at least half a dozen fringe players, including a first start for Ratchaphon, Samut Prakan's third choice goalkeeper. I'm not going to go into any detail about the game itself; for over an hour, it was a drab encounter with few chances for either side. It only sprang into life after 70 minutes when Fleet FC hit the post and suddenly the handful of travelling Prakan wondered if they were going to witness yet another League Cup early exit to lowly opposition. Thankfully it was Thanadon Suphapon to the rescue just minutes later as the ex-Chantaburi midfielder, making just his third substitute appearance for his new club, curled a delicious winning goal into the top corner.
Full-time score: Fleet FC 0 Samut Prakan 1
(Fleet FC are a nice little club and I wish them well fot the rest of the season. Thank you for making us so welcome)
It wasn't the greatest of performances by any means but looking at final scores elsewhere and seeing how many T2 clubs have gone out of the competition to third division opposition, winning ugly - as we did today - is perfectably acceptable. We're in the hat for the next round and that's what matters.
It was simply another brilliant football trip - a lovely, peaceful town just a couple of hours drive away, a smashing little hotel, and another football stadium ticked off (two actually) It was all good.
Who's up next?
Back to league action and we have a home game against Ayutthaya United on Sunday 29th October (kick off 6.30pm)