Diary of a Thai football season

2023/24 Nakhon Ratchisima v Samut Prakan

An away trip to The Swatcats, one of T2's in-form teams and automatic promotion favourites

(Someone lift the malaise. Photo credit: Toraneethai FootballThai)

Firstly, some new arrivals?

Yes, two to be exact. Tatchanon Nakarawong, a 27-year old midfielder from Songkhla, has joined Samut Prakan from Phrae United and will take the number 8 shirt. Tatchanon also played 22 games for Nakhon Ratchisima a couple of seasons back. Could he be lining up against his old club this weekend? The second new arrival is young academy player Eakaphat Jaenooduang, an attacking right-back who will take shirt number 48. We wish them both well. 

OK, to the weekend's match v Nakhon Ratchisima and not much enthusiasm for this one?

It was one of the away trips I was least looking forward to anyway when the fixtures came out, and that mindset hasn't changed. Samut Prakan are on a poor run of form (winless in the last six games). Nakhon Ratchisima are a good team, third in the league, and one of the automatic promotion favourites. I've already been to their 80th Birthday Stadium three times (or is it four?) and it's a huge stadium with a crappy view from the away end. It's also a relatively boring four-hour drive to get there - and a four-hour drive to get back home but just feels longer. And although I quite like Khorat, it's another busy Thai city with the usual traffic jams.

So it's going be a quick in and out? 

Yes, we'll have a leisurely drive up on Friday, see the match on Saturday and return to Samut Prakan the morning after. However, for our two nights in North-East Thailand, we've treated ourselves to supposedly one of the best hotels in town (which we got at a very good price on the internet)

What's Nakhon Ratchisima's home record like this season? 

They've won seven and drawn two. Only Chainat Hornbill and Rayong FC have managed to get anything there. 

Any player connections?

Yes, defender Supawit Rompophak moved to Nakhon Ratchisima just a few weeks ago, having featured in 18 games and scoring five goals for Samut Prakan in the first half of the season. Not surprisingly, he's already nailed down a first team place at his new club. 

What's Samut Prakan's record like at the 80th Birthday Stadium?

It's been something of a mixed bag. The two teams last met there during the Covid pandemic in October 2021, with The Swatcats running out 1-0 winners.

The season before, the league game (played behind closed doors due to Covid) ended in a drab goalless draw, while the two clubs also drew each other in the FA Cup with Samut Prakan squeezing into the next round with a 1-0 victory.  

In 2019, which was Samut Prakan's first season, we were on the wrong end of a 4-1 thumping. 

Journey and digs

We reached our hotel around four in the afternoon. The drive from Samut Prakan to Nakhon Ratchisima was every bit as tedious as I knew it would be, but was made slightly more bearable by an hour's stop for lunch at Banmai Chaynam in the Pak Chong District. It's a combination of riverside restaurant and vintage museum, stuffed with nic-nacs and Americana that the owner has obviously spent serious amounts of time and money accumulating. I thought the food and service were decidedly average and the menu prices a little on the high side for north-east Thailand, but I guess it's the kind of place you have to experience once.  

At less than 1,300 baht a night, the five-star Sima Thani Hotel was an absolute steal. There was a time when it was the best hotel in Nakhon Ratchisima bar none and rooms went for 5,000 baht, but those days are long gone. The big corporate hotel chains muscled in and stole the Sima Thani's crown, but it's still a fine place to stay. It's one of those proper, old school Thai luxury hotels. The Sima Thani may well be a fading giant, but it has both a degree of class and plenty of charm. Eager to squeeze as much value out of our stay as possible, we sipped evening drinks in the bar and took advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet promotion in one of its three restaurants. And we were virtually the only guests in sight.     

It's match day

(We passed a couple of hours in the morning at Khorat's excellent Fossil Museum. It starts off a bit low key but gets much better as you go deeper into the complex. By the time you reach the third and final building, roaring animatronic dinosaurs will have you shitting yourself.

To the match itself

The Samut Prakan fan club laid on coach travel to and from the stadium (an 8-hour round trip) for just 100 baht a head, but disappointingly only 22 or so fans took advantage of such a wonderful offer. For those who call themselves loyal fans and don't have to work on a Saturday, shame on you!

Samut Prakan once again went into a game without top goalscorer Fernando, whose injury niggles are becoming a worry. New signing Tachanon started on the bench and would end up coming on for the last half hour. 

The visitors manage a shot on target in the first 60 seconds but it proves to be a false dawn. Despite the poor vantage position from the away end, Nakhon Ratchisima's opener on eight minutes has the travelling fans scratching their heads. Have we really just given a goal away that easily? From somewhere near the corner flag, Melvyn has brushed Kritsada off the ball with embarrasing ease, carried it into the penalty area, before unleashing a shot past Jirunpong.

It becomes obvious early on that Prakan have no way to deal with Nakhon Ratchisima's pacey foreign trio of Melvyn, Deyvison and Greg Houla, but to be fair, The Swatcats have quality all over the park. On the half hour, it's Deyvison who doubles the promotion-chasing side's lead, chesting down a pinpoint Houla cross and sidefooting home.

Unseasonal rain starts to fall as the referee blows for the half-time break. Samut Prakan have somehow managed to keep the deficit down to just two goals. It feels like a minor achievement in itself. 

Half time: Nakhon Ratchisima 2 Samut Prakan 0

The majority of Samut Prakan fans huddle together at the back of the stand as the rain gets heavier. Some look as if they want to go home. Fans can't see the game from there but sometimes you have to be thankful for small blessings. The dark clouds part just in time for Devyson to score his second of the evening. Greg Houla is once again provider, his left wing cross finding a target partner unmarked on the penalty spot with just the keeper to beat. Jirunpong flaps a left hand at the ball but only succeeds in steering it into the net for 3-0.  

Minutes later, Houla gets the goal his performance richly deserves, as he stabs in Nakhon Ratchisima's fourth. The somersault celebration is impressive and there are still twenty minutes left on the clock. Time for further additions? You bet. Houla latches on to a lofted through ball and that's a one-on-one opportunity that he's not going to miss. 5-0.

Samut Prakan still manage to score the best goal of the evening as Kitti Kinnonkok pulls the trigger and his long range shot in injury time hands him a fine first goal for the club. It comes as scant consolation though to Samut Prakan's wet and hoarse supporters, who have sung admirably throughout what's frankly been a horror show.   

Watch the match highlights

(The post-match expressions say it all. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)

Overall thoughts?

I've been following Samut Prakan home and away since the club started, for the best part of five seasons, but no defeat has hurt quite like this one. I even had trouble sleeping. Was it anger? Was it crushing disappointment? I have no idea. Yes, I know we were up against one of the best sides in the division but for long periods of the game, the gulf in class was utterly demoralizing. You just can't see where our next win is coming from at the moment.

Even more worringly, and from a personal point of view, I can feel my motivation and enthusiasm levels for following football dipping drastically. That was a seriously bad night at the office.    

Who's up next?

We have a rare midweek league fixture on Wednesday 7th February at home to Suphanburi, a team with a phenomenal record at the Samut Prakan Stadium.

Samut Prakan fixtures 2023/2024


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