(Will Tun be on flag duty down at Nakhonsi United again?)
The last time the two sides met at Nakhonsi's Provincial Stadium...
Not long ago, late February of this year to be exact. Samut Prakan turned in one of their best performances of the season and ran out 2-0 winners to give a considerable boost to their T2 survival hopes.
How have Nakhonsi United started this season's campaign?
The Southern Dragons have taken just one point from their opening couple of games. There was no shame in a 1-1 home draw with Nongbua Pichaya (one of the promotion favourites) but they followed that up with a surprise 4-1 defeat at newly promoted Chantaburi.
Any players to watch?
Brazilian striker Valdo Suarez has joined the club from Trat FC, where he averaged almost a goal every two games from 60 appearances. Strike partner Rodrigo Maranhao has come in from Phrae, where he enjoyed a similar goalscoring ratio. Pedro Palo, another Brazilian centre-forward, has returned to Thailand after several years in the Vietnamese league. All in all, it's a front line that promises goals.
With plenty of experience in the Thai leagues, and 57 full caps for Laos, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham is part of the defensive line-up. Finally, Korean Kwon Dae-Hee is a strong centre half who has been playing in the Thai league for over a decade and can list Lamphun Warrior, Police Tero and PT Prachuap among his former clubs.
Journey and digs
Our 11.30 am flight from Don Muang to Nakhon Si Thammarat was rammed. Not only did Tun and I have to sit in seperate rows but the cabin crew had tremendous difficulty finding enough overhead storage space for all the passengers. My carry-on case ended up at the other end of the plane! Thankfully we reached Nakhon Si Thammarat Airport in barely an hour. Our rental car guy was waiting for us and once we'd picked up the keys, we headed to Tun's favourite cafe for lunch.
For accommodation, we thought better-the-devil-you-know and settled for the Mandy Nok Hotel, a three-star hotel right in the centre of town. We stayed here when we came down for the match in February and although the breakfast was awful, the rooms were decent. This time we went for a cheaper 'room only' deal and decided to find our breakfasts elsewhere.
After an afternoon nap, we felt like nothing more strenuous than a light stroll around the neighborhood, The night market, where we had planned to eat, was completely dead but we lucked out and found a little cafe that served some of the best curry roti and banana roti that we've ever eaten in South-east Asia, let alone Thailand. Our heartfelt compliments to the chef!
With a whole day to kill before the match on Sunday, we decided to catch the train to Phattalung (a four-hour return journey) Although we'd done Phattalung to death on our last visit, it was the welcome chance to experience some third-class Thai train travel, despite having to get up at silly 'o' clock to catch the 6.00 am train from Nakhon Si Thammarat station. It had been our plan to spend around seven hours in Phattalung itself and catch the mid-afternoon train back but on arrival, it was far too hot to wander around aimlessly and we just couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to hire a songthaew driver to show us around (we'd virtually seen all there is to see anyway) So we ended up on a late morning train back to NST, which was surprisingly empty and surprisingly fast.
(I expected a train going to the Malaysian border to be fairly busy, but that wasn't the case on a Saturday morning)
(Tun looked remarkably chipper considering she had to get up at 4.30 am to make it to the station)
(Ask Tun about the best part of travelling by train in Thailand and the answer will always be the food that peckish travellers can buy on board)
It's Match Day!
(After the previous day's exertions, we enjoyed a lie-in and had a late breakfast at Kofi, a Chinese-style eatery that has several branches in Nakhonsi)
What to do for an hour or two before our thoughts turn to the football match? Nakhonsi has several museums that all get decent online reviews. We opted for The City Museum and it proved to be a good choice. It wasn't the most modern museum and it looked a tad underfunded, but it was free to get in for both Thais and foreigners and on a Sunday morning, we were the only visitors.
After an hour or so spent relaxing back at the hotel, we left for the stadium and got there around 4.30. It was still an extremely hot and humid late afternoon so we bought our tickets and some snacks and just sat in the car for a while. A few other Samut Prakan supporters arrived but our away following was never going to number more than a dozen at best.
The team line-up was announced in the normal fashion on the club's official Facebook page. Captain Ronnachai would be absent due to a family illness so the armband was given to defender Pantakan Kasemkulwirai. Ronnachai's absence also meant a starting eleven place for Korean forward Sang-jin Lee.
(The first outing for the new Samut Prakan shirt)
Despite their shaky start to the season, had we come up against Nakhonsi United as they finally clicked into gear? In what was a pretty even first 45 minutes, you could only sit back and admire the home team's counter-attacking. It was Nantawat Suankaew, a forward on loan from Port FC, that would write the headlines with a two-goal strike within a matter of five minutes midway through the half. His first goal, a low shot from the edge of the penalty area after Samut Prakan had lost possession in midfield, his second a simple tap-in, getting on the end of an unselfish square pass from Maranhao. It was already looking like a long way back for the men wearing their 'lucky red' shirts and the small number of travelling supporters certainly weren't going to get a repeat of last season's result.
Half-time: Nakhonsi United 2 Samut Prakan 0
In the early stages of the second period, Samut Prakan never looked to have the belief they could get back into the contest. Nantawat is at it again, sidefooting past the Samut Prakan keeper but the offside flag denies him a hat-trick. Sho Shimoji's introduction on 73 minutes adds some much needed bite and flair to the midfield, followed by the game's most controversial moment as Brazilian striker Fernando bundles the ball into the net to give Samut Prakan a lifeline, only to be thwarted by an extremely harsh offside decision. It sparks mayhem on the touchline as Samut Prakan players and coaching staff surround the official to demand an explanation. Police and stewards eventually intervene to calm things down.
Nakhonsi United put some gloss on the scoreline in the dying seconds and you could only admire a third goal of such beauty. Maranhao turns his defender on the half-way line, and spotting Jirunpong way off his goal-line, beats him with an audacious chip that David Beckham would've been proud of. But how can I criticize a goalkeeper who makes a bee-line towards me at the final whistle to present me with his match shirt?
Full-time: Nakhonsi United 3 Samut Prakan 0
(The proud owner of Khun Jirunpong's goalkeeper shirt)
I don't want to lay the blame for that defeat on travel arrangements, but a 12-hour bus journey, arriving in Nakhon Si Thammarat the afternoon before the game, just can't be good preparation for a match (it actually turned out to be 16 hours because apparently the bus driver lost his way) In fact, I heard some time after the game ended that the club would not attempt this again, and in future, they would choose to take the plane for such a long-distance away fixture (the December game at Krabi comes instantly to mind) There's no hiding the fact that the arduous journey must have been partly responsible for such a leggy, tired-looking performance. But let's not take anything away from Nakhonsi United; the better team won.
The aways fans offered encouragement to the Samut Prakan players as they clambered back on to the bus for the overnight bus journey home. In all fairness, they didn't look too downhearted. They know it's a long season and there are plenty of matches to come. We're down to 14th in the table though and we desperately need a win on Saturday to keep pace with the leading pack.
We stayed on in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province for another full day and not having made all that much use of our rental car, decided to drive north along the coastline to Sichon. It's a route we've done before but it's always enjoyable, especially during the week when the beaches are totally deserted.
(The Hindu Museum housed a fine collection of nic-nacs and boasted some lovely exterior design)
(When we are in Sichon, we always have a splurge at the excellent Sichon Cabana. With its comfy padded seats, cool breezes and lovely ocean views, it's the kind of place you can linger for obscene lengths of time)
And that's pretty much a wrap on our trip to see Samut Prakan play at Nakhonsi United. We've already decided that next season, should the two teams meet again and depending on the fixture schedule of course, we'll do it as a classic road trip, leaving Samut Prakan and staying a while in Prachuap and Chumpon on the way down. We'll see when the time comes.
Who's up next?
We are at home to Chiang Mai United on Saturday 2nd September (kick off 6.00pm)