Diary of a Thai football season

2023/24 Phrae United v Samut Prakan

Long bus journeys don't suit us, Do they suit any football team?

(Back to beautiful, albeit hazy North Thailand)

It's been almost a year to the day since we played away at Phrae in last season's league match, which ended in a 1-1 draw

We took in that particular game at the end of a 10-day road trip in North Thailand, but this would be a much shorter trip. We would be flying from Bangkok to Nan (because the air fare was cheaper than slightly more convenient routes) - and then driving the two hours straight to Phrae. We'd then stay in this quiet northern town for just three nights. 

We also opted to stay in the same hotel as last year. The Huern Kan Thong is convenient for most attractions in the centre of town, and still offers comfortable beds and a decent breakfast for just under a thousand baht a night.

(Sometimes with accommodation, it's better the devil you know) 

A Friday exploring Phrae Province

We had a full day in Phrae before Saturday's match. Here are the highlights.

With lots of people probably choosing to stay at home to celebrate Chinese New Year, the roads were quiet. We started off at Wat Suan Khuan and spent a pleasant half hour admiring the art work in the temple compound... until an angry dog chased us off.

Driving around Phrae Province and also the neighboring Nan Province, always brings to mind our New Zealand round trips. The scenery is that good.

Next stop was Wat Na Kuha, known locally as 'the temple in the rice field'. This was such an awesome place.

You can cross from one end of the ricefield to the other using this rickety bridge. Honestly, there wasn't a soul around. It's incredible how places like this never make it on to popular travel lists (not that I'm complaining)

We finished the afternoon back in Phrae town at one of Tun's favourite coffee shops - Slope Coffee. Crammed with nic-nacs and old wooden furniture, the cafe is known for its coconut cake, but unfortunately it sells out quickly and we missed the last slice. 

Let's get to the football. So how are Phrae United doing this season?

They are currently in 12th place, three places below Samut Prakan and with five points fewer. Like us, they've struggled for any kind of consistency and even at home they've lost as many games as they've won. This is another one of those division two matches that really could go either way.

Players to watch?

Brazilian striker Patrick Cruz is enjoying a return to Thai football after playing for Chonburi in 2019 before going off to ply his trade in Russia and Malta. Now back in Thailand, he's banged in 10 goals for The Horsemen of Phrae.

Any player connections?

Yes, several. Attacker Setthawut Wongsai made around a dozen appearances for Samut Prakan in 2021/22 (the season Prakan were relegated from the premier league) Also appearing for Prakan that season was defender Kandanai Thawornsak. He started just five games before moving to Phrae. Finally, there is midfielder Kitikai Janturuksa, who left Samut Prakan under a bit of a cloud several months ago, but seems to maintain good relations with his old team-mates.

It's match day

It's a delightful 20-minute drive from the centre of Phrae town to Phrae United's Huayma Stadium, which sits isolated in the middle of rice fields. What the stadium lacks in facilities, it more than makes up for with its picturesque setting. We arrived nice and early in time to chat with local fans, who must be the friendliest in the Thai league, and to help Samut Prakan's modest travelling support set up the usual flags and drums, etc. With the temperature around 22 degrees and a stiff breeze a-blowing, it really was a perfect evening for football. 

The team news was a disappointment with Sangjin Lee, voted man of the match on Wednesday against Suphanburi, unable to take his place in the starting eleven presumably due to injury. 

The first half is a clear indication as to why both sides have struggled for consistency this season. There is far too much hoofing the ball out of defence, coupled with very little attacking threat. They look like two teams without any clear game plan. 

Prakan keeper Jirunpong is called into action midway through the half to tip the first clear chance of the match around the post. Prakan's only strike comes from Fernando five minutes before the break, with the Brazilian still searching for that elusive goal to take him into double figures, but after timing his run perfectly and picking up a through ball from Si Thu Aung, he fails to hit the target. It's frankly been a forgettable first 45 minutes.

Half-time: Phrae United 0 Samut Prakan 0

One goal is going to be enough to win this one but which side has the nous? Inia puts a weak shot wide of the post for the home side while at the other end, Si Thu Aung blasts well over. It's not been the Myanmar international's night and he gets the crooked finger on 65 minutes and replaced by defender Apisit Butsri. Are Samut Prakan satisfied with a point? A few minutes later, Fernando, already given a harsh and fiercely contested yellow card, and now starting to lose his head, is also hauled off.

Jiraaut Wingwon has his chance to write the headlines with ten minutes remaining but spurns Prakan's best chance of the game. Will the visitors pay the price for such a glaring miss? Yes is the answer, as with two minutes left on the clock, Jirunpong jumps up for a harmless ball and completely unchallenged, drops it at the feet of Settawut Wongsai, who says thank you very much. Prae United have stolen the points at the death thanks to a goalkeeping howler.  

Full-time: Phrae United 1 Samut Prakan 0 

Watch the match highlights

Overall thoughts?

Samut Prakan probably deserved to go home with a point but draws and losses pretty much amount to the same thing for us at this stage of the season. After the weekend's fixtures and with just ten games remaining in the season, we are now ten points behind the team in 6th and the last play-off spot. Surely not even the most eternal optimist would see us overhauling that deficit.  

Kudos to the ten or so Samut Prakan fans who made the 16-hour return trip by minibus and had to endure a broken air-conditioner on the way up and a punctured tyre on the return journey. Samut Prakan salutes you!  

On a final note...

A 5 pm Sunday flight allowed us several hours to poke around Nan town centre. We were last there around 5-6 years ago, but I'd forgotten just how beautiful that town centre is; surely the best in Thailand. There's not a single blue pvc pipe, unsightly garbage bin, or red plastic traffic barrier in sight - just long stretches of well-maintained loveliness. Next time we're up this way, we must spend more time in Nan. 

Who's up next? 

We have a Friday night fixture against DP Kanchanaburi this 16th February. A Friday night kick off at 7pm... lovely!

Samut Prakan fixtures 2023/2024


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