Let's begin with a look at the current T2 table after three matches
No surprise with the two teams occupying the automatic promotion spots, having gained maximum points from their opening three fixtures - Chiang Mai FC and Nakhon Ratchisima. Rather more surprising is seeing two of the newly promoted clubs, Chantaburi FC and Pattaya United, lying in third and fourth respectively. Pattaya United have recovered well from that opening weekend defeat at home to Samut Prakan.
Lampang FC, relegated from the premier league last season, are the only side still looking to register their first point. Meanwhile, Samut Prakan are in 14th and today's opponents Chiang Mai United are in 9th.
So how have Chiang Mai United started the season?
After a tidy 3-1 away win at Customs United on the opening weekend, there then followed two disappointing home results. Beaten 1-0 by Ayuthaya United, they were then held to a 1-1 draw by Suphanburi, with fewer than 700 fans in attendance.
Any player connections?
Yes, Saturday's meeting will be the chance to say hello to midfielder Karn Jorates. Karn started 18 games and made 8 substitute appearances for Samut Prakan City last season and was an integral member of the squad. He was named on the subs bench for Chiang Mai United's last game against Suphanburi but is still awaiting his debut. Perhaps we will see him get some game time on Saturday?
What's the record like between the two clubs?
Chiang Mai United and Samut Prakan City have met four times. In the 2021/22 premier league season, when both teams were eventually relegated, The White Elephants beat us home and away (if memory serves me correct, they only won three games all bloody season!) However, last season, Samut Prakan returned the favour by doing the double over them. You could say it's become a very difficult fixture to predict and this game is no exception.
But go on...make a prediction anyway
I'm confident. 2-1 to Samut Prakan.
(Do it for us tonight, Fernando)
Any Chiang Mai United players to watch?
You simply can't have a 'players to watch' section without including Brazilian forward Thiago Rodrigues da Silva, who goes under the brilliant shirt name of 'Mosquito'. The 27-year-old from Rio had a pretty undistinguished career in various South American lower leagues before coming to Thailand last year, scoring 5 goals in 23 appearances for Lampang. He has started this campaign well for his new club, with two goals to his name already.
Cho Hoju, a Korean striker, and Pattara Soimalai, on loan from Buriram, are the other Chiang Mai United players to get their names on the scoresheet so far.
In his pre-season preview, Rob Scott said, "there is plenty of experience in the Chiang Mai United squad, but maybe not enough quality and this will be the season when Chiang Mai FC finishes above their noisy neighbour". It's certainly looking that way at the moment.
(We need to stop this guy buzzing around on Saturday)
Some FA Cup news
In Friday's draw for the last FA Cup qualifying round, Samut Prakan City were one of the lucky 17 teams to be given a bye into the next round. Therefore we will not have an FA Cup game on the 4th October. We go straight into the round of 64 on the 1st November (when the Premier League teams enter the competition) You watch us get drawn away to Buriram again!
Let's get to tonight's match itself
Despite the forecast of scattered thunderstorms, the rain kept away for a disappointing crowd of just under 500.
Samut Prakan made some interesting team changes. In a season of what's becoming a game of 'pass-the-captain's-armband', it was defender Tiraphon's turn for this match, and I hope I didn't jinx Jirunpong's long term place in the team by wearing the green shirt he gave me at Nakhonsi United last weekend. He was replaced in goal by Ittiphon Kamsuprom, who arrived from Sisaket United in the close season.
I'm told by longer-term Thai football followers that 10-20 years ago, it was quite common to see teams walk off the pitch and refuse to continue playing if an official's ridiculous decision had gone against them. I had never witnessed this in four and a bit years of following Samut Prakan....until tonight. But I'm getting ahead of myself, because firstly, there was a first half to savour.
Korean midfielder Sang-Jin Lee opens his account for Prakan with a super third minute strike from the edge of the box, to cap a glorious early counter-attack from the home side. The only surprise was that we then had to wait until the stroke of half-time for Samut Prakan's second, such was their dominance.
Fernando had an excellent game leading the attack, and it was his 43rd minute header that sent Samut Prakan into the half-time break with a two-goal lead. The Brazilian striker reminds me of Ibson Melo in his Samut Prakan prime, the way he holds off opponents and shields the ball with his back to goal, picks out teammates with a sublime pass and generally causes mayhem in the final third. The only thing you don't get, if you're making comparisons to Ibson, is the moaning. Fernando is a team player through and through and he's becoming a real fan favourite.
Half-time: Samut Prakan City 2 Chiang Mai United 0
(Samut Prakan City merch. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
Those that had made the long trip from North Thailand would've been disappointed with their side's overall showing but CMU capped one of their best spells of the game with Marlon Silva pulling a goal back in the 53rd minute. Suddenly there is hope. But Samut Prakan are fully focused and restore their two goal lead with a sublime chip over the keeper from Jesada following more great work from Fernando. However, as everyone jogs back to the centre circle for the re-start, the referee appears to over-rule his linesman and chalk the goal off for offside. There then follows a ten-minute delay as the Samut Prakan touchline staff go bonkers (not for the first time this season) and call the team off the pitch. Fortunately, the situation is eventually calmed down and play continues. I get a text message from a friend who is watching the game from abroad - "the goal was offside by a mile"
I get a second text from the same friend when a late Chiang Mai United 'equalizer' is ruled out (possibly for pushing in the penalty area?). "Phil, I have no idea what was wrong with that. It looked like a good goal to me".
Sometimes in football, these things even themselves out.
As expected, there are over ten minutes of injury time to see out. But Samut Prakan stick to their task well and that is an extremely welcome three points.
Full-time: Samut Prakan 2 Chiang Mai United 1
I enjoyed that. It was a fine team performance against a frankly poor Chiang Mai United side and even though I was spot on with my score prediction, the winning margin should really have been higher.
There was so much to admire from Samut Prakan's play, particularly in attack, and it was a terrific reaction to the defeat at Nakhonsi United last week. We move up to 8th in the league and that second division table suddenly looks a whole lot better. I can't wait for the next game. Play like we did tonight and we can genuinely beat any of the teams in T2. We shouldn't fear anyone.
Tonight felt a bit more like the old days but you can't generate the same atmosphere with 500 fans as you can with the 3,000 - 5,000 attendances of seasons gone by. And that's such a shame.
(Happy smiling faces. Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
Who's up next?
Time to take a breather as we head towards the international break. After that, we have a local derby at Customs United on Saturday 16th September (kick off 7.00 pm)