(For last week's league cup tie at Fleet FC, the Samut Prakan team contained a number of 'fringe players', including the thitd choice goalkeeper. Will today's team be something similar? Photo credit: Official Samut Prakan Facebook page)
It's the Thai FA Cup again. So what round is this?
After several qualifying rounds (Samut Prakan got a bye so didn't have to play), we are down to the round of 64 - meaning there are 64 teams still in. This is the stage when the premier league clubs enter the fray.
I'm sure I read somewhere that approximately 700 teams enter the FA Cup competition at the start. Basically, if you've got 11 players, a pitch and enough clean football shirts to go round, you're eligible to enter. It certainly seems that way.
The current FA Cup holders are Buriram (surprise, surprise!), who beat Bangkok United 2-0 in last season's final.
All FA cup ties are settled on the day of the match, going to extra time, penalties and whatever it takes to decide on a winner. There are no replays. If the home team doesn't have floodlighting, then matches usually kick off at around 3.00 pm. All Thai FA Cup matches are played midweek and attendances can be pretty dire compared to league games. The interest just doesn't seem to be there in the early rounds.
What's Samut Prakan's record like in the FA Cup?
This will be the fifth season we've entered the competition and if you're a believer in good omens, we have never been knocked out at the first hurdle. We've reached the last 16 on two occasions, before eventually being knocked out by the now defunct Thai Honda in 2019 and Muangthong United in the 20/21 season.
Trat FC away is a tough first round draw?
On paper it's going to be a difficult task, but much will depend on how seriously the clubs are taking the competition and what kind of teams they select. I suspect Trat will put out an obvious second eleven and Samut Prakan certainly won't be at full strength either.
Third visit to Trat FC?
Yes, I've been twice before for league games. It's a longish journey that's best broken up by an overnight stay in the more appealing Chantaburi. Trat is a very peaceful town with not much to do in the evenings but their provincial stadium is excellent (away fans have both a decent view and a roof over their heads) and the Trat fans are always a welcoming, friendly bunch.
Journey and digs
The drive to Chantaburi took us about three and a half hours (including a gas station stop) and it's actually a very agreeable scenic route once you negotiate the congested outskirts of Chonburi and make a left turn. For our first night's accommodation we had booked a double room at the Chern Chan Hostel in Chantaburi town centre. The communal areas (lounge, reception and coffee shop) were superb but the room itself was more becoming of what I'd expect from an establishment with the word 'hostel' in its name. The room was small and cramped with no kettle, no mini-fridge or anywhere to hang clothes, so we clambered over the bed to get from one side of the room to the other and made the best of things.
For our late afternoon and early evening entertainment, we didn't fancy anything more energetic than a leisurely stroll along Chantaburi's waterfront, which only really comes alive at weekends. During the week, most of the nic-nac shops are closed while only the cafes and ice-cream parlours remain open but I imagine they get barely enough customers through the door to cover the electricity bills. It was good to see a number of cafes promoting and celebrating Hallowe'en though.
And of course no stroll through Chantaburi's riverside community is complete without the obligatory photo in front of its impressive Catholic church. Good to see it looking so well.
It's match day
It's a straightforward single highway from Chantaburi into Trat and we rolled into town just before lunch time. It's amazing how familiar Trat town had become despite me only being there twice before. We stopped off at the GP Grand Hotel a) because I stayed there on my very first trip and b) there is a great restaurant attached to the hotel. In what was a strange coincidence, the staff told us that the Samut Prakan players and staff had made the hotel their base and were soon expected back from training for lunch. As a result, there was no food being served for the next hour or so. We decided not to hang around and hob-nob with the players and so pushed on to a well-known noodle shop on the main road.
For accommodation, we had booked a couple of nights at The Canvas Family Home. Located just out of town, on the edge of a large lake, it's become a firm favourite when we're in that area. A thousand baht a night gets you a decent size double room and includes a decent breakfast, along with a great coffee shop on the ground floor. And the room had a fridge and a kettle!
After battling our way through Trat's version of a rush hour and the hordes of students finishing school, we arrived at the stadium and immediately bumped into Pornpreecha Jarunai, the Trat FC captain. It's always a pleasure to say hello to my favourite Thai footballer.
Samut Prakan named a significantly stronger team than the one they fielded in last week's league cup match, with most of the regular first teamers getting either a start or a place on the bench. And with about a dozen away supporters in attendance, the contest got underway in the bright late afternoon sunshine.
You could see from the off that Samut Prakan weren't about to be overawed by the occasion and they dominanted the early stages. The underdogs got their reward on 24 minutes with midfielder Suphaphon scoring his first goal of the season. Once again, I don't have a highlights reel to fall back on so I'm making this a very brief summary. The modest Samut Prakan away support started to believe that our record of never having been knocked out of the first round in the FA Cup was set to continue. The only blot on a flawless first half performance was losing Supawit with what looked like a hamstring problem.
Half-time: Trat FC 0 Samut Prakan 1
Samut Prakan started the second period where they left off and their second goal was a thing of beauty, an end to end, three-player sweeping move, culminating in Fernando bagging his sixth goal for the club with a bullet header. Surely there was no way back for the home side now. An 80th minute goal from Islame gave Trat some hope and led to a backs-to-the-wall, nervy final ten minutes and injury time for Prakan, but we defended for all we were worth and got the job done. We were through to the last 32 of the FA Cup.
Full-time: Trat FC 1 Samut Prakan 2
Undoubtedly one of the more memorable nights in recent seasons and it was a heroic effort from every player in a Samut Prakan shirt. Everyone put in a shift and I've never felt more proud of my team. Tonight was all about the magic of the FA Cup...now let's see who we draw in the next round. But first there's some important league business to take care of.
Who's up next?
We stay in the same south-east corner of Thailand for a league match at Chantaburi on Saturday November 4th.
A final day in Trat Province
We decided to spend one more day in Trat before moving on to Chantaburi on Friday morning. We visited the Baan Namcheaw Community, where Muslims, Chinese and Thais have lived on the canalside since the reign of Rama 3, the mosque and adjacent Chinese temple proving that religions can exist in perfect harmony. The Muslim ladies managing 'front of house' were friendly and welcoming and Tun bought plenty of home-made foodstuffs from them. She loves to support the locals whenever possible.
From there we drove out towards the Cambodian border to have lunch at the Centara Resort. These five-star resorts can be glorious midweek when you can walk along a private beach, paddle in the ocean, and there is literally just you and the staff.