(2019) Samut Prakan v Buriram
A massive top-of-the-table clash and a sell-out crowd
So, there have been three games since the last blog?
Yes. The first game was the league encounter against PTT Rayong and it was the first home game I've missed this season. It felt strange checking for score updates on my phone and not being there and not being a part of it. In my absence I gave my season tickets to my Thai pal, Benz, and he must be a jinx that lad because we ended up surrendering our unbeaten home record in quite spectacular fashion.
The game was something of a personal horror show for central defender, Aris Zarifovic. It's not often you see a 'hat-trick' of mistakes but after gifting Rayong an own goal in the 40th minute, a further brace of defensive errors led to two more goals and the visitors ran out 3-0 winners. Perhaps it was just a bad day at the office. The own goal is certainly worth a watch because I'm still trying to work out why the goalkeeper didn't jump.
Next up was the FA Cup round of 16 and a trip to second division Thai Honda FC. Alan Hansen famously said "you don't win 'owt with kids" and Samut Prakan decided to field a starting line-up that included at least four inexperienced teenagers. And duly went out and lost the game 3-2.
I raced home from the airport (as much as it's possible to race anywhere in Bangkok) to catch the match on TV and Thai Honda thoroughly deserved their passage into the quarter finals. They were superior to Samut Prakan in every department and it was a disappointing way to go out of the competition, especially as all the other premier league clubs who faced lower league opposition, won and won handsomely. (match highlights)
So with the manager clearly focused on winning the Thai Premier League, we then faced a tricky away game at Sukhothai, who despite being 13th in the table and right in the relegation mix, had previously drawn 11 of their 18 games. Sukhothai don't win many but they are still a tough team to beat (indeed the reverse fixture at Samut Prakan back in mid-March ended in a dour goalless draw)
It turned out to be another tough game, but on a ridiculously waterlogged pitch, we scrapped our way to a 2-1 win with Teerapol Yoyei netting a brace and not doing his chances of a call-up to the national team any harm either. (match highlights)
The three points took us joint top of the Premier League with Buriram, who are our opponents this evening.
Any new Samut Prakan transfers of late?
We've signed goalkeeper, Kampon Phatomakkaku, from Chonburi FC on a loan deal until the end of the season. He's made seven appearances for The Sharks this year and warmed the sub's bench a dozen times.
I asked my good mate and Chonburi fan, Dale, to give me his opinion, hoping the response would be something along the lines of 'the boy's got hands like flypaper' but I'll have to make do with "don't get too excited" and "I'm surprised that in the photo he hasn't dropped the scarf".
Football banter, don't you just love it, eh?
But always sad to see a player leave?
Yes, because I've become 'emotionally attached' to these guys in my first season as a supporter. Defender, Nopparat Sakun-ood, found it difficult to nail down a first team place for league matches but he always seemed a cheerful character and a dependable squad member. He seemed to be one of those guys who was good for the morale of the dressing room. We wish him well in his future football career.
So this evening we welcome the mighty Buriram?
It's a top of the table clash. Whoever wins this one could well go on to be crowned champions at the end of the season. The game against Port a few weeks ago was big; this one is bigger. This game could define our season.
Sounds like a lock-out?
The club announced on Friday evening that tickets were completely sold out. It's going to be packed to the rafters.
What was the score in the reverse fixture back in March?
Samut Prakan fell to a 3-2 defeat. The home side, rather flatteringly, found themselves three goals to the good with ten minutes left to play, but Samut Prakan then pulled back a couple of goals themselves to at least make the scoreline respectable. It would be nice to get our revenge this evening.
Score prediction for tonight's game?
Despite being top of the pile on goal difference, this is not the invincible Buriram of seasons gone by: in fact they're on a poor run of form at the moment, taking just three points from their last four games. Also worth pointing out that they had a grueling League Cup quarter-final against Bangkok United in midweek that went to extra time. Surprisingly, Buriram fielded a strong starting XI with many of their regular first teamers in action.
They are definitely beatable at the moment and if a packed crowd at Bang Plee can get behind the lads this evening, we can do it. I'm going to go for a 2-1 win.
(photo credit: Go2 Photo Stock on Facebook)
So how was the atmosphere on getting to the stadium?
If you thought there was a buzz around the home game against Port a few weeks back, this was on another level entirely. The two sets of fans were having a sort of 'dance off' with each other in the fan zone, waving flags, banging drums and shouting through megaphones to see which group could make the most noise. I noticed the Samut Prakan ultras had had some spiffy new flags made up with the club crest on them. And very fine they look too!
The injured Captain Peeradol was also there posing for photos with fans. My wife urged me to go forward and have mine taken but rather like having a photo whilst sitting on Father Christmas' knee, I felt a bit too old for that sort of thing, so politely declined.
I took a stroll down to the other end of the stadium and couldn't believe the sheer number of Buriram fans that had congregated outside the away zone. I have no idea how all of them were supposed to get in. Perhaps a percentage of them were already resigned to peering through railings and cracks in the fence.
My wife and I took our seats with still an hour to kick off but actually, many home fans had the same idea. Everyone wanted to savour every second of such a big occasion.
So let's get to the game itself. First half?
As expected, the game started at a frenetic pace with Samut Prakan asking all the questions and number 11 Jaroensak (perhaps a contender for most improved player of the season?) and Picha Autra teasing Buriram from the wings but not quite delivering that killer cross.
Often the difference between a good side and a very good side is that the latter take their chances - and Buriram did exactly that on 20 minutes. A harmless looking cross into the box finds the head of Samut Prakan Captain, Jakkapan, who is unchallenged and has all the time in the world to clear his lines but heads it straight to Buriram's Suphanat Mueanta, and he makes no mistake with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area. Looking at the replay, could goalkeeper Supawat have done more to keep the ball out? - but it began something of a miserable evening for the Samut Prakan shot-stopper.
The home side fought desperately to get back into the match with Ibson Melo and Teerapol both missing decent chances but the real game changer came five minutes before the interval, when Sarawut is shown a straight red card for stamping on Buriram's Dutch midfielder, Nacer Barazite. I didn't have a good view of the incident from my seat in the main stand opposite, but watching the highlights reel, I can't help feel the decision was a tad harsh. Sarawut is just not that kind of player and the young man was clearly shell-shocked at being ordered off for an early bath.
Things went from bad to worse on the stroke of half-time, the Samut Prakan defence going missing and allowing Sarawut to score his second goal of the evening from close range.
2-0 to Buriram. Down to ten men. Goodnight Irene.
Sounds like a damage limitation exercise from that point?
You would have thought so but whatever was said in that dressing room at half-time worked wonders. The team came out with renewed spirit and a fire in their belly. Ibson Melo, who has looked off colour lately, became almost intent on dragging us back into the match on his own. And it was our favourite Brazilian who found the net just a minute into the second period to give us a dream start. Suddenly out of nowhere there was hope.
The home side then proceeded to batter their illustrious visitors in what was easily their best spell of the game but just couldn't find that equalizer. Barazite (who was a menace all evening) side-footed wide of the post on 65 minutes as Buriram edged their way back into the contest. A third goal would surely kill off the game completely.
Then on 66 minutes we take off Ibson Melo. I can't quite believe that decision. Those fans around me can't believe it either. If there was one man who could get us back into the match, it was surely Ibson. Trudging back to the dugout, he's clearly apoplectic and can barely bring himself to shake the manager's hand.
I spoke to Ibson on social media after the game purely to offer my sympathies, and yes, let's just say he was very disappointed.
With 20 minutes remaining, Buriram get their third goal and it's an absolute peach. Supachok Sarachat cuts in from the left wing and curls a long-range effort beyond the diving Supawat. That really is game over.
In the 77th minute, goalkeeper Surawat caps an evening he'll want to forget by fluffing a routine clearance straight to Barazite and the bearded Dutchman gratefully accepts the gift.
4-1 to Buriram and cue a mass exodus among the prawn sandwich brigade in the adjoining VIP section. How many of those will be at Ratchaburi on Wednesday night? (Extended match highlights)
Actually I walked back to the car feeling disappointed but not downhearted. 4-1 was harsh on Samut Prakan because we played much better than that scoreline suggests, however; did tonight highlight the difference between where we are now and where we need to be? The red card was definitely a game changer and the substitution of Melo when Samut Prakan looked like they could still achieve the impossible was just bizarre. And I'll say it once more - we desperately need Captain Peeradol back as soon as possible. He makes that midfield tick.
There's still a long way to go in the season though; still 10 games to play and 30 points to play for. We're not out of that title race just yet.
Finally, two thumbs way up for both sets of fans for making tonight such a boisterous and exciting occasion. Our stadium might not be much to look at but when it's as heaving as it was tonight, I think it's easily one of the best experiences in the Thai Premier League.
Who's up next?
There's a full league program this coming Wednesday with Samut Prakan facing a mid-week trip to Ratchaburi, who also lost today and are now casting anxious glances towards the relegation zone. See you at the Mitr Phol Stadium on Wednesday
Full fixture list for the 2019 season
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