VB Sports parade their star players before the game.
OK so one of two things happened. Either some bright spark in government worked out that a political protest aimed at the Prime Minister in central Bangkok hardly placed football fans in Nonthaburi in mortal peril, or MTU played the game anyway, since we are fed up of cancellations and it's hardly fair on VB Sport, who had already flown in for the game. Either way, it was game on at the Yamaha Thunderdome and since this was the first home game for a long time, I'm making an extended report right here.
A lot of work has gone on at the stadium in close season and the structure itself was hard to recognise. Let me try to explain the changes in detail.....
An upper tier has been added to the West Stand. It's in the same 'Meccano' style as previous work and it's not finished yet, but it still makes the stadium look far bigger. All four corners of the ground have been rounded off with more seating, giving the look of an indoor arena more than a traditional football stadium. The East Stand has been added with various function rooms - press room, management room, VIP entrances, etc. and VIP boxes have been added to the backs of the stands all round the stadium.
In aesthetic terms, the whole thing has a very 'Lego Land' look about it, indeed I may affectionately call the ground the 'Lego Land Stadium' from now on, but in functional terms, it's great. People may criticise Muangthong, but I've said from day one the management know how a club should be run both on pitch and off, and they are proving it.
The biggest plus point is the pitch. Last years dirt track cum swamp of death has been replaced by a fine, firm surface. It's just as well since it will take a lot of punishment this season with MTU in several competitions and Rajpracha sharing the surface for home games. (Did Raj contribute to the cost of the new turf?)
Just one drawback to all this - a fan on mtufc.net recently expressed concern that the still unfinished building work had left a lot of rubble and dangerous items around the ground. Given the recent crowd trouble, he wondered if it was safe. MTU responded by releasing an official statement saying the rubble had all been cleared up. It hadn't. Lots of bricks, broken stone and various other items were littered around outside the South Stand along with a very, very uneven and potholed surface. I hope nobody was hurt trying to leave there in the dark.
OK back to the build up. I tried to buy a ticket for the 'Ultra' stand which is now the South Stand. The lady at the ticket office seem confused by my request and waved her hand towards the North Stand. Now feeling confused myself, I approached a steward and asked where the South Stand was. The steward - paid by the club to give assistance and guidance to fans - had no idea where any stand was. He called for help from another man who told me at about one thousand decibels that the South Stand was closed.
So into the North Stand I went, to be greeted by the sight of a few hundred ultras happily chanting away in the South Stand. Oh well. I have an excellent spot directly behind and above the goal, though it quickly becomes obvious that when teams are warming up with shooting practise, I need to wear protective gear.
The ground is, disappointingly, half full today. I put this down to people assuming the game was cancelled again, the increase in ticket prices (100 baht for this AFC game) and a general lack of publicity for AFC games. The relocation of the Ultras to the South Stand is a good move, though. The noise from them puts pressure on the opposition keeper - which could be telling for keepers who are not used to playing in front of big crowds - and also inspires other sections of the crowd to join the chanting.
The teams line up. MTU are playing Kawin (GK) Pakasit (LB) Sylla (seemed to be playing RB), Jetsada (Captain, CB) , Nattaporn (CB) Datsakorn(MD) Pitchipong (MD) Piyaporn (MD) Leesaw (RW) Yaya (LW/CF) Muhamed (CF). It's more standard 4-4-2 than last season.
What's interesting about Leesaw and Yaya is that they often do not change sides in the second half, thus swapping their positions.
The game starts at a quick pace and it's all MTU. Kone 'The Giant' Muahmmed was obviously feeling good when he climbed down from his beanstalk today as he gets in on every cross, be it high or low. But MTU seem to squander a few chances, and get plain unlucky with others. Chance after chance goes begging and VB make about three goal line clearances in the first twenty minutes or so.
After about twenty two minutes, MTU are justly awarded a penalty when Kone is bought down in the box. Kone steps up and .....delivers a weak side-footed effort to the keeper's right that he palms behind for a corner. It was disappointing, but Kone and Yaya are terrifying the VB back line with their pace and power. By contrast, MTU's back line look distinctly confident. They obviously feel VB lack pace and are pushing the back four almost to the half way line, creating real pressure for VB.
To be fair though, the opposition look organised even if lacking in skill and are just about holding out. The ref - being of AFC standard - is also helping them by not giving every decision to the home crowd. It's a shock for some local fans who have less experience in football and they don't like it, but I have to applaud the ref for most of his decisions, he's calling it fair.
Around the thirty minute mark, Leesaw wins a dubious free kick on the right wing, he plays it down the line and the ball finds its way to Yaya who slots home. 1 - 0 MTU, no less than we deserve.
Perhaps we got a little over confident. Until now, the only things to worry me were the occasional 'stroll in the park' taken by our defenders as seems customary in Thailand and the drunken toss pot sitting near me who bellows: 'Wa - ON!......Ta...OOO!.....Fa....Lee!....Fa---OR....." etc. every time the stretcher team came on for a VB player. Fellow fans seem to find this counting in English hilarious. Heck, maybe I need to become a stand up comedian in Thailand, I could get rich overnight.
But out of nowhere Nattaporn gets turned by a VB striker and the Maldivians equalise. About five people in the ground are cheering.
We go in at half time equal and feeling hard done by. I'm sure that had Berkant Gotken been playing in this game, if he's even half as good as he used to be, we would be about five goals up. I really hope he gets back to fitness sooner rather than later.
The second half starts in the same way as the first but during one rare VB attack, goalie Kawin comes rushing from his line to reach a ball near the corner flag, making it just before the opposition winger. At such a young age, this keeper has confidence and timing way beyond his years.
From then on MTU lay siege to the VB goal (now in the South Stand, away from me) until Nattaporn pole-axes a VB striker. The ref - to his massive credit - immediately pulls out the red card, prompting a customary scuffle between the two teams. Coach Renee (how long before I can type that name and get this guy out of my head?) immediately moves Pitchipong to centre back along Jetsada.
Naturally we fans are worried, but throughout this game Muangthong had been playing with width and some beautiful 'one-two' or triangle set ups, simple but effective stuff that had VB under real pressure. The loss of one player wasn't enough to stop the flood, and not long after Nattaporn's dismissal, Kone Muhammed gets his just rewards as he breaks through the centre back line and slots low past the VB 'keeper. 2 - 1 Muangthong.
Kone wasn't done though. Less than ten minutes later he breaks through again and is bought down for a penalty! Sadly he declines to take it himself this time and leave the work to Leesaw. Leesaw slots a mid-height shot to the goalkeeper's left to make it 3 - 1 MTU, job done.
As full time blows, the fans celebrate. It's been a fantastic game that reminded us what football is all about. Robert Procurer promised that Muangthong United would 'take revenge' on the pitch by winning the TPL for a second season. If we play like this (and remember we still have two top signings yet to join us) every game, there's no way any team can stop us. Not Bangkok Glass, not Chonburi, not anyone.
It's too much to bear so I have to go and buy my season ticket. As I'm filling out my application form, all the contests from the MTU Diva contest walk into the office. Heck knows what I wrote on that form.
My MOTM - It was a solid team performance rather than any solo star show, but I'll give it to you Yaya, who seemed involved in every attack.
This is the first of four games in one week for me. Can I manage an equally long rant in honour of Rajpracha's opening game right back at the Lego Land Stadium tonight?
Some pictures from the game.
Photo credit: http://www.linotypecheadleheathnomads.co.uk