July is a deeply religious month in Thailand. At the end of the month young men enter a Buddhist temple. To inform everyone of this step towards peacefulness and enlightenment, families spend big money on terrible speakers and blast 'music' across entire neighbourhoods from dusk till dawn. So with a wake up call at 0430 for days in a row, I arrived at the Chonburi stadium looking almost as Chinese as my wife.
I met with Dale, the webmaster at the Chonburi site and we had time for us to put the football world (or Thai footie at least) to rights and say a quick "hello" to Michael Byrne before taking up position for the big game. My position was not ideal as it was behind and angled at forty five degrees from the goal.
Muangthong lined up with what I consider almost our best fit eleven: Kawin(GK), Kaewprom (RB), Jetsada (Capt, CB), Anupong (CB), Piyachart (LB), Datsakorn (MD), Pitchipong (MD), Siaka (MD), Yaya (LW), Kone (ST), Teerasil (ST). Nobody seemed to be playing deep midfield today. We were going for the proverbial jugular.
Muangthong had the better of the first half. Though Yaya seemed to be tightly marked and crowded off the ball for most of the game, he and his teammates still managed to get enough service to Teerasil and Kone to create trouble. Kone in particular seemed to be waiting for the tiniest bit of luck as the massive African forced two saves and a crack against the goalpost in the first forty five minutes. Chonburi appeared content to attack on the break but lacked pace or width so they stuck to high or direct service to their front men. Jetsada and Anupong ate most of it up.
The second half was - in football terms - of very little import. Strangely, Kone was replaced by Christian - I can only assume the former player was hurt - but the returning Christian didn't look fully recovered from his injury. The game soon descended into a midfield scrap. Chonburi's main openings appeared exactly where I had predicted they would: against Kaewprom at right back. I had told a fellow fan before the game that I really thought Kone should have been chosen for that role, as Kaewprom looked OK against weaker sides but might be exposed against the Sharks. And so it was as he gave the ball away in a dangerous spot at least three times.
I know I'm being harsh on Kaewprom, though. He is playing out of position and is doing his best. I must also mention one occasion where he was hit with a hard tackle and got straight back to his feet. If only more players did that.
The last highlight of the game did not occur on the grass. An incident erupted at the 'dugouts' that apparently involved Rene making gestures to the Chonburi staff. A member of said staff approached Rene - perhaps offering to 'discuss' the problem outside the ground - and before long a whole crew of cops, staff and others were facing off. The ref sent both staff members to the stands but guess what? Yep, Rene was having none of it. Police with shields approached the Belgian coach who still wanted to yell and square up to officials. Eventually he was taken away but the commotion appeared to continue for some time.
Back on the pitch, Chonburi enjoyed plenty of possession towards the end but rarely looked like even getting shot in. So it came to be - no goals and no advantage to either side.
In all, this was a good day out at a very likable club with a very likable set of fans and a very Thai style venue. However, the 'dugout' incident symbolised another problem the TFA need to stamp out: every time there is an altercation during a game, a whole bunch of wannabees and minor staff come rushing out to pose and act like they want to fight as long as they know police will be there to make sure it can't happen. It reminds me of the cocky kids at school who were always ready to fight as long as they knew teacher was not far away. This kind of juvenile behaviour could provoke genuine crowd trouble one day. It needs to stop.
But from a footballing angle today was a better result for us than Chonburi, as we now have the head-to-head win and the points gap to cover us. There is still the trip to Buriram and the visit of BG Man for us to overcome, but then Chonburi still have to defeat the superhero on his own turf. The title race is not over.
Man of the match:
Our two centre backs may of had little to do in the first half but they kept the marking tight as a duck's bottom to prevent Chonburi achieving anything with the high balls. In the second half they worked well to snuff out the attacks in the dying moments. Since I denied him the honour last time, I'll give today's MOM to Anupong Wongsa. (His full name apparently is "Panupong' but I never hear the 'P' sound pronounced.)