|"Now stick THAT in your blog you little *#@!"|
Another quiet build up outside the stadium for this game could have lead fans to be surprised by the electric atmosphere within it. Any nerves I had about standing next to a large group of Thai Port fans were allayed by the sight of them mixing freely with us outside the ground. Those concerns were even further allayed on entering the stadium as I could see security had put a slightly larger space between the two fan groups than usual. By coincidence, a group of Muslim schoolgirls had been given free entry to the game and were lined up against the very edge of the Muangthong fan area.
However, in the build up to kick off there was more than one moment when trouble could easily have sparked but thankfully did not. I won't dwell on these incidents, I will simply say I was relieved when security inbetween the fan groups was tripled to thirty staff and a large police dog.
Thai Port fans made a tremendous amount of noise. Person for person, I'd say they were the loudest fans I've heard in Thailand.
The four new signings were presented to the crowd and then Muangthong took the field as: Kawin (GK), Keawprom (RB), Jetsada (Capt, CB), Panupong (CB), Datsakorn (MD), Pitchipong (MD), Siaka (MD), Kone (AM), Christian (FW), Teerasil (ST). However Panupoung was injured very early on and replaced by Nattaporn.
That early injury may have been part of the reason why the first half was so balanced and slightly sloppy. Unlike so many other visitors to the Thunderdome, Thai Port showed neither fear nor a wish to take just one point as they matched us pass for pass and shot for shot in the thunderous atmosphere. Kawin was forced to pull off at least three diving saves in the first half, while Muangthong looked to take control through the usual build up play of triangle passing, touchline crosses or cutting into the penalty area from the corners. It just wasn't working though and I struggled to see why. The squad just looked tired and not quite as fast as usual. Thai Port's solid defending also had something to do with it. At half time we went in goalless.
In the second half Muangthong took more of the possession. Christian had not yet recaptured his pre-injury form since his return but as this game went on, that old spark showed signs of returning as he started to find more and more space on each attack. The visitors were reduced to ten men when a Thai Port defender came in with a reckless challenge, Christian went down hard and the offender was shown his second yellow. Around the same time, Thummanam came on to replace Pitchipong.
Yet still Port did not drop the pace or their self-belief, though their players seemed to get hurt a lot more easily now. Nonetheless Kawin pulled off at least three excellent saves in this half that caused Siam Sport to give him man of the match. We ourselves were still looking for the break that was not coming.
I know readers may find this hard to swallow given my recent criticism of him but I can honestly say I wanted Rene to bring on Leesaw before he did, he has pace that seemed lacking in our strikers' tired legs. When he did come on (for Datsakorn), he got a tremendous ovation.
And the Tero-bound forward looked fresh, like the player of old. The Port back line suddenly missed their extra man as Leesaw - playing as a right forward rather than a winger, which also helped - threatened to break free at any time. Twice he got to the byline and played a short cross that was desperately hacked away or grabbed by the goalie.
It seemed like it just wouldn't happen, the clock was ticking away and I had that "Buriram" feeling again, we'd come agonisingly close but be denied. As one more attack failed, I sat down in disappointment, expecting to hear the final whistle go as Port's keeper took a long goal kick. I started to work out the new league table in my head. Chonburi had closed the gap to three points, just one win away.
Then the ball fell to Leesaw again who paced down the wing and played a diagonal ball to Kone. The whole home section had their hearts in their mouths as Kone clipped a first time shot in the six yard box (i.e. point blank range) but somehow the keeper blocked it. It seemed like a lost cause yet again, but then, surging in came Leesaw for the rebound goal that sent home fans delirious. The celebrations of the players matched that emotion, the prostrate Port defender and the silence of the otherwise noisy visiting fans did the same job for the away side.
There was time for one more agonising moment as Leesaw and Kone nearly repeated their feat, but the full time whistle finished the game at one-nil. Harsh on Thai Port, but that's football.
At the end of the game the Muanthong fans cheered for Thai Port. Port fans did not return the favour but did give a round of applause to the home team players. All seemed well as I left the stadium but various sketchy reports indicate that there was an incident involving a rush of people and a large number of police later on. There were also other controversial incidents but today nearly everyone came to see and enjoy a good and exciting game of football, and that's what they got.
Man of the match:
No less than four contenders here. Kaewprom, for looking assured and safe at right back after my recent criticisms. Amorn Thummanam for one single moment of skill where he beat four players, one by one, Kawin for another string of great saves and Leesaw for reasons already stated. And yes, as a token of apology, I'll give it to Theerathep Winothai for reminding us what he can do. I've been harsh when he's been poor, so I must give him (and Kawin) credit for saving us three points today. Good luck at BEC Tero and if you repeat this form, I'm sure we'll be keeping you on next season.