So what should have been a smooth journey back home required a hospital detour and I arrived ten minutes after kick off with nothing but sunburn and my match ticket. This was, technically, our final home league game of the season. But in reality, the 'away' game against TOT will take the spot because TOT shared our ground this season and have very small support, so there was no special feeling about this game.
MTU were playing in their third choice white kit for some reason. The team was Kawin (GK), Piyachart (LB), Kaewprom (RB), Nattaporn (Capt, CB), Panupong (CB), Datsakorn (MD), Ammorn (MD), Siaka (DM), Teerasil (LW), Christian (FW/RW), Kone (ST). Again, the mystery of Teerasil playing wide.
It seemed to be a typical home affair against a lower placed team as MTU dominated the opening exchanges. Before long someone lifted the ball to Christian who slotted home. There appeared to be a slight hint of offside about the goal but it wasn't flagged. Pichit responded by creating a tremendous goalmouth scramble that required our back line to hack the ball away at least three times.
In the following exchanges something strange happened. MTU players twice played excellent through balls to Christian and both times the linesman flagged him offside. I was baffled as Chris had timed his runs well and was not even close to offside. After it happened yet again - the third time - I realised what was happening: the linesman was judging offside by the time the player received the ball rather than when it was played. I'm not exaggerating or kidding. Pichit suffered the same fate, including one disallowed goal in the second half. I won't mention this again, I think it speaks for itself.
Towards the end of the first half Christian - who had a very good game - played square to Siaka who in turn played square to Kone inside the box. Kone did the business and it was 2-0. Time to go home for Pichit, surely?
Except that Pichit have the same fighting spirit as Army and came flying at us in the second half. That's when the mental and physical fatigue really appeared to set in on our players. I know fans get cynical when talking about tired footballers but consider the schedule we have played: a full league, two domestic cups, the AFC cup and internationals. Now that campaign is being fought on a waterlogged and hole-covered pitch. Wet pitches absorb more energy from your legs and return less.
MTU appeared to sit back and allow Pichit to attack in the hope of frustrating them and perhaps hitting them on the break. After all, it's worked so many times this season. But just like the Army game, the players appeared to be a little unsure of themselves. One player I would usually expect to run at defenders gave the ball away with a lazy little flick, others appeared to walk the pitch and failed to close down their opponents when they should have done. Kawin was getting more vocal than usual with his back line and with Teerasil being out on the wing, we lacked our usual holding player in attack.
Pichit scored their first from a rebound. I thought this might spur us on but by now the tiredness was tangible and the players continued the defensive play. It seemed we would scrape the win with a little help from a linesman who didn't understand the offside rule but a late equaliser from Pichit was immediately followed by one of their players suddenly collapsing and getting stretchered off. The ref did not play any extra time for this so a late series of corners was the only chance we had to restore the lead and we couldn't make it happen.
As the full time whistle went, the ground fell silent, apart from the small away contingent. Stunned home players sat in the centre circle and home fans exchanged bewildered and pained looks at each other. It was a something I'd never seen with Muangthong fans before.
The silver lining here is that the obvious shock the players received in this game may give them the lift that they need over the next few weeks of this long season that must feel like a mental and physical marathon to the squad. Moreover, the look on Rene's face as he walked towards the tunnel at full time suggested the lads may get another kind of "wake up" call before the night was done.
Like every fan I have an opinion on what needs to be done. I'd like to see Teerasil restored to his role as out and out striker and target man in the centre where he holds the ball up so well and brings his teammates into play. On the wing he looks lost and ineffective. I'd also like to see Jetsada restored to the side in his role as captain.
What we need now is to lift the squad for just two more crucial league games and one or two more AFC games. After this we'll be in the home straight and we can return to squad rotation for the two domestic cups.
At least we have a professional and forward thinking set of coaching staff guiding the squad through such a grueling schedule. Fans of other teams would probably be worrying the lads would be punished with extra uphill jogging sessions and more som-tam-bplaaa at half time.
Light is at the end of the tunnel lads, just pull through.
Man of the match:
Kawin Thamasatchanan, for getting vocal when needed, and, yet again, some excellent saves in the second half. Boy will we miss him when he goes.
Picture credit: cartoonstock.com