It could've been worse. Before kick off, a large contingent of Thai Port fans descended on the stadium, purposely drawing attention to themselves and consuming large amounts of alcohol. Although it was surprising to see so many of them and strange that they all managed to get tickets for the Chonburi end, there was no further trouble, save an exchange of insults between them and the police.
News came through to me that Kone was injured and I wondered how it would affect the team-sheet. How accurate would my line-up prediction prove? Pretty good as it happens, though Rungsiyo got the support striker's role instead of Ibrahim,
The starting team was: Phanphipat (GK), Kaewprom (RB), Piyachart (LB), Nattaporn (Capt, CB), Panupong (CB), Datsakorn (MD), Pitchipong (MD), Nawapol (MD), Siaka (AM), Teerasil (ST), Rungsiyo (ST).
The first half was the weakest performance I have ever seen from the champions. So weak, we barely got out of our own half. Chonburi did not look brilliant either but perhaps someone read Dale's site, or mine, because the Sharks played just like Thai Port (as Nathan Hall suggested) and also used the double marking that worked for them on their own ground (as I mentioned). They were tough, gave us no space and doubled up on Siaka, making his life difficult. We rode our luck with stray passes and a shocking lack of width, the very same width that we used to take us all the way to the TPL title.
When the blue shirts finally did score, it came as no surprise. What was a surprise was the removal of Rungsiyo for a half-fit Kone on thirty minutes. After all my praise, he (Rungsiyo) has looked disinterested for his last few games.
The only silver lining was that the second half couldn't get any worse. Indeed there was some improvement. The width still seemed lacking but some flicks and triangle passes started to come off. Datsakorn leveled things up with a goal from a deflection about midway through the second half that took us to extra time.
Perhaps it was an omen that just before the start of the extra thirty minutes, Chonburi players were tired, but still on their feet. Meanwhile most MTU players were squatting, trying to get one last burst of energy in a career-shortening season of fixtures.
Extra time was very even and it seemed that penalties - and all the agony that comes with them - was on the cards until Pibop popped up with the winner. MTU had just one chance to equalise with a corner that Phanphipat rightly ran up for, but it wasn't our day. We had lost a cup final to a goal from a guy whose name sounds like he should be a DJ in Compton. After the whistle, our fans all said goodbye to Kone, saluted the players and congratulated Chonburi before leaving. There are absolutely no complaints about the game. Chonburi looked sharper and hungrier and created more chances.
It's actually quite a relief that the season is over and the time of change can begin. The impending large change of personnel is necessary for two reasons. Firstly, Muangthong have now become a big fish in small pond and many of our players are simply too good for the Thai league. That's not an insult to the Thai league, it's a compliment to the Muangthong players. Secondly, the amount of games the players have endured is simply dangerous. Many of them cannot repeat such a schedule without risking serious injury. If anyone thinks I'm making excuses here, consider that the Thai internationals have an eleven hour break between the cup final and national training. Eleven hours.
With such reforms in a developing and dynamic league run by less than competent people,it's very hard to see what the future holds. But whatever happens, MTU have achieved things that most clubs never will and I've been privileged enough to be on board for a big part of that ride.
It almost goes without saying that losing in extra-time was gut-wrenching, but in the same way we often don't appreciate things we have until they're gone, we can't always appreciate what it means to win glory without the occasional heartbreak as a reminder.
As for Chonburi, congratulations are in order. They've been fantastic rivals and fully deserve their AFC spot. We'll pay you back in the Kor Royal Cup next year.