Remember this? It was our first home game last season, an AFC group game following our ACL exit. The ground was undergoing extensive work, we had a new coach, new shirts were flying off the shelves in the club shop, we were aware of our poor pre-season form and how hard our rivals were working to take away our TPL title.
That story had a happy ending and the similarities with this year should be obvious, but this season is only going to be harder. Managerial turmoil - Henrique Calisto stated yesterday he will manage Muangthong after resigning as Vietnam coach - has not helped and Chonburi, BG and PEA are only more determined and experienced this year. In short, we really needed to prove a point today.
The line up had a few new faces: Kawin (GK), Kayem (LB), Athit (RB), Zesh (CB), Nattaporn (CB, capt), Datsakorn (MD), Jakkaphan (MD), Siaka (AM), Christian (Wing), Teerasil (Fw), Ahnon (St)
A few pointers for this first game. The Thais pronounce Sangsanoi's first name: "Ah-non" so I will spell it that way to avoid calling him: "Anon". Kayem and Athit are products of the youth team. Kawin sports a longer, fuzzier haircut but remains a favourite with female fans. There is no sign of Coulibly Abdoul, has he gone the way of Ibrahim; a mysterious, quick and quiet transfer?
Those thoughts fade quickly because within minutes of kick off we're all feeling good. It's obvious that Robert has been true to his word and his positive influence is clear to see. The team are back to their best - playing the ball down the flanks, moving for each other and looking fresh.
Long term readers may notice that whenever I'm talking about positive or poor performances, I'll always discuss our wide play or lack thereof. Of course that's not the be-all and end-all but it seems to be a symptom of the team's mind state. When they are playing with confidence and thinking clearly, Christian and co. will move down the wings and take people on, when they're tired or pressured, they use less width and take a direct approach.
For a while the game is even but Hanoi clearly lack attacking prowess and Kawin has little to do in the first half. But MTU - attacking our goal in the North Stand - are causing trouble with Jakkaphan looking especially menacing. Before long, Chris whips in a cross that falls to Jak, he fakes a shot then beats his man and shoots. The Hanoi goalie saves but there's a double rebound before Teerasil puts it home. 1-0.It's really starting to look like the side of old but the rest of the first half fizzles out.
The second half is a different story though. Some excellent footwork from Christian with a great finish makes it 2-0 early on. Chris had a great game today and could have notched a hat trick. I do wish he wouldn't go down so easily sometimes as a player of his ability is better off staying on his feet as much as he can.
Not long after Chris' gem, Ahnon opens his MTU account with his first goal from short range. 3-0. By now it's all over and although Hanoi still made an effort, they really look like they couldn't score in a ten hour game and Kawin only had two tough saves to make against the Vietnamese champs all game.
Three subs made an appearance - Pitchipong, Santi and Paitoon. Pitchipong was especially pleasing as no less than three times he looked up and sprayed an excellent pass from the centre to the wing. It really epitomised what Robert, the fans and the team needed. It was the final proof that we were back.
Before the end, Teerasil added one more to make the final score 4-0. If the guys had more match practice under their belts, it could have been twice as many.
Let's be clear - the best thing about today was not a solid win against a distinctly average looking side, it was the way we did it. I'd say we are about ten or twenty percent away from being the team we were early last season when a lot of sides got demolished at the Thunderdome. Christian, Kawin, Nattaporn and Pitchipong all looked at the top of their game. Jakkaphan and Ahnon look like good acquisitions - better than the players they replaced - though I thought Jak looked better when he moved to the wing. Teerasil is not yet 100% but still scored twice and Dagno looks like he's still getting his sharpness back. Zesh looked good, too. The two kids at left and right back both looked very impressive and will only get better.
After a similar performance last season I stated correctly that no team in Thailand would better us. I can't say that this year but I can say that if we can keep up this tempo - and we have more rest time between games this season -then anyone wanting to win our title is going to have a heck of job doing it. Rumours of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.