Port FC travel to Bangkok FC for the first match in their defence of the FA Cup and a clash that stirs memories of a very different time in the recent past.
Not so long ago, the two clubs were battling for promotion from T2 but their fortunes have certainly gone in different directions since.
While this used to be the battle of Bangkok, it is now a Pathum Thani based rivalry. Three of the other standout ties take place in the northeast of the country.
Here are four matches to look out for in the FA Cup Round of 64.
Bangkok FC Vs Port FC
Seven years ago, these two sides met in a promotion battle that ended with a nasty brawl between rival fans. The match took place in Bangkok FC’s former home south-west of the Chao Phaya River, while Port FC were still based at the PAT Stadium.
Much has changed for both clubs since then. In 2013, Bangkok FC were pushing for a place in the top tier, fired by the goals of Lee Tuck. Port were determined to bounce back into T1, having suffered their first relegation from the Thai Premier League – as it was called at the time.
Seven years ago, Port could still cast themselves in the role of the working-class, anti-establishment team that felt they often suffered injustice at the hands of referees and the game’s ruling body. Now, they are firmly part of the establishment thanks to the extravagant investments of club president Nualphan Lamsuan.
Bangkok FC followed up a near promotion miss in 2013 with another in 2014, before sliding into the role of T2 also-rans and suffering relegation in 2017.
The club has since been taken over and relocated to Bangkok University Stadium, where they meet Port in what is something of a local derby given Port’s lodger status at the Leo Stadium, with the grounds a few kilometres apart.
The underdogs are skippered by one-time Port loanee Kayne Vincent. Another connection between the clubs is that both have been managed by Thai legend Kiatisuk Senamuang, while Port’s current head coach Sarawut Treephan was in charge at Bangkok FC in 2017.
Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok, Milos Joksic and Sutee Suksomkit are three other big names who have tried their luck at Bangkok FC, without managing to take them into the top league.
Saturday gives the club its chance for a shot at glory as they take aim at the cup holders in vastly different circumstances to the match that was played in 2013.
Nakhon Ratchasima Vs Samut Prakan City
The one all-T1 clash of the round sees a meeting between two sides that have had very inconsistent league campaigns so far.
The home side could really do with a lift after Sunday’s loss at home to Prachuap left them in the relegation zone. The Swatcats have won just two T1 matches all season and, while league survival will be the most pressing concern, a good cup run can lift confidence.
Samut Prakan City have been among T1’s more unpredictable sides in recent weeks. When these two sides met last month, the Sea Fang blew a two-goal lead and allowed Nakhon Ratchasima to claim a point. They have since taken an excellent point at league leaders BG, lost at home to Suphanburi and defeated Sukhothai.
The outcome of this one will depend very much on which version of each team shows up. The Swatcats will hope to see the side that deservedly won at Buriram before showing resilience to grind out a point at home to Bangkok United. Samut Prakan will be hoping for more of the same as the weekend as they played well to defeat a strong Sukhothai side.
Nongbua Pitchaya Vs Chiang Mai Utd
T2’s Top Two face off in what looks like one of the ties of the round in Nongbua’s gleaming new stadium. The T2 leaders recently opened their impressive facility, drawing admiring glances from fans of many clubs in T1.
And the home side will be favourites as they come into the game on a six-match winning streak, while their opponents are still licking their wounds after a 4-1 defeat at Khon Kaen United last weekend.
It hasn’t helped that Chiang Mai United’s president and head coach have stepped down just as the club were building momentum in their promotion bid. But the visitors have the quality to keep this one close.
They boast an impressive squad full of T1 experience, including Dominic Adiyiah, Natthaphong Samana, Melvin De Leeuw, Sarawut Masuk and Nont Muangngam.
Nongbua also have a squad with plenty of top tier experience, though perhaps not of the same profile. Nevertheless, the likes of Lursan Thiemraj, Njiva Rakotoharimalala, Sakdarin Mingsamorn and Yuttapong Srilakorn will all be familiar to T1 followers of recent years.
Nongbua currently have a five-point lead in the race for promotion but can Chiangmai get one over the T2 leaders while also giving their own confidence a much-needed lift?
Udon Thani Vs BG Pathum United
Udon Thani remain a club of unfulfilled potential, located in one of the northeast’s urban centres with a possible fan base that could one day rival Buriram United and Nakhon Ratchasima.
Unfortunately, they do not look like challenging for promotion to T1 this year, but they could make a real name for themselves by causing an upset at home to T1’s current leaders. Udon are packed with Muang Thong United loanees, which should be an indication of a reasonable level of quality, with former Thailand international Prakit Deeprom the biggest name in the squad.
If they can attract a decent, socially distanced crowd, the hosts could make difficult opponents for relentless BG.
The visitors will have to decide if they wish to rest any tired legs as the international break approaches. They intensity of BG’s play suggests that some players would benefit from a rest as they near the halfway point of the league season.
These two clubs were in the same division just 12 months ago, but their fates since could not be more different. BG have surged into the position as favourites for the T1 crown, while Udon have followed up a seventh-place T2 finish with an indifferent start to 2020 that leaves them in 12th place after 12 games.
The visitors will obviously be favourites to keep the upper hand, but if Udon raise their game, it might be closer than it looks on paper.