Muangthong United can put a dent in Port FC’s AFC Champions League (ACL) aspirations with a victory against their Thai League (T1) rivals on Wednesday.
Port have already sealed a place in the 2021 ACL qualifiers at worst, but they will hope to claim a Top Two spot by Matchday 15 in order to go directly to the group stage.
Sarawut Treephan’s side are in pole position to do that, with a six-match winning run taking them into second place. However, Mario Gjurosvki’s Muangthong would like nothing more than to take three points home from the PAT Stadium and end Port’s recent dominance in the fixture.
Here are three things to look out for in Wednesday’s match.
- Mario can add spice to revive rivalry
The unsavoury fan violence that has seen away supporters banned from this fixture for several years seems to have taken an edge from the rivalry between the two teams.
Add to that the arrival of several Muangthong players at Port and the fact that the Klong Toey side have been comfortably on top for the past three years, and it has become a less intense match on the whole.
The appointment of Gjurovski as the Kirins head coach could change that. The Macedonian wasted no time in attempting to bring back the thunder to the Muangthong-Buriram rivalry when he suggested he could never have followed Alexandre Gama’s example by managing both sides.
Gjurovski then went full Jose Mourinho with a celebratory run up the touchline at the Chang Arena when Muangthong won at Buriram the following week.
Since winning his first two fixtures in charge, Muangthong were unfortunate to lose at Chiangrai United and followed that up with a disappointing draw at home to Nakhon Ratchasima.
Port’s form certainly makes them favourites, but Gjurovski’s presence on the touchline could energise the visitors and infuriate the home fans.
- Bonilla targets four-in-a-row against Muangthong
One of the most welcome sights for Port FC in recent weeks has been the return to fitness of Nelson Bonilla. The striker’s arrival from Bangkok United was seen as a statement of intent, but it looked more like a lack of due diligence as the El Salvador international arrived short of fitness and promptly missed several matches through injury.
However, Bonilla is back and his first T1 goal finally arrived at Chonburi on Saturday when his shot somehow found its way past several bodies and into the net.
Assuming he has come through unscathed, Bonilla is likely to start against Muangthong and he will hope to continue his scoring streak against them. He first netted against the Kirins when he was Sukhothai in 2018, while he then struck in both fixtures against them for Bangkok United last year.
The 30-year-old can keep the run going and potentially edge his team closer to the 2021 ACL group stages by finding the net again on Wednesday.
Bonilla is among the best strikers in the league on his day and, if fully recovered, he could be a huge asset as Port push for the T1 title.
- Redemption in sight for Port
The PAT Stadium has seen some difficult times this year. The recent floodlight failures and subsequent suspension have been well documented, but back at the beginning of the year, it was the venue of a very disappointing night for the club on the pitch.
In order to meet AFC requirements for the ACL, Port scrambled to instal seating in their ramschackle stadium, rather than host their qualifying clash against Ceres Negros in an alternative venue.
The seating worked and a licence was given but the players failed to show up and underdogs Ceres celebrated a significant upset 1-0 victory to end Port’s hopes of a trip to face FC Tokyo in a playoff. Winning in Japan would have been very difficult, but they never even gave themselves a chance.
Having shaken off a difficult start after the September resumption of T1 duties, Port now stand just four points from a place in the 2021 group stage. Three points at home to Muangthong and then a draw against ACL rivals Ratchaburi would be enough.
Port certainly don’t want to put themselves under pressure and dropping points against the Kirins would give Ratchaburi an opportunity to move into the driving seat with a win at the PAT on December 13th.
The players can redeem themselves for the disappointment against Ceres by ensuring that they participate in Asia’s top tournament next year.