After five weeks out of action due to COVID-19, the Thai League returned with a crucial top-four clash at the Singha Stadium, as second-placed Port FC came from behind against Chiangrai United to take all three points and keep up the pressure on league leaders BG Pathum.
The Thai League made its eagerly anticipated return on Sunday night, as Chiangrai United and Port FC played out their rescheduled Matchday 14 game in what was the competition’s first match of the new year. The hosts opened the scoring after just five minutes when new signing Cho Ji-Hun picked out Suriya Singmui down the left, who beat the offside flag squared the ball across the penalty area. The chance was aptly converted by returnee Chaiyawat Buran, who was playing his first game for the Beetles after a spell of multiple months out with injury.
With an early lead to protect, one of the league’s meanest defences was called upon to soak up pressure as Chiangrai looked to hit their visitors on the counter. The Beetles’ tried-and-tested game plan allowed the hosts to protect their lead for the remainder of the first half, with some excellent last-minute interventions by Brinner Henrique in particular proving crucial.
However, Port picked up the pace after the restart, aided by the personnel changes made from head coach Sarawut Treephan, and continued to apply pressure to a Chiangrai side sitting deep in their own half. The equalizer came in the 78th minute as the ball was loose in the hosts’ penalty area after a free-kick delivery from Charyl Chappuis. Adisorn Promrak managed to work a bit of space after a miscued defensive header, and set up substitute Nattawut Sombatyotha to score at the front post.
The visitors were not content to go home with just a point, and were given more room at the back as Chiangrai belatedly pushed forward in search of another goal. The side struggled on defensive transitions for the entire game and had previously refused to commit players forward, ensuring they could always get nine players behind the ball when their attacks fizzled out.
Needing to score again to win back their lead, Chiangrai were no longer afforded the luxury of pragmatism, leaving defensive gaps for the visitors to exploit. The introduction of Ekanit Panya was not enough for the side to string together any potent attacking plays, and the hosts were eventually punished in stoppage time when Sergio Suarez picked out Yannick Boli with acres of space to drive at the Beetles’ back line. The Ivorian forward lofted the ball across to Nurul Sriyankem, who managed to bring it down and slip it beyond Saranon Anuin to give Port an invaluable late win.
Chiangrai’s first league game since mid-November ended in defeat, seeing the side slip to fifth with a game in-hand against Suphanburi still to play. Meanwhile, last nights’ victory means that the Lions have reduced the gap between themselves and runaway league leaders BG Pathum United to 7 points. Both Port and Chiangrai will be in F.A Cup action in midweek, before their next league outings against Sukhothai and Trat respectively.