Buriram would settle for second best with derby victory

Buriram United will be happy to stay second best by beating Nakhon Ratchasima in the Isan Derby on Thai League (T1) Matchday 23 on Saturday.

Alexandre Gama’s side have surged up the table since losing the reverse fixture in October and now sit in second spot, above Port FC on goal difference.

Bottom Two Trat and Rayong could see their relegation fates come closer when they face Muang Thong United and Port FC respectively, while a trip to Samut Prakan City is BG Pathum United’s latest obstacle in their bid for an unbeaten season.

Buriram target derby delight

It was just Matchday 8 when Nakhon Ratchasima travelled to the neighbouring northeastern province of Buriram and came away with an unexpected three points. Both sides were struggling in the bottom half of the table and this was Buriram’s fourth defeat of the season.

Fast forward four months and the Thunder Castle have since won 10 out of 14 fixtures to edge into second place in the league. Their focus between now and the end of the season will be to hold on that second spot and also add silverware in the shape of the FA Cup.

Wednesday’s 1-0 home victory over Chiangrai United ensured Buriram did the double over the side that denied them the 2019 title on their head-to-head record. There is no title to fight for given BG have built what is an unassailable 19-point lead but Gama can certainly lay down a marker for the 2021-22 campaign.

The Swatcats should prove a formidable barrier, however. Teerasak Po-on’s side’s six-match winning streak may be over but they remain unbeaten in nine, racking up seven clean sheets on that run. Star midfielder Gidi Kanuk may have the opportunity to remind Buriram of his ability, having been allowed to leave the club in the mid-season transfer window.

Trat face buoyant Muangthong as survival hopes fade

Eight points from safety with eight matches remaining. Things look grim for Trat. On Tuesday evening, they lost out in the six-pointer that could have defined their season. Two late goals from Suphanburi handed Trat a 2-0 home defeat, while also opening up that eight-point gap. A home win would have seen them move within two points of their relegation rivals.

The loss also brought an end to a three-match unbeaten run that raised hopes of extending their T1 stay. This Saturday’s home match against in-form Muangthong United now looks somewhat ominous.

While Trat were slipping to a damaging defeat on Tuesday, the Kirins recorded a first win in almost three years over Port FC. Mario Gjurovski’s side come into the match against Trat having won five of their last six T1 matches and they very much have their eyes on a third-place or even runner-up finish.

To keep the positive momentum going, they will have to put another nail in Trat’s coffin, but this won’t necessarily be an easy task. Trat stunned the Kirins with a 1-0 win at the SCG Stadium in October – a result that brought an end to Alexandre Gama’s time as Muangthong’s head coach. Trat can be stubborn opponents and they will have to be against a visiting side that is full of confidence.

Sorry Sarawut takes charge of salvage operation

As BG Pathum United started to pull clear of the T1 chasing pack last year, only one club looked capable of giving the league leaders a run for their money. Following a defeat to BG in September, Port FC embarked on an eight-game winning streak that kept their rivals in striking distance and suggested that the appointment of Sarawut Treepan as head coach may have been a shrewd one.

However, performances during that winning run were sometimes unconvincing and when Samut Prakan City hammered Port 6-3 in December, the weaknesses were exposed.

Nevertheless, Port’s recent capitulation has been spectacular. There have been tough fixtures, with four of the last eight opponents sitting alongside Port in the Top Five. The fact that Sarawut’s side have lost to each of their fellow Top-Five clubs suggests they are flat-track bullies rather than serious title contenders.

The season is now a salvage operation and Saturday’s match at home to rock bottom Rayong will surely see Port end a streak of five games without a win. Finishing second remains a possibility but the momentum is very much with the teams that have edged closer to them or, in Buriram’s case, overtaken them.

Samut Prakan’s big game players take aim at BG

One of the toughest games BG Pathum United have faced this season came when Samut Prakan City visited the Leo Stadium. The visitors went toe to toe with the league leaders and earned a 2-2 draw despite playing with 10 men for the final 30 minutes.

In contrast with Port’s recent tendency to blow it in the big matches, Samut Prakan seem to relish playing against the top sides. They have beaten Buriram United, Port and Muangthong United, scoring 13 goals in three games against these Top Five clubs.

Samut Prakan City saw a three-match winning streak end with a 0-0 draw at Nakhon Ratchasima on Wednesday, but as the season has shown, Masatada Ishii’s side often save their best for the best.

Paul Murphy

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