Relegation showdown promises dramatic finale to Thai League season

Suphanburi host Sukhothai in a crucial clash that will see one of the teams fill the last relegation spot on the final Matchday of the 2020-21 Thai League (T1) season.

Suphanburi must win against the Fire Bats on Sunday to avoid the drop and stay in the top tier for a ninth season. For their opponents, a point will be enough to stay up.

Champions BG Pathum United can seal an invincible T1 season by avoiding defeat at Muangthong United, while Chiangrai United can extinguish Bangkok United’s faint hopes of finishing fourth by taking at least a point at home to Samut Prakan City.

Suphanburi (14th) Vs Sukhothai (13th)

Previous meeting: Sukhothai 1-0 Suphanburi

For several weeks, it has seemed destined to come to this. As the form of Suphanburi and Sukhothai slumped, and relegation rivals slowly but surely pulled away from the drop zone, this last-day fixture has loomed large on the horizon with both clubs seemingly on a collision course.

The War Elephant’s 2-1 victory over Chiangrai United on Wednesday turned a possibility into a reality and all eyes will be on this huge battle on Sunday.

Suphanburi have been in T1 since 2013, finishing fourth in their debut year and finishing third in 2015. Since then, however, they have failed to finish above 10th and last year’s 14th-place would have resulted in relegation were it not for PTT Rayong going out of business. Sukhothai have been ever present in the top tier since 2016 – an impressive seventh-place finish that year followed by some struggles to stay up.

Barring the demise of another club, it will be the end of the road for one of the two teams this year.

The strike pairings of each side may hold the key to who comes out on top. Sukhothai’s John Baggio and Ibson Melo have 27 T1 goals between them, though they have been less prolific in recent matches. Ibson has scored just twice since T1 resumed in early February, while four of Baggio’s six goals in that period came in one game against Prachuap and four of those six strikes have come from the penalty spot.

Suphanburi’s Leandro Assumpcao and Caion have a combined total of 24 for the campaign, albeit 11 of those goals were scored for their former clubs. But the Suphanburi pair do seem to be in better form, as seen by the way Leandro provided two assists for Caion’s double on Wednesday.

Sunday’s result will not just come down to these four players, of course, but it does seem likely that they could have a significant impact.

Muangthong United (8th) Vs BG Pathum United (1st)

Previous meeting: BG Pathum United 2-1 Muangthong United

Win, lose or draw, this season will see Muangthong’s lowest ever T1 finish, with seventh the best they can do. While this may suggest a club that is going backwards on paper, three points in this match would enable them to surpass last season’s points total of 46, which was enough for fifth spot.

While such a minor improvement in the points total cannot disguise the disappointment of a record low, it might reassure fans that head coach Mario Gjurovski could be moving the team in the right direction.

The Kirins are the only team to have beaten BG this year, though it took 120 minutes of a draining FA Cup clash to earn that victory. Now, they have their chance to get the better of Dusit Chalermsan’s side again and end their hopes of an invincible season.

BG, meanwhile, will be determined not to let their unbeaten record go on the final day of the season. It is a strange irony that BG’s unblemished record looked like it would not reach one match, never mind 30.

On Matchday One, BG hosted Muangthong and were 1-0 down at halftime, having been reduced to 10 men. But the Kirins also received a red card early in the second half, and BG fought back to win 2-1.

Unbeaten seasons are somewhat more common in Thailand than in most domestic leagues. Muangthong achieved the feat back in 2012, while Buriram did not lose a game in 2013 or 2015. BG would love to join this exclusive club and end an incredible season with another piece of history.

But Muangthong have plenty of pride to play for and can certainly finish on a high note by beating the team no one else could.

Chiangrai United (4th) Vs Samut Prakan City (6th)

Previous meeting: Samut Prakan City 1-1 Chiangrai Utd

Having seen their hopes of finishing third scuppered by losing at Suphanburi on Wednesday, Chiangrai United’s focus must now be on staying in fourth place when they host Samut Prakan City.

The 2019 champions were always unlikely to be strong enough to defend their title but staying in the Top Four could be important. If the FA Cup winner comes from within the Top Three, fourth place would be good enough for a place in the 2022 AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifiers.

The Beetles’ will still very much hope to lift the FA Cup and go straight into the group stage of ACL 2022, but fourth place is the insurance policy they can claim by taking just a point.

Samut Prakan have already surpassed last season’s 43-point total when they finished fifth. Victory in Chiangrai could see them end the season in fifth if Bangkok United fail to beat Prachuap, but defeat might see them drop to seventh in the event that Ratchaburi win at Trat.

Prachuap (10th) Vs Bangkok United (5th)

Previous meeting: Bangkok United 2-0 Prachuap

Bangkok United can finish the season on a high with the victory that would see them as the third best side over the second half of the campaign. It might be small consolation given they started the season as title contenders, but it would be a positive development given they won just once in an 11-game streak from the end of September to the end of December.

More importantly, three points could keep alive hopes of an ACL qualifying spot. This would also require Chiangrai to lose but it is an incentive for the visitors.

Prachuap cannot match last season’s ninth-place finish but they have already won the same number of points thanks to a recent run of four wins in a row. Holding onto 10th seems likely whatever happens in this match as Police Tero – the team one point below them – have to travel to Buriram United.

The need for points is greater for Bangkok United, however, which might give them the edge.

Paul Murphy

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