Ratchaburi aim to leapfrog JDT and give ACL debut a happy ending

Ratchaburi hope to finish their first ever AFC Champions League (ACL) campaign on a high with a victory over Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).

The Dragons finally earned their first point in Group G when they held Pohang Steelers to a goalless draw on Sunday. Now they will need to score their first goal if they want to secure a first win on Wednesday.

JDT won the first encounter between the two sides more comfortably than the 1-0 score line suggests. However, Ratchaburi’s confidence has been somewhat restored by drawing against the team that twice easeed to victory over JDT.

Victory would see the Thai side finishing third in Group G – one place higher than most expected.

Focus on finishing

While Pohang dominated possession on Sunday, Ratchaburi had three decent chances to break their duck in front of goal.

In the first half, a nice interchange of passes ended with Patomchai Sueasakul surging into the box with a clear view of the goal. The midfielder seemed to panic and scuffed a weak left-footed shot that was easily gathered by Kang Hyeon-mu, the Pohang keeper.

Steeven Langil broke through on goal in the second half but, rather than taking a shot with his left foot when he had just the goalkeeper to beat, the winger turned back inside, giving a defender the opportunity to dispossess him.

Towards the end of the match it was Apiwat Pengprakone who found himself in a good position on the edge of the Pohang penalty area. Instead of trying to get a shot away, the striker chose to try and make further ground, but only succeeded in running into trouble.

If Ratchaburi are to end this slightly embarrassing goalless run, they will have to show much more composure when they have opportunities. It was perhaps understandable that Patomchai – a man of few goals – froze, but Langil and Apiwat should have done better.

New striker Junior Mapuku has shown gradual improvement but has clearly struggled to last 90 minutes. If he can stay on the pitch long enough to make a bit of history for his club, it may help turn what was looking like a miserable campaign into a respectable one.

Stick with the system

The confidence gained from Sunday’s clean sheet should inform the team selection in Wednesday’s match. Having conceded seven goals in two games against Nagoya Grampus, limiting Pohang to just one effort on target was a significant achievement.

Ratchaburi did ride their luck at times and Alex Grant should certainly have given Pohang a first-half lead instead of blazing over from inside the six-yard box. Lee Seung-mo’s header off the bar in the second half was the only other time the Dragons’ goal was seriously threatened.

Kang Sang-woo’s late yellow card for diving was down to desperation and frustration as Ratchaburi’s hard work in defence saw them deny their opponents time and again.

There has been a lot of tinkering with the team selection since Matchday One, including the bizarre announcement that they would start with an all-Thai XI before the 3-0 defeat to Nagoya.

Whether by accident or design, Sunday’s system seemed to work. If everyone is fit to start again, it is surely this first XI that will give them the best chance of what would be a memorable victory.

Now or never for Tono

The build-up to Ratchaburi’s ACL campaign was dominated by the news that they had added Phakin ‘Tono’ Khamwilaisak to their squad. As a 34-year-old with no professional football experience, signing the celebrity was clearly not for footballing reasons.

The Dragons were understandably criticised for the decision to put a cheap publicity stunt ahead of their sporting credibility. Not surprisingly, Tono has yet to feature in a matchday squad, never mind set foot on the pitch.

But there is a part of everyone that wants to see Tono get a taste of the action even if it’s just the final five minutes of a dead rubber game. Fans of the actor may wish to see him prove something, while others will be looking for a more voyeuristic experience.

After all of the publicity, it would be a shame for it to remain nothing but a silly stunt. If Tono comes on and does not embarrass himself, it would maybe not justify Ratchaburi’s decision to sign him, but it would at least give the player the chance to show that he can actually play as well as act.

Paul Murphy

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