We are one month into the Thai M150 Championship season, and it is time for a review of the first five Match-days of the campaign.
It has been a difficult start for some clubs, Rayong have yet to play a game at home, while Phrae have played four of theirs on their own turf. Some clubs have allowed fans into the stadium, in differing numbers; others have played all their matches in an eerie echo. Ask any player and they prefer to play in front of a crowd.
There is also the not-insignificant matter of the weather. COVID led the League to adopt an August to April schedule. From November to February, football will be played in the best possible conditions across the country. But in Thailand, the most rainfall is accumulated in September and October. Football matches have been played in conditions that turn a game into a lottery; or worse, into a farce. It can be like playing football in your bathtub – fun if you are two years old, less entertaining for professional athletes.
In summary, it does not entirely feel as though the first month of the season has been played out on a level playing field. But there is little option other than to make the best of a difficult situation; put on the speedos and play some football.
Already two teams have clearly not met their owners’ expectations and after just five games, as both Muangkan United and Rajpracha FC have sacked their respective head coaches. Jadet Meelarp has parted ways with Muangkan United. The home defeat to Kasetsart in truly abysmal conditions was his last game. His replacement is Somchai Makmool, who was coach last season at Lampang and Khon Kaen FC.
Meanwhile BGPU have moved management between their two reserve clubs with Rajpracha appointing Thanongsak Prachakkata as head coach replacing Jakkrit Bunkham; Thanongsak was previously assistant coach at Chiang Mai FC working with Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok.
On a much brighter note, we may have already seen the game of the season, with Trat winning a fabulous mud-bath of a game 4-3 at home to Sukhothai on 15 September. Trat led 1-0 at half time. It was 2-2 midway through the second half before Valdo netted what could quite possibly be the goal of the season as he slalomed from the left wing and cut through a mesmerised Sukhothai defense to slide the ball home.
Trat are this season’s second half team. Held 0-0 at home by Ayutthaya United last weekend, they scored four times in the second half. Held 0-0 in the first half at Navy, they ran out 3-0 winners. The White Elephants owe much to their investment in the best forward line in the League; Conrado with six, Babo with three and Valdo with two, and there’s plenty more to come.
Phrae are joint leaders with Trat on thirteen points; four home games in front of their fans has been a big early advantage. While they have also avoided playing the stronger teams in the League they have been parsimonious in defence; conceding just twice while scoring ten times in their four home games. The goals shared among eight different players with Rodrigo Maranhão clearly their main threat. Kwaw Ko Ko’s chip for the winner at home to Ayutthaya may be the pick of Phrae’s goals. Their only dropped points came in a goal-less draw away at Udon Thani.
Sukhothai played their part in the match at Trat, pressing forward until the final whistle. With 15 goals in their five games they have been fun to watch with Osman Sow and Woo-Geun Jeong their leading goal-scorers. Sow’s 12-yard backheel against Khon Kaen FC was a game-winning finish. Sukhothai’s other dropped points came in a 2-2 draw away at ten-man Chainat last weekend. Ten points from their first five games is good enough for third place at this early stage.
After flirting with relegation last season, Udon Thani have had some of the more difficult opening fixtures of the season; but the side is unbeaten, resilient and good value for their fourth place with a very settled looking squad. They picked up wins away at Chainat and at home to Muangkan before last week’s late come back from a 0-2 deficit at Nakhom Pathom. An away trip to Trat on October 10th will be a good test of how far this club has progressed.
Four teams follow on eight points.
Ranong United have scored three goals in each of their three home games, but just once in their two away games. The single goal came in a bad-tempered 1-0 win over Rayong FC (played in Trat). Home advantage is a big asset for the Andaman Sharks, but matches there are less about football and more about endurance – like a miserable cross-country run forced upon school-kids who would rather be somewhere else. Carlos Damian and Gi-sung Yeon have stepped up successfully from League 3. Jennarong’s 4th minute screamer on opening day was an early goal of the season contender.
On the other hand, Customs have travelled well with two wins and a draw on the road. Their latest win at Chiang Mai in monsoon conditions coming with a 95th minute goal from substitute Kevin’s first touch of the ball. Masters of the late goal, Ahmadi Moshtaq scored in the 96th minute for a 3-3 tie at Ranong.
Chiang Mai FC have stuttered after winning their opening two games. Two draws on the road and that home defeat by Customs have dampened early optimism. Tawan and Pongrawit look the pick of the young loan players from BG Pathum. Away trips to Sukhothai and Ranong in the first half of October will be challenging and should test a defense that has looked the strongest element of the Lanna Tigers’ line-up.
The Lampang v Rayong match on 25 September was postponed due to storms that caused a lighting failure. With eight points from their first four games, Lampang remain unbeaten; seven of those points came from three away matches. Selwan Al Jaberi, signed from Ranong, has been unfortunate to miss the first month of the season due to a knee injury. With new owners, management and a new squad, Lampang may be one of the surprise teams of the season.
Big spending Lamphun Warriors and Muangkan United were two teams from League 3 that were looking to challenge for the promotion places. Coincidentally, Lamphun visit Muangkan on October 10th. Lamphun has won both home games by the odd goal against Kasetsart and Khon Kaen; but just one point from three away games is not league-challenging form. Cunningham has not appeared to be the hoped-for safe pair of hands in goal and Sales has started every game without opening his account for the season. High profile signings Jeffren has scored two and Cissokho one.
Muangkan have been disappointing. An entirely new squad brought into the club with League 1 experience has depended upon Caion for goals with four of the team’s seven; his first was after just 23 seconds in the opening game at Lampang. He added two more in the 3-2 defeat at Rayong (played in Chonburi). One win, one draw and three defeats has been a slow start to the new season with the only win coming at home to Ayutthaya. Results will be expected to turn around quickly, and their away match at Sukhothai on the 13th will be a good test.
Mid table Kasetsart have been difficult to watch, and their ploughed pitch does not help. If home fans allowed they would have seen their club score just twice in three matches. Last weekend’s away win at Muangkan was an encouraging result for the Emerald Nagas, and also saw a first goal for the veteran Komazec.
Two of last season’s play-off teams are off to a slow start. Nakhon Pathom United is another team that has enjoyed three home games; but each has been drawn. Their away win came at Navy with two goals from Kongnateechai in a 3-2 win. Chainat are also underperforming at home with two draws and a loss. Their last two results, an away win at Customs and a home draw with Sukhothai, are more encouraging.
At the bottom of the table, all is not ship-shape at Navy. 14 goals conceded and only a single point from their draw with Rajpracha. Four games already played at home will mean more travel in the second stage of the season. A salvage job is needed to keep them afloat this season.
With a squad that now includes a number of Buriram youth players, Khon Kaen FC seem to have the unfortunate habit of losing by the single goal. Their only point came in a battling home draw against Chiang Mai FC. Khon Kaen need goals from their foreign players with just one, a penalty from Felipe Veloso, in their opening games.
Ayutthaya United rebuilt their team around an influx of youth players and management from Muangthong. Their first two games were eye-catching in different ways. A 5-0 drubbing at Sukhothai and then a bold 5-3 win at home to Chainat led by a Felipe Wallace hat-trick. Since then the goals and the enterprising football have dried up.
Rayong have probably been harder hit by the impact of COVID than any other club. Their only two home games have been played at Chonburi and Trat. The match at Lampang was postponed. Rayong beat Muangkan (at Chonburi) courtesy of a terrific 80th minute curler from Attapong. Goalless in his four starts, Adalgiso Pitbull may have more bark than bite.
Finally, Rajpracha, built around the evergreen Angello Machuca and with all the facilities of BG Pathum at their disposal. Four draws include decent 1-1 ties away at Nakhon Pathom and at home to Trat, but they have scored just three goals scored in five games. Dismissing head coach Jakkrit feels harsh given the relatively limited resources at his disposal.
Some quality goals; some Keystone Cops football; and some surprisingly good television coverage of all the matches from AIS. Welcome to football in the M150 Championship.