Khon Kaen Trip to be Ishii’s Last Game?
Five games into this season, the idea that Samut Prakan City and Khon Kaen United would be playing a six-pointer hovering just above the relegation zone would have been unimaginable. The fact that it is set to take place tomorrow night is both a testament to the excellent work Carlos Eduardo Parreira has done with the King Cobras so far, but also of the slump the Sea Fang have been on for the majority of the first leg.
Head coach Masatada Ishii must have imagined this season going very differently. After guiding the side to a sixth-place finish last season, he vowed to stay with the club in hopes of pushing for an AFC Champions League place. However, after a summer of financial troubles which saw them lose the core of their squad and fail to invest in replacements, Samut Prakan are battling at the wrong end of the table.
However, Ishii has managed to come out of this run with his reputation unscathed as one of the league’s best coaches. His optimism and composure during this tough run has been commendable, despite having to deal with a boatload of injuries and severe lack of squad depth. Now, having been linked to virtually every high profile job in the country during that run, including the National Team, many reports suggest that the 54-year-old Japanese native is finally set to bite.
Where his impending departure leaves the club, however, remains to be seen. A parting gift victory over Khon Kaen United would do them a world of good, as they sit just two places and four points above the relegation zone ahead of Matchday 15. The King Cobras have been formidable at home, as they’ve registered wins over Nongbua and Tero of late and came within minutes of holding Bangkok United to a draw. This final task will not be easy, and it is certainly a must-win game.
Bangkok United aim to end first leg as leaders
With 10 wins from 14 matches so far, Bangkok United are well placed to challenge for their first title since 2007. One more win – at home against a struggling Suphanburi side – will be enough to see them end the season’s first leg as leaders.
The Angels are on a run of five straight wins in all competitions, and just put five goals past T3 side Pattaya Dolphins United in the FA Cup in midweek. Suphanburi, meanwhile, ended a run of seven straight defeats last weekend with a win over Samut Prakan City.
While Bangkok United have previously seemed almost jittery and uncomfortable with the pressure at the summit, Totchtawan Sripan’s men have been calm and confident with their status as league leaders. Extending that to last over the winter break will give them a huge boost, though the former title-winning coach still insists that his side are not outright favourites for the title just yet.
Chiangrai host Buriram
The only team capable of replacing Bangkok United at the top should they slip up on Sunday is Buriram, who also play on the same evening. The Thunder Castle seem to have recovered from their brief slump in form, comfortably beating Khon Kaen United last weekend before doing the same to T3 outfit Prime Bangkok on Wednesday.
On Sunday they visit Chiangrai United, who appeared a struggling side before putting four goals past Ratchaburi in the FA Cup. They still sit in a respectable 6th place – nine points off the league leaders and three off the Champions League spots – and are always tough team to beat on their day.
Elsewhere, fellow title-chasers BG Pathum United need to recover from two successive league defeats when they travel to Prachuap. The Killer Wasps will finsh the first leg in the relegation zone alongside Suphanburi and Chiangmai United, though the latter will have hopes of ending on a high after their confidence-boosting FA Cup win in midweek.
Chonburi could end leg one in the top four if they get the better of Ratchaburi at home, in a fixture they have won for the last six seasons running. Muangthong United return to the Thunderdome after their defeat to Bangkok United last week to host Nakhon Ratchasima. Lastly, Nongbua Pitchaya will be looking to end their fantastic first leg on a high, but the visit of an in-form and rejuvenated Port FC will be a tough test for coach Tawatchai’s troops.