Seventeen games gone; seventeen to come starting in January 2022. The first half of the season was completed on schedule, albeit at times behind closed doors, always with crowd restrictions and with the pandemic hanging over the League like a Damoclean sword.
At opposite ends of the standings, Trat march on unbeaten while Navy prop up the table with just six points. It would be a near miracle if either team are still in T2 next season.
The real battles in the second half of the season will be for the second automatic promotion spot, the four play-off places and to avoid the remaining two relegation spots. By the close of the transfer window at the start of the new year it will become clearer which teams are investing for promotion or survival.
With the mid-season break coinciding with Christmas and New Year celebrations what can be better than the first ever, yet still coveted, M150 Championship Mince Pie awards.
Leading goalscorer – Thales Lima
There have been 449 goals scored in 153 matches, an average of 2.93 per game. Thales currently leads the way with 13 goals from 17 appearances, though his goal haul is rather skewed by the four he scored in a 9-3 win at woeful Customs. It does feel as though he is crucial to Udon Thani’s continuing success this season. Keep him and the Orange Giants (or Festive Tangerines?) will finish in the top three.
Caion of Muangkan and Osman Sow of Sukhothai run Thales close with 12 goals, but it is the Brazilian who ultimately gets the award. Amongst Thai players, the Fire Bats’ Chaowasit Sapsakunphon has been the most prolific with nine goals, while Weerayut of Lampang and Anuntachok of Lampang have hit seven each. If Thai football needs one thing it is better local goal-scorers, so it is good to see these three doing well.
Leading strike partnership – Babo, Valdo and Conrado (Trat FC)
I like this award as it really does show how finding the right players, building an understanding between them, and keeping them fit will propel a team to the leading places in this league. Babo, Valdo and Conrado make a terrific front line at this level and get a mince pie each.
Most entertaining team – Sukhothai
This is based purely on goals per game, because in the end that is what the supporters want to see. Sukhothai supporters have seen an impressive 69 goals in their 17 games. Customs supporters have seen 72, but 12 of those were in a single game which was just too strange to be taken seriously.
So Sukhothai gets the mince pie entertainment award. Dennis Amato has done a top job there, rebuilding the team after its relegation and the loss of key players.
Least entertaining team to watch – Rajpracha
There are a few candidates for this particular award. Kasetsart have scored 15 and conceded 20. Navy have only scored 10 but their opponents have enjoyed playing against them. Every game Kasetsart have won (5 of them) has been by a solitary goal so there has always been the drama of conceding a late goal. Their 2-2 draw at Sukhothai was a top effort.
However, this mince pie must go Rajpracha because, for reasons unknown, no supporters have been allowed to attend any of their Leo Stadium matches this season – which by default makes them no fun to watch because you cannot!
Most improved team – Muangkan United
Muangkan still have a bizarre ability to play like a team that have never met before. Maybe a mince pie award will bring them together. They were dragged into a relegation scrap after losing 5 of their opening 7 matches. However, their form has been on the up since, picking up 17 points from their last 10 and climbing to 10th in the table. However, with their promotion hopes looking like a long shot, they have now lost top scorer Caion to Suphanburi. It will be interesting to see if their improvement continues into the second leg.
Team going backwards award – Phrae United
What has happened to Phrae? They won six and drew 2 of their first eight games. 20 points from a possible 24. An outstanding start. And then just four draws and four points from the remaining nine games.
Coach Arnon was released in October and no one seems to understand why. Suddenly they look like a side very low on confidence.
Worst traveling team – Ayutthaya United
Ayutthaya are unbeaten at home but have lost 7 of 9 games on the road. This may be a result of having so many Muangthong youth players who should all be tucked up at home by 9pm, after eating their mince pie awards.
I jest; but there has to be some consideration of the distances involved in traveling around Thailand; especially at a time when domestic flights have been either not available or restricted.
Imagine, if you will, a round bus trip from Udon Thani to Ranong returning overnight after the game. 15 hour non-stop by car – so probably 17 or 18 hours in a coach. As a player you have to know how to manage your body; to keep hydrated, relaxed, to sleep and to avoid the listlessness that can set in on such a long trip.
Longest unbeaten run – Trat FC
Obviously Trat wins this award – but worthy efforts from Lamphun, unbeaten in their last 11 games, and a run of 9 by Sukhothai.
Hit and miss coaching changes.
Udon Thani parted ways with Daniel Blanco. Jörg Steinebrunner has ensured continuity at the club and kept his team in touch with Trat and Sukhothai – the only blemish being a 2-0 defeat at Lamphun in what was a terrific game of football and contrasting styles. Udon Thani’s only home defeat was against struggling Rayong and is an indication of how disruptive coaching changes can be.
Daniel Blanco has moved to Khon Kaen replacing Miura Masayuki. Big changes will be needed to keep the T-Rexs from T2 extinction.
Lamphun replaced their young coach Jonsarith bringing in Brazilian Wanderley Machoda da Silva.
Muangkan replaced Jadet Meelarp; a move that now seems to be paying dividends.
Navy replaced Mitsuo Kato with Chalermwut Sa-ngapol; sadly no one has seen any real change and it will need more than a fair wind to keep Navy in T2.
Phrae released coach Arnon who had led Phrae from T3 and into a playoff spot last season; on a temporary basis Pichitpong Choeichiu took on the role of playing coach. It has not worked out well.
Rajpracha are on their third coach of the season; but it does not really matter; they all appear to be rotated within the giant BG empire. There are already signs of talented young players being sent to salvage Rajpracha in the second half of the season.
The Mince Pie for successful coaching change is jointly awarded to Muangkan and Udon Thani. The “what were they thinking” mince pie goes to Phrae.
Khon Kaen made their position clear by releasing all three of their foreign players, Bubalo, Fellipe and Koki. With just one goal between them in 36 appearances, it is understandable why.
At Chiang Mai Kabaev and Danilo have just five goals between them. Not enough.
The wonderfully named Pitbull (that cannot have been his parents’ choice?) did eventually score for Rayong – just once.
Mince pies for all of them. Foreign players in Thailand need to deliver to justify their salaries. Otherwise it is quickly time to move on.
Home is where the football is award.
Rayong FC have played their home games everywhere except at their own Rayong Provincial Stadium. They played at Trat and Chonburi; and in recent days have moved to the PTT Stadium in Rayong. With talk of investment by PTT the future now looks more assured.
Their home supporters will have ten home games to enjoy in the second half of the season, as will Chiang Mai supporters.
Goal of (the first half of) the season:
449 is a lot of goals. I have not seen them all. To be honest I would love to know your favorites. Maybe we can have a top ten goals of the season to cheer us up in April/May.
There are plenty of contenders but I have two personal favourites – Valdo’s goal for Trat at home to Sukhothai for a 3-2 lead. On a poor pitch he waltzed past five defenders before beating the goalkeeper.
Yet even Trat make mistakes; Seiya Sugishita’s (Chiang Mai FC) wonderful 45 yard lob dropping over Tossaporn and under the Trat crossbar. The game was long lost but this was economical in effort and extraordinary in execution.
Overhead kicks from Jardel (Rajpracha) and Neto (Nakhon Pathom) warrant honorary mentions for their athleticism. Arthit’s freekick for Lamphun at home to Udon Thani was top quality. In between some nonsense there have been some terrific goals.
But the Mince Pie goes to Valdo. 75 minutes gone and 2-2. Valdo received the ball wide left and simply kept going, cutting into and across the penalty area, leaving defenders fallen like Canadian pines, before picking his spot past the goalkeeper.
The Match of (the first half of) the season award.
Not the 3-9 Customs v Udon Thani farce. The sort of game that risks giving Thai football a bad name.
The mince pie goes to Trat v Sukhothai. In dismal conditions this 4-3 home win for Trat had quality, drama and farce. What more could a supporter ask for.
Lamphun v Udon Thani is in a strong second place with Lamphun winning a game of fine football and fine margins. Lamphun’s second goal from local wonder boy, Anuntachok, made the result far more convincing than the reality.
The soggy mince pie award
Mince pies are best eaten warm with a nice crispy golden pastry crust. So the soggy mince pie award can only go to one team. I have to be careful here but there is simply no way that the Ranong football pitch is either fit or safe for football. Conditions in September and October were appalling. Standing water; heavy mud and near incessant rain. In mid-October two home matches had been moved to away games before the club returned to Ranong on 7 November.
Ranong remain unbeaten at home which comes as no great surprise when other teams simply want to get away as quickly as possible. Dennis Amato, in a now deleted or restricted Facebook post, called it a “mud-wrestling stadium.”
And that is my awards list for the first half of the season. The serious part of the season begins in January.
Until then, from everyone at Thai League Central, enjoy the holiday and have a very happy new year.