As the temperatures soar across Thailand, the heat has also been turned up in Thai League 2.
There is just one certainty; Navy FC will be relegated. Through various name changes and ownership disputes, this is one of the oldest professional clubs in Thailand, formed in January 1956. There is speculation that the club may not continue. That would be a shame.
At the top of the table, and with just five games left to play, Lamphun lead by a single point from Sukhothai and Trat. Two of the top three will gain automatic promotion on 30 April. But which of them will have to face the play-off lottery?
Trat are no longer leading. How did that happen? How did a team that was unbeaten in the first half of the season run up three successive defeats in March; including a 2-3 loss at home to 17th place Khon Kaen FC?
Trat’s foreign front three of Conrado, Babo and Valdo netted 23 goals between them in the first half of the season, but have just 7 from the last 12 games. Seven points from their last eight games is not promotion form, but for now the club has stood by coach Somchai Chayboonchum. Trat’s pace and energy appear drained; chances are still created but not taken with the confidence of earlier in the season.
Trat should return to winning ways at the start of April with an away trip to struggling Chiang Mai FC. But that match is followed by three competitive games against teams pushing for a spot in the play-offs.
Three wins in March revived Sukhothai’s challenge for the title. Their 2-1 win at Navy needed a 90th minute winner, but they ended the month with a 5-0 drubbing of Udon Thani which all but ended the Orange Giants’ play-off hopes. Currently level with Trat on 58 points, the Fire Bats have the experience within both their squad and management to successfully navigate the final month of the season. Coach Dennis Amato led Chiang Mai United to second place and promotion from T2 last season and could well repeat the same feat.
New leaders Lamphun did lose a thriller at Phrae by the odd goal in five; their first defeat since the 2nd of October last year. Two weeks later they went to Lampang and won 1-0 in a controversial finish. Some fine saves from SP Cunningham kept Lampang goalless in the first half, before Jeffren’s 89th minute left foot strike looked to have won the game for the visitors. There was still drama to come as a combination of non-stick gloves and Weerayut’s challenge saw both Cunningham and the ball bundled into the Lamphun goal. However, the referee’s decision to call a foul left the home fans enraged – a frustrating end to an enthralling game of T2 football.
Lamphun look united, committed and really only know one way to play – they keep moving the ball forward at pace. But their high tempo football may be better suited to the cool of winter than in the hottest days of the year. Myanmar star Maung Maung Lwin increasingly looks like the find of the season. The club’s owner, Pongsiri Tarachawongsuk, has commented that his older squad means an experienced squad. In the energy-draining April weather, will Lamphun wilt or flourish?
Oddly both Sukhothai and Lamphun play four of the same teams in their last five games, and both have an easier final stretch than Trat.
Lampang, currently 5th, started the month with a 7-1 home win against Khon Kaen and ended it by scoring six without reply at Chiang Mai FC. These two wins book-ended narrow defeats against Sukhothai and Lamphun. With a 7 point gap to seventh place, the club looks set for the play-offs. The combination of Deyvison, Coutinho and Weerayut will make Lampang a strong contender for the final promotion spot.
The form team in March was Chainat Hornbill in 4th place, seven points behind Trat and Sukhothai, and just one point ahead of Lampang. Their young squad took ten points from their four March games, only dropping points in a home draw with Chiang Mai after the visitors had taken an unexpected two goal lead.
A week later Chainat eased past Trat before winning at Muangkan thanks to an 84th minute own goal and a second half red card for Muangkan’s Jonatan Reis; making them the only team to have taken points home from Kanchanaburi in 2022. Chainat have momentum, a match-winner in Wellington, and the coolest team bus in the Thai League. This weekend Chainat travel to Phrae before hosting Lampang a week later. Both games should be good contests.
The final play-off spot looks like a contest between Muangkan and Phrae. Leandro Assumpcao left Muangkan at the end of February over a pay dispute; not a good sign for a club who are already under FIFA scrutiny.
Yet Muangkan march boldly on despite their depleted squad. The second half of their season has already produced 26 points from 12 games, second only to Lamphun’s return. Pongpat’s two goals at Chiang Mai were outstanding; the first was a fine solo strike, while the second was a tap-in after a flowing move that left the opposing defence in tatters. Muangkan have home advantage in three of their last five games, which may prove significant.
Phrae faltered a little in March with two away defeats and are four points behind Muangkan. They now have three difficult games at home to Chainat and Trat before going to Lampang on 17 April for the Northern Thailand version of a local derby.
With Navy relegated, the question is really about who goes with them.
Chiang Mai FC have imploded, picking up just three points from their last nine games. They have also shipped 17 goals in their last 5, including a humiliating 6-0 Lanna derby loss to Lampang. Even one more win might not be enough to see Chiang Mai to safety; Navy’s visit on the 9th of April feels like a must win for the northern side.
After a 1-7 thumping at Lampang, Khon Kaen FC replaced Argentinian coach Daniel Blanco with long-serving assistant manager Pichet Suphomuang. His first three games have brought seven points including a win at Trat, which was a triumph of brave and desperate defending.
It may be too little too late, but really all Khon Kaen needed was a little self-belief. They have not been a poor team, but had a bad habit of losing games by a single goal (other than the Lampang debacle). Wins in their next two matches against Navy (A) and Udon Thani (H) could be big steps on a most unlikely rescue act.
Customs and Rajpracha both won twice in March. Rajpracha still have to play Sukhothai, Muangkan, Lamphun and Chainat – it’s hard to see them as anything other than doomed. To be honest, given that they have not allowed fans into any of their home games, it is doubtful that anyone other than players’ friends and family will care.
Imagine a scenario where both BG-backed sides (Chiang Mai FC and Rajpracha) are relegated to T3. It is not impossible.
There are just five games to go until the league season is over. At both ends of the table the heat is on. Eleven out of the league’s eighteen teams are still in the frame for promotion, play-offs or relegation. So much still to play for and a season end that should have both plenty of drama and a few tears.
Get out and cheer your team. They may need all the help they can get!