The joy of six. Just six games have been played in a 34 game season but after two years of footballing misery the crowds are back; there are even a handful at Rajpracha. The drums are back. Cheering is back. Masks are a personal choice. It may not be 100% normal but this season has already felt like a giant leap forward.
With the FIFA international break last weekend now is a good time to take a quick look at the news from our less than predictable league. Indeed the only thing that appears predictable is how quickly a club’s head coach can become unemployed.
Since the season started Chainat Hornbill, Udon Thani FC, Nakhon Si United, Chiang Mai United and most recently Ranong United have all changed their head coach. No doubt more heads will roll over the next six months.
Before going any further it is worth noting that just one win separates 17th place from 7th place. This is a league where quality and consistency can be hard to find but where every match is competitive. There are no outstanding teams; there are a handful of weaker teams. Teams that were looking for a quick return to T1 have started slowly.
Unlikely though it sounds, after finishing 9th and 11th the last two seasons, Ayutthaya United are top of the table and are there in style. Seventeen goals in six games with ten shared by their new Brazilian strikers, Nilson and Gustavinho. Samba football is back in Thailand’s ancient capital and the crowds have returned; there were 1,700 for their last home game; an earlier 4-1 win at Chiang Mai United was very impressive.
It would be unwise, as some have done, to write Ayutthaya off; if they keep their Brazilian strikers well fed and happy then more goals will come.
Of the promoted teams Nakhon Si United have been the stand out. An opening day defeat at Chiang Mai United was a setback; but four wins and a draw (at Trat) see the club in second place. They are a solid blend of experienced players who are now coached by the Brazilian Wanderley Junior. Wanderley led Lamphun Warriors to promotion from this league last season. Excellent home support with crowds in excess of 2,000 in their small stadium have seen them win all three of their home matches.
Customs, after an opening day defeat at Suphanburi, won four in a row before a surprise home defeat to Nakhon Pathom on matchday six. 21 year old Phodchara Chainarong, on loan from Port FC, has six goals to his name including a hat-trick at Chainat.
Arguably Customs have played and beaten weaker opposition and they will have tougher games ahead, with three of their next five games away at Phrae United, Chiang Mai FC and Trat FC.
Also on 12 points, tied in third with Customs, are Rayong FC; quietly and effectively going about their business including winning their only two away games at Udon Thani FC and Chiang Mai FC.
Rayong, Ayutthaya and Nakhon Pathom are the three, as yet, unbeaten sides.
Nakhon Pathom seem to have hit on a novel formula for success – boring the opposition into submission. Six games (four of which were away from home), scored four, conceded two. Their win at Customs came from Athit Berg’s 92nd minute strike.
There are, of course, clubs that are misfiring. Chiang Mai United retained many of last season’s T1 squad. A change of coach saw the arrival of Somchai Chuayboonchum. Yet the last two games have seen away defeats at Rajpracha and Samut Prakan City; who both recorded their only wins so far this season.
Chiang Mai United failed to score in either game and maybe paid the price for leaving Bill on the substitutes’ bench at Samut Prakan.
Udon Thani came into the season with talk of new money and of past problems put behind them. But six successive defeats, seventeen goals conceded, two different coaches, a new team manager and changes in club management have made for a difficult start and falling attendances. It is hard to see how the club is turned around before mid-season.
A few oddities to finish off this review of the opening weeks.
Two bizarre goals have been matchwinners. Ayutthaya goalkeeper, Prin Goonchorn, hoofing a free kick from 75 yards over the head of his opposite number in a 2-0 win at home to Kasetsart; Ranong’s full back, Yusaku Yamadera, scored from a similar distance for an unlikely away win at Phrae. Both will no doubt say their optimistic efforts were intentional.
The weekend of 26-28 August saw six away wins and three draws. How often is there a full weekend of fixtures without even a single home win?
Samut Prakan City have the youngest goalscorer in the League this season with 17 year old Yotsakorn Burapha scoring the second at home (actually at Chonburi) to Chiang Mai United. The club may also have played the oldest player in the League, and almost certainly the oldest to be booked, with the veteran Phichitphong Choeichiu coming on as a late substitute against Customs.
The League restarts on Friday, weather permitting, with a full set of fixtures over the weekend, including a meeting of the two meanest defenses as Nakhon Pathom host Rayong, and a good test for Customs as they visit Trat.
Enjoy the game.