Underwhelming – again

CMFC pre match at Uttaradit – picture @simes.salmon

Chiang Mai FC

2022-2023 Review of the season (early apologies – this is quite long!)

It says much about this season when my favorite moments were the 8-7 penalty shoot-out win at home to Sukhothai in the Revo League Cup and watching Veljko Filipovic barnstorming 80 yards down the right wing while defenders waved white flags as he passed.

Our League season simply failed to deliver; a good win was usually followed by limp defeats; in particular in the second half of the season when we failed to score in over half of our matches.

Six of our first eight goals of the season were scored by Stenio Jnr; injured in our seventh game at home to Krabi we never saw him again as, after recovering, he was taken away to our BGPU masters.

This neatly led us back to the pre-season question of where would our goals come from?

The opening games of the season saw three road trips in the first four games; a fine, fluent win at Uthai Thani was followed by a scrappy single goal defeat at NakhonSi United. We came back to Chiang Mai for a waterlogged home defeat to Rayong before three successive wins raised confidence around the club; including away wins at Phrae and Kasetsart.

The 2-1 win at Phrae was our best away performance of the season; well supported by traveling fans. Two goals from Stenio; two assists from Kim BoYong.

Stenio again excelled with both goals (before he was injured) in a come from behind home win against Krabi.

The away win at Kasetsart was inspired by Im ChangKyoon coming on as substitute with 15 minutes to play and having a foot in two of our three goals.

So what happened? How was it that the momentum of three successive wins could be followed by a turgid goal-less draw at home to Customs and then three successive defeats; including a 1-2 loss to the other Chiang Mai club at the 700th anniversary stadium – in front of 2,916 fans, some 2,000 of which were penned noisily into the away fans corner.

A 2-1 home win against Trat was memorable for an 89th minute winner from Filipovic who powered in a header from seven yards. No one could have stopped him, or the header. But it was a rare outing into the opponents’ penalty area for the towering Serbian reflected by only scoring twice this season.

Yet six days later we contrived to lose away at Rajpracha. Best not to dwell on that stinker.

Seven points came from the last three games before the mid-season break included a solid home win over Chainat and a comfortable 3-0 win at bottom-of-the-league Udon Thani.

At mid-season we were 9th; just two points from a play off spot. Reinforcements would have made us strong contenders for at least a top six place. Instead BGPU came, raided and left little in return other than the sour taste of betrayal.

Yuta Hirayama was the most promising of our replacements but he was injured in his debut at Nakhon Pathom.

Louis Panmanee May arrived from the UK – and did not get a minute of playing time.

Chitchanok arrived but with a long term injury that restricted him to just 73 minutes of football.

No one at the club will ever officially say this; there was always talk about the process and preparing for the next game. But at mid-season we gave up on ambition. While other teams were strengthening their squads for the second half of the season we gave up key players and settled for at best a mid-table finish.

We deserved nothing more.

Onto January 2023 and after losing 0-1 at Nakhon Pathom and a home draw with Uthai Thani we then beat NakhonSi United 3-2 at home. It was arguably the best performance of the league season. NakhonSi arrived in first place; it was 2-2 entering injury time when Suchanon headed home the winner. The NakhonSi bubble was burst. Coach Wanderley was fired and the club would only collect four points from their remaining seven away fixtures and slid from 1st to 8th.

So how, after that exuberant win, did we then roll over 1-4 at Rayong and fail to score at home to Phrae and away at Krabi? Part of the answer is the nagging doubt that Coach Fukuda never really knew his preferred team; at no time in the season was the starting line-up the same for successive games.

There is an argument that says this is making the best use of a squad of players; the counter is that players build confidence from being picked for a run of matches. Footballers want to play rather than sit on a bench; be sent to warm up, and then return to the same bench.

It also reflected an excess of caution in too many of our matches especially away from home.

The official club facebook page is happily telling us that CMFC is in the top 5 goal-scoring teams in T2 this season with a total of 49 goals.

And that in home games Chiang Mai FC’s tally of 31 goals was equal to Nakhon Si United with only Uthai Thani FC scoring more.

But you can make statistics tell any story. We scored just nine goals at home in the first half of the season and of the 22 in the second half 13 were scored in the last three home games against the three relegated teams.

On the road we failed to score in six of our eight away games in 2023.

Away games had become an ordeal.

So back to mid-February and the rest of the season; goals came at last against Kasetsart – but the 4-2 home win was followed by five successive defeats where we scored just once; against Chiang Mai United. That was our season over. We mastered the art of falling a goal behind and apparently then doing our best to protect a 0-1 defeat.

A little sanity was restored at the end of the season with four wins in the last five games; but all against teams below us in the League. Im ChangKyoon started scoring goals; and they were glorious goals.

Im would finish the season as our leading goalscorer with nine; but seven of those came in our last five games and only one on the first half of the season.

With so much talent why did he miss so many games early in the season? He made just four starts in the first 17 league games before becoming a regular starter in the second half of the season.

Was it by accident that a player described as the best number 10 in the league was suddenly allowed to play as a number ten? He had been largely wasted playing wide right.

We salvaged a mid-table finish when we won four of our last five games; we scored 16 goals in those games; Thammayut’s free kick against Rajpracha was one of the goals of the season.

But we also lost 0-1 at Chainat where our caution was again our undoing.

In the FA Cup we won at Sisaket City, after navigating through the floods to get to the stadium, before losing to a strong Bangkok United side.

The REVO League Cup saw us progress to the quarter finals after beating Uttaradit, Sukhothai (famously on penalties) and Khon Kaen United before our parent club came to town to put us in our place and we lost 0-3 to BGPU (in front of another big crowd.)

For that REVO quarter final Chiang Mai made nine changes to the side that beat Kasetsart 4-2 in the League the previous weekend. The argument was to protect players for the League game at Customs. But that Customs match was to be the first of five successive defeats. So we were out of the cup and out of the League. In hindsight that cup game was the beginning of the end of our season.

The last three games of each half of the season were played against some of the league’s weaker teams; those six games generated 16 points; the other 28 games generated 30 points in total.

My simplistic view of the season is that the CMFC whole ended up as less than the sum of the parts. We had a good goalkeeper behind a strong defense; a midfield that was strong defensively albeit a little short on creativity. We were fit. When we wanted to we moved the ball forward quickly. But goals were like London buses; if we scored one we scored a few. We beat poor teams while struggling to break down the better teams in the League.

Four teams did the double over us – including the other Chiang Mai team – with a tip of the hat to Melvin de Leeuw for a fabulous match winning free kick at the Municipal Stadium.

Coach Fukuda is (I think) one of just five T2 coaches who was retained for a full season by his club. I think he was overly cautious. Goal difference is not an issue in this league. There were games when we would fall behind and look bereft of ideas….moving the ball in any direction except forward; making substitutions and changes too late to impact the match.

We did not have a powerful centre forward – a Ricado Santos or Nilsson or Rodrigo. It is no surprise that the leading thirteen goalscorers in the League are foreign players with 12 goals for more – and none are Asian.

Stenio Junior could have been that player; how different could the season have been without his late injury and move to BGPU?

Kim BoYong came to us from Korea as a winger. He made 32 league appearances and never stopped trying but he is neither a natural goalscorer or a big target man who can hold the ball for those around him.

Meanwhile Patrick Gustavsson is also now scoring goals for BGPU.

We were also a nice team to play against; no one would have feared playing against us – unless Filipovic was allowed to join the attack; then we were a threat.

There are clearly players that have improved under Fukuda’s coaching – Ronnayod, Stewart, Sarawin to name three.

There is also something decent about this squad – and that has to come from the coach. We never saw players turn on eachother – compare and contrast to NakhonSi United; we never saw players rolling around with time-delaying injuries. The whole squad and staff would, win lose or draw, thank the home crowd.

There was much to like about this squad and the club’s management; less to like about some of the results.

Looking forward it is also not just the end of the season but the end of six seasons of being hostage to the needs of a parent club – whether that was Chiang Rai United or Bangkok Glass.

The sale of the club by Boon Rawd brings with it lots of potential changes and a whole list of tasks that must be quickly achieved. The strings have been cut. We will need our own bus, social media team, new kits, branding and sponsors; our own backroom staff; and ideally a plan that capitalizes on the potential of, by some distance, the best supported football club in Chiang Mai.

I miss it already!