Thai Premier League title race stays alive after six-goal thriller

Hours before the world watched wearily as France fired blanks at Portugal in a dreadfully dull Euro 2016 final, the top two teams played out a six-goal thriller in the Premier League of Thailand.

League leaders Muangthong United – more or less made up of the Thai national team – started the game three points ahead of their rivals and a victory would have put them in very firm control of the championship, just beyond the halfway point.

Bangkok United coach, Mano Pölking
Bangkok United coach, Mano Pölking

Bangkok United, however, have come a very long way in just two years. Back then, they were in a relegation battle before the arrival of Brazilian Mano Pölking as head coach.

Pölking is a former assistant to Winfried Schafer for the Thai national team and was once a player at SV Darmstadt 98 in Germany and Apoel Nicosia in Cyprus.

At the Bangkok Angels, he has turned his side from relegation strugglers to title challengers.

With three-time champions Buriram United out of the picture after a dreadful start to the year, the door is open for a sensational victory for Pölking’s side or for Muangthong to claim their first title since 2012.

Sunday night’s game took place at Thammasat Stadium, the home of Bangkok United, on the outskirts of Bangkok.

The venue is in the middle of a university campus and the hosts had to move here from central Bangkok this year to improve their prospects of meeting the required standards for entry to the AFC Champions League, not to mention to have a decent playing surface.

But the stadium is much too vast for the home side’s core support of roughly 1,500, making it s struggle to generate atmosphere.

On Sunday, however, there was no such problem as 11,600 made it through the gates, with Muang Thong’s travelling support forcing the stadium staff to open an extra section of the ground to cope with the overspill.

Unlike the borefest in Paris, the Thammasat stadium witnessed an entertaining spectacle from start to finish.

The hosts started on the front foot, taking the lead after just five minutes. Macedonian playmaker Mario Gjurovski crossed from the left and his Montegrin team-mate Dragan Boskovic’s strike appeared to cross the line before Kawin Thamsatchanan clawed the ball out.

The referee didn’t react and Boskovic picked up the loose ball and cut it back for Jaycee John to strike high into the net.

The challengers looked comfortable until a loose ball fell to Thailand’s darling, Chanathip Songkrasin. The creative fulcrum of the national team dashed forward but was denied by Kittipong Phutawchueak in goal, before the keeper saved again from Adisak Kraisorn’s follow-up.

Pölking’s side had been warned but Chanathip made another intervention in the 21st minute and this time it was decisive.

He picked up the ball from just inside his own half and the backtracking home defence gave him all the space he needed to run 50 yards, jink inside one challenge and fire home from 16 yards.

Muangthong United's Chanathip Songkrasin
Muangthong United’s Chanathip Songkrasin

End-to-end action continued as the visitors began to take a grip and they went ahead in the 41st minute.

Former UD Algeria man Teerasil Dangda released Adisak in the inside-right channel and the striker calmly chipped the ball over Kittipong.

The home side’s high line was creating space for the league leaders to exploit and this was a key area for the team to address in the second half.

It didn’t take them long to hit back. Welsh-Thai defender Mika Chunuonsee – once a team-mate of Gareth Bale at youth level – hit the bar with a header and Jacyee came close when he hit the side netting from an angle.

Boskovic then casually curled a superb right-foot shot past Kawin from the 18-yard line.

But the title favourites showed their desire to move six points clear when Chanathip broke through on the left and cut back for Adisak to grab his second of the evening from close range.

Some sides would have been discouraged at this point but Polking’s side always fight to the end and, 12 minutes from time, Ekkachai Samre side-footed home from 14 yards out to make it 3-3.

There was still time for more drama as Adisak missed an excellent chance to win the game in injury time but most agreed that a draw had been a fair result.

It had been a game of defensive flaws but no shortage of skill and some excellent goals. In terms of entertainment, it was everything that the France-Portugal game was not.

Here were two well-matched rivals going all out for victory and throwing caution to the wind.

We saw some wonderful flair from Chanathip – dubbed rather flatteringly as ‘the Thai Messi’ due to his dribbling skills and eye for a pass.

We also saw some excellent finishing from Adisak and Boskovic, who arguably should have had two goals on the night.

It has not been the best year for Thai club football on the international stage, with Muangthong and Chonburi failing to make it into the group stage of the ACL and Buriram United humiliated when they participated in it.

But games like Sunday night’s clash of the top two will ensure that fans keep coming to games in the strongest league in Southeast Asia.

Many in football-loving Thailand will have got up to watch the Euro final at 2am local time.

Those who did may have wished that they hadn’t and those who missed the PLT classic earlier that evening will have realised that they chose the wrong game to watch.

Author Details

Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy is an independent football writer based in Bangkok. He was formerly a freelance sports sub-editor with UK newspapers, including the Sunday Express and Metro. He now writes regularly for ESPN's South East Asia blog about Thai football and writes a monthly column for Hat-Trick magazine in Thailand.

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