Teerasil scores but Muang Thong come up short against Kawasaki
Kawasaki Frontale delivered a killer one-two to leave Muang Thong United on the brink of elimination from the AFC Champions League (ACL) as the J-League side beat the Thai champions 3-1 in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash.
With Muang Thong leading 1-0 through Teerasil Dangda's first-half strike, Frontale scored twice in three second-half minutes to turn the game on its head.
Hiroyuki Abe's goal in the dying moments effectively finished the tie as a contest, with Muang Thong travelling to Japan next week needing a miracle.
Here are three things we saw as Muang Thong's excellent ACL journey all but came to an end:
1. Goals come in pairs again
Muang Thong's defensive vulnerability was on display again as a quickfire double put Frontale in control after the hosts had earned a first-half lead.
Naoaki Aoyama completely missed a header to allow Kengo Nakamura time and space to fire past Kawin Thamsatchanan in the 66th minute. Just three minutes later, Yu Kobayashi's volley from Akihiro Ienaga's cross turned the game on its head.
Muang Thong are making a habit of losing goals in quick succession. On Saturday, they conceded twice in eight minutes to go 3-1 down to Ubon UMT United in the Thai League -- a game they eventually lost 3-2. Last week, they went from 1-0 up to 3-1 down in the space of five minutes at home to Port FC -- another 3-2 loss.
The inevitable fatigue from the team's hectic schedule has no doubt played a part, but this a dangerous pattern that has to be addressed.
The hosts' misery was complete when an unmarked Abe tapped in at the far post to make it 3-1 in the 89th minute.
2. Teerasil rises to the big occasion again
Teerasil Dangda has long since ensured he will have a place in Thai football history with an outstanding scoring record for the national side plus numerous domestic honours.
But doubts have persisted over the striker's true value. At Muang Thong, it wasn't until last year that he finally scored against domestic rivals Buriram United, with some calling him a flat-track bully.
Teerasil's failure to make the most of some big chances in AFC World Cup qualifying was also confirmation for some that he couldn't do it on the biggest stages.
However, Teerasil proved his doubters wrong with the double strike that earned Thailand a draw with Australia in November. And this ACL campaign has reinforced his position as one of the top forwards in the region.
Tuesday's goal was his fourth of the tournament and his second against J-League opposition. Teerasil's class has never been in doubt but his ability to produce it in the big games has sometimes been questioned.
Teerasil's strike against Frontale was not quite as spectacular as the long-range effort against Kashima Antlers three weeks ago, but it was still a special goal.
An excellent solo run almost brought an equaliser with 10 minutes remaining, but Frontale goalkeeper Jung Sungryong saved his shot on the stretch.
Some big performances and big goals in the past six months have certainly proved that Teerasil can rise the occasion when it matters most.
3. Theerathon shows his best side
Muang Thong fans may have been worried about Theerathon Bunmathan's state of mind ahead of this one. In last Saturday's 3-2 defeat at home to Ubon UMT United, we saw the worst of the Thailand skipper.
He was fortunate not to be sent off for throwing an opponent to the ground and, following a performance in which his frustration got the better of him, things boiled over when he had to be restrained as he attempted to confront the Ubon bench.
But we saw Theerathon at his best again on Tuesday, both in a creative and attacking role and in leading by example.
In the 15th minute, Theerathon brilliantly found his way past three players with a combination of strength and skill that had the crowd on its feet.
The hosts came close in the 37th minute when Theerathon found Chanathip Songkrasin in space and "Messi J" turned and struck a powerful shot from 16 yards that Jung tipped over the bar.
Two minutes later, it was Theerathon's defensive skills that came to the fore. Frontale broke forward at pace and Rhayner Santos looked favourite to get the ball before Theerathon. But the Muang Thong man kept his head and forced the Brazilian out wide before pushing him backwards with a tackle.
And when Muang Thong took the lead, Theerathon was at the heart of the move. He played the ball into Chanathip, who dummied brilliantly and Teerasil turned and struck a low shot in the corner from 20 yards.
Theerathon showed his set-piece ability in the 49th minute when he whipped in a cross that Celio Santos should have headed in instead of heading wide.
When his team lost their lead to two quickfire goals in the middle of the second half, Theerathon did not get frustrated but rolled his sleeves up. His two free kicks created panic in the away defence and Celio should again have scored from one of them.
Theerathon is a huge asset to club and country. Despite the result, Tuesday's performance again proved what he can do when his head is in the right place.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK