Kiatisuk Senamuang grabs first win at Port FC, promises attractive football
It was third time lucky as Port FC new head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang earned his first Thai League (T1) victory with a 3-1 win at home to Thai Honda.
The former Thailand boss had lost to Bangkok United, and drawn with Navy FC, before finally earning three points on Sunday evening.
Buriram United pulled four points clear of Muang Thong United at the top, while Bangkok United edged towards third spot with a win over Chiang Rai United.
Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 21.
1. Relieved Zico claims first win for Port FC
Kitaisuk's arrival at Port FC 10 days ago created a huge buzz, but a 3-0 home defeat to Bangkok United and a 2-2 draw at Navy FC -- where the team blew a two-goal lead -- punctured the enthusiasm.
"Zico" finally led his new team to victory against relegation favourites Thai Honda in Bangkok. After an uneventful opening 40 minutes, Panphanpong Pinkong's powerful long-range effort put the hosts ahead.
Sergio Suarez added a second midway through the second half. But when Rafael Lima pulled one back, nerves started jangling, with memories of last Wednesday's game at Navy FC still fresh in the mind.
Andrija Kaluderovic's header then gave Port breathing space and they held on comfortably.
"It wasn't an easy game because both teams needed the win," said Kiatisuk. "We're in mid-table and want to move up and Thai Honda are struggling at the bottom. I'm happy with the players because we've had limited time to work on our tactics and the team is still taking time to gel.
"I've tried to rotate the players to find the best combination. We made some changes to the team and I was happy that we managed to score three times.
"We have Buriram on Wednesday, which is going to be tough, but I am trying to build a team that plays attractive football, and we'll do what we can to get a positive result."
2. Mano targets top three
Last year's runners-up Bangkok United had a difficult start to the year, with the low point being a 3-0 defeat at home to Chiang Rai United in March. At the time, there was a sense that Chiang Rai were a club on the rise, while the Bangkok Angels were on the slide.
However, Mano Polking's side have regrouped and had won seven of the last eight to take them into fourth spot ahead of Saturday's clash at Chiang Rai. Bangkok United goalkeeper Warut Mekmusik saved Tanaboon Kesarat's first-half penalty before late goals from Pokklaw Anan and Sanrawat Dechmitr gave the visitors a 2-0 win and moved them just a point behind the Beetles.
Polking admitted that the AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifying defeat to Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) had affected his players ahead of the start of the domestic season.
"After the Champions League qualifier, and the first five T1 games, we started to play better football," Polking told ESPN FC. "Now, the results are coming. It has not been an easy year for us and the ACL disappointment was huge -- we needed time to recover."
Despite an excellent run of form, Polking thinks it's too late to consider a late surge for the title as a realistic possibility.
"After dropping so many points at the beginning and being eight and four points behind the big two teams, it's a very difficult mission," said Polking. "But we want to go on like this until the end. The clear target should now be the top three.
"I have very good players. I knew they could come back at any time. The support of the club was again important. They just kept cool and kept saying we will turn thing around together."
3. Bastos thunderbolt keeps Buriram in clear
A few eyebrows were raised when Buriram United's lineup at Nakhon Ratchasima saw new signing Rafael Bastos replacing talisman Diogo Luis Santo. At such a crucial stage of the season, this did not seem the time to be resting a key player.
It took just seven minutes for the change to be justified as Bastos hit a thunderous 30-yard drive into the roof of the net to put the league leaders in front.
A storm then hit the northeast derby causing a delay, before play resumed, and a second-half strike from Jakkaphan Kaewprom wrapped things up for Buriram as they pulled four points clear at the top.
4. Misfiring Muang Thong lose ground
Muang Thong United fans would have been hoping that last Wednesday's 3-1 comeback win at home to Chonburi was the trigger for an extended recovery, following a difficult spell.
Unfortunately, the Kirins showed that their struggle for form is far from over as they failed to find a way past Pattaya United, and had to settle for a point in a 0-0 draw at home. Even the return from injury of Teerasil Dangda as a second-half substitute could not inspire the team that led T1 by seven points in April.
Muang Thong are now four points behind Buriram. They face a testing trip to Nakhon Ratchasima on Wednesday before hosting the league leaders in a pivotal clash next Sunday.
5. Sukhothai stay on course for survival
Sukhothai spent most of the first half of the season languishing in the relegation zone as they struggled with second-season syndrome, having finished an impressive seventh in their first T1 campaign.
But the Fire Bats have finally found the spirit that took them so far last year. Kongnateechai Boonma's late leveller to claim a point at Ratchaburi made it six games unbeaten, putting them in the top thee of the form table.
It remains unlikely that Sukhothai will repeat last year's seventh-place finish, but they certainly look good to beat the drop.
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