The defeat came just three days after the same teams clashed in a Thai Com FA Cup qualifying match, when a late goal by the Islanders saw them through to the next round.
The significance of Saturday’s game was that neither team had lost any of their seven games this season: Air Force had three wins and four draws going into the match, and Phuket had four wins and three draws.
Both Phuket and Air Force put up their best players for the league game, after resting their stars for the cup tie: Air Force fielded Rungroch Sawangsri and the African trio of Yao Hermann, David Bayiha and Julius Oiboh; while Phuket FC included Nene Bi, Sato, Thongchai and Dudu in their starting line-up.
The home side took the game to the visitors from the kick-off, their African trio wokring as a unit to advance on the Phuket goal, and Hermann testing Phuket’s keeper Kampon less than five minutes into the game.
Oiboh was next with a shot from outside the penalty box, but Kampon had no problem dealing with the weak attempt.
Air Force controlled the pace and possession for most of the first 30 minutes, but weren’t sharp enough to convert opportunities to goals.
Phuket’s defence did well under the pressure, with extra help from Giorgi Tzimakuridze, who pulled in from his winger position to help Assawin in defensive midfield.
After the referee called two minutes of stoppage time, Air Force dropped their defence briefly and Phuket finally came up with a shot on target, but the Air Force cleared the area easily.
Phuket’s Thongchai Kuenkhunthod then broke down the left wing, pulling inside to fire in a goal before the Air Force keeper was able to dive for a save, giving Phuket a 1-0 half-time lead.
Air Force came out in the second half with a stronger pressing game and tough tackles that earned several yellow cards. Determined to equalize, the home side pushed hard and the African trio pushed closer to the Phuket goal.
Hermann then skimmed past the Phuket defence before passing a ball to his teammate Sirodom Singhthippan, who curled a shot past Kampon into the back of the net.
The equaliser lifted the Eagle’s spirits, and Phuket found themselves on the back foot.
Close to the end of the game, a Phuket tackle on an Air Force player earned the home side a free kick just a few yards outside the penalty area.
Oiboh then stepped up to curl the ball past the Phuket wall into the goal, although Kampon managed to get the tip of his glove to the ball, giving Air Force the lead with less than 15 minutes left in the game.
Forced to attack, Phuket tried hard to turn the game around, but to no avail. When Nene Bi injured his right foot and the Coach Tuu was forced to pull him off the pitch, Phuket’s defence was severely weakened.
But Air Force were unable to score another goal despite many close attempts.
After five minutes of extra time, the whistle blew and Phuket had suffered their first loss of the season.
After the latest round of league matches, the Islanders now stand at fifth place on the table with 15 points, trailing PTT Rayong, BBCU, Air Force Avia and Singh Tarua, all on 16 points.
Phuket’s next game will be on Saturday, May 4 at Surakul Stadium, where they will take on 4th-ranked Singh Tarua. The kiick-off is at 6.30 pm.
The Phuket News is the official media partner for Phuket FC.