On Saturday, August 31, at Surakul Stadium, The Islanders hosted the “Krungsri Warriors” of Ayutthaya FC. Both teams were coming off a loss in their last game, with Ayutthaya now in the relegation zone and Phuket seeing their dreams of promotion to the Thai Premier League (TPL) disappearing.
Phuket FC’s starting lineup raised a few eyebrows, when Kornprom Jaroonpong and Tossapol Karnpluk, who fans seem to think have played below par for the past year, made the first 11.
Ayutthaya Coach Phil Stubbins sent Ayutthaya’s near-best team onto the pitch, but decided to hold back their star player Rachanon Srinok as a substitute instead.
Before kickoff, there was a minute’s silence at Surakul for Surasak Khruasanit, the Phuket FC fan who was killed in a road accident riding his motorbike home from the Phuket FC home game on August 21.
Hoping to get at least one point from the game, Ayutthaya FC, playing in all-red, opened up with a series of attacks on the home goal. Their first effort was a wild 40-yard free kick.
But Phuket picked up their game after 10 minutes. Eak-artit spearheaded one notable chance, when he dribbled through towards the Ayutthaya goal, but the goalie dove and snatched the ball from his foot.
Dudu was then sandwiched by two Ayutthaya defenders and went down inside the penalty box, but referee Decha Thongyoy didn’t signal anything. The Brazilian brushed himself off and carried on.
Phuket’s first real opportunity was when Brazilian Cristian Alex – surely one of the signings of the season – capitalised on an Ayutthaya error, stole the ball, dribbled past defenders, and went through on goal.
The teenage striker went one-on-one with the goalie and he decided to lift the ball over the sliding keeper with his right foot, but Ayutthaya’s Sirichai Chaiwiset stretched out his left hand and slapped the ball up and back into play. Cristian tried to fire in the rebound, but an Ayutthaya defender managed to clear when the Brazilian slipped close to the goal post.
Reflecting their lowly position in the table, Ayutthaya’s were reluctant to attack, though they did manage to get off a shot right in front of the Phuket goal. Rushed by defenders, the attempt was sent high over the crossbar.
Phuket kept their tempo up, attacking strongly, but Phil Stubbins’ team were set up to defend. At one point, Eak-artit tried to sail past, but was pressured by four defenders, one of them tapping the ball away from his foot.
Despite their attacking options, the home side’s midfield game was less than impressive. Kornprom, who was playing instead of Geoffrey Doumeng, had big shoes to fill, and the Thai footballer didn’t seem to measure up. After initial energy, his game slowed down, allowing Ayutthaya more room to play.
Watchara Kriarum, on the other hand, was chasing Ayutthaya players all over the pitch, sweeping the ball from their feet left and right. The former Buriram midfielder (see interview with former Buriram coach Scott Cooper on page 49) worked very well stopping Ayutthaya attacks down his side of the pitch.
Having pushed forward for nearly 15 minutes, Cristian Alex finally got another shot at a goal from nearly 30 yards out. The Brazilian striker’s shot was strong, but it shanked out past the far post by inches, leaving him and fans alike groaning with disappointment.
Against the run of play, the first goal went to Ayutthaya a few minutes later.
An Ayutthaya free kick from midfield was headed by Cristian Alex, the ball landing in front of the Krungsri Warriors’ Nattapat Somsri who was standing about 20 yards from goal.
He fired, and the ball went low and straight past Adisak’s reach, into the goal. Ayutthaya, a team ranked 16th on the table, and staring relegation in the face, had taken the lead over a top ten side playing at home. It wasn’t what local fans had expected to see.
Now 1-0 down, Phuket tried to equalise but were still hesitant to push forward as they didn’t want to let in another goal in the first half. But then a nasty shock came just a few minutes before half time.
On a swift counterattack, Gafar Durosinmi took the ball from a teammate, sped away from Sakareya who was chasing him, and went straight through on Adisak.
He clipped the ball up over Adisak who was diving for a save. The Phuket goalie managed to get a glove to the ball, but it wasn’t strong enough to stop it. Seeing the danger, Nene Bi rushed to clear it, but he was one step too late.
Nigerian midfielder Durosinmi had scored a second goal for the visitors that stunned all at Surakul stadium. Disappointment was an understatement. The fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Kornprom was substituted for the second half, with Sukree E-tae sent on to sharpen the striking front.
As losing at home – especially to a lower ranked side – would be unacceptable, Phuket continued their attacks. They were awarded free kick after free kick, as Ayutthaya couldn’t find a better way to stop play than by committing fouls. Dudu had a great chance from just five yards out, but he managed to balloon the shot over the crossbar from close range.
Becoming increasingly frustrated, after a short exchange with Cristian, Dudu put himself on free kick duty, and then had three opportunities in less than 10 minutes. However, every time he curled his shots directly into the keeper’s gloves, disappointed himself and teammates, especially Cristian Alex who offered to take a free kick.
In fact it was Cristian Alex’s wonderful shooting skills that revived Phuket’s spirit. He finally took a free kick after having let Dudu try so many times. The short was straight and strong. It went through everyone, and straight at the goalkeeper who tried his best to punch it away, but the shot was too strong and just continued past the keeper into the back of the net.
Sensing the chance for an equaliser, Teco sent on Geoffrey Doumeng for Nene Bi. Doumeng quickly connected play between defense and attack, and created several opportunities for his teammates while helping out in defense too. The Frenchman closed down the free space Ayutthaya had enjoyed.
Despite Cristian Alex’s success from the dead ball, Dudu still wouldn’t relinquish free kick duties, with another of his attempts curled over the crossbar. Watchara then took his turn from 30 yards out, but the shot went past the far post by inches.
Sukree had a partial chance from a pass by Dudu, but the Nara Rocket lost possession of the ball and his opportunity to score.
The equaliser came late. With just 10 minutes left on the clock, Cristian Alex skillfully rolled the ball around, away from pressing Ayutthaya defenders. He sent the ball forward to Eak-artit, who slipped through Ayutthaya’s offside trap and scored inside the near post, making the scores 2-2.
The last 10 minutes of the game saw both teams back at square one. At this late stage, whoever scored would take all three points.
The game became increasingly aggressive and fast-paced. Major threat Cristian Alex was tripped and injured by a rough tackle, with Ludovick Takam sent on to try and break the deadlock. At one point, there was an incident between Sukree E-tae and Ayutthaya defenders. The referee pulled them apart, dragging Sukree away, but let off all involved with just a warning.
Ludovick “The Tank” Takam’s strength proved to be a big help for Phuket, as he bulldozed his way past the Ayutthaya defenders and dropped them like bowling pins before passing the ball to Doumeng, who was in space. The Frenchman took aim and shot, but the ball shanked out past the far post.
The remaining minutes of the game were fierce, with both teams attacking strongly, pressuring hard for a goal. It got so intense the both sides had no choice but to committing foul after foul in midfield. There was so much dirty play that the referee called four minutes of additional time.
Sadly for Phuket, there was no winner before the final whistle, and the match ended 2-2. Phuket FC’s late goal helped them to score one point at home again – though it was also three points dropped.
Phuket FC now travel to two away games on the eastern seaboard. They will play Sri Racha Suzuki FC on Saturday, September 7, and then travel further east to play Rayong FC on September 14. The next home game at Surakul Stadium will be September 21, where they will host "The White Elephants” Trat FC.