SCG Muangthong United begin their journey down the road to FA Cup glory with a win over Nongbua Pitchaya F.C. The visitors, who sit atop the T2 league, proved a stern test for the Kirin.
The importance of a strong FA Cup performance to the Kirin is not to be underestimated, as victory in this competition comes with the added bonus of qualification to the AFC Champions League. As such, coach Radovan Curcic chose to field a largely strong first team lineup, save for youngsters Chenrop Samphaodi, Patcharapol Intanee and ,Suporn Peenagatapho.
Muangthong started brightly, keeping pressure on their opponents and forcing a corner as early as the second minute. The T2 side clearly came with the intention of frustrating the hosts with a low-block defensive structure, closing down spaces and using their pace on the counter-attack to provide a goal threat.
The Kirin’s setup saw full-backs Suporn and Peerapat Notchaiya consistently occupy high positions on the field, giving the side width to counter the deep defensive structure of the opponents. The center-back partnership of 19-year-old Patcharapol and veteran Lee Ho (15), who is 14 years his senior, was especially crucial in defending the opponent’s swift breakaways as the Kirin committed men forward.
A chance presented itself to the hosts in the 19th minute, with the second major free-kick of the game. Despite the distance, Brazilian forward Heberty Fernandes attempted to find the net, but sent the ball flying wide of the target to sum up a 20-minute spell of defensive solidity by both sides.
Frustration began to set in as the half-hour mark approached, as the Kirin were able to muster very little in front of the opponents' goal, with coach Curcic’s increasingly animated gestures telling the story of a team yet to fully kick into gear. Despite being able to cause panic in the visitor’s defense on a couple of occasions, they were yet to truly trouble Nongbua’s Singaporean goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
Despite the possessional dominance, the Kirin found concrete goalscoring opportunities hard to come by. A well-timed pass in the final third found Tristan Do with a bit of space in the 38th minute, but he was unable to capitalize on the opportunity as the Nongbua defense was able to rapidly fall back in position to cover.
However, as has become typical of SCG Muangthong United in recent weeks, a strong start to the second half turned the dynamic of the game entirely on its head. A speculative effort from Heberty finally managed to beat Mahbud in the opponent's goal just two minutes after the break, cannoning off the bar and finding the back of the net to put the nerves to rest and bring out the jubilant voices of the Kirin faithful.
In celebration, Heberty held aloft a shirt with the number 13, a show of hope for the rescue of the 13 boys and their coach in Northern Thailand, who are trapped in a cave complex due to flooding.
The T2 table-toppers looked to hit back, and were denied calls for a penalty by the referee in the 52nd minute in a counterattack that was a rare break in the one-sided flow of Kirin attacks that had taken place since the half-time break. They were able to fashion a chance just a moment later, but again the referee came to the home side’s rescue as the goal was ruled out for offside.
With the visitors in need of a goal, Muangthong were able to find more space in behind to exploit. A swift counter-attack courtesy of Tristan Do presented a golden opportunity to Sarach, who fired a shot
from the edge of the box, but was denied by the goalkeeper.
Having had their confidence rejuvenated, the Kirin went in search of another goal, with a combination play between Heberty and Sarach opening the space for a shot from Suporn which cannoned off the post shortly after the hour mark.
The Kirin began to ring the changes, possibly with one eye on the weekend’s clash with Prachuap, as Sanukran Thinjom was withdrawn for Sorawit Panthong. However, Muangthong were wary of taking their foot off the accelerator just yet, and continued to fashion chances for themselves going into the final 20 minutes of the game, but were unable to double their lead.
However, the visitor’s search for an equalizer also continued in earnest, as they forced a smart save from keeper Prasit Padungchok (28), and won a corner in the 76th minute, which the home side were able to deal with.
The final minutes of the game began to ebb without sustained pressure from either side. The Kirin had their final chance just as the clock struck 90 when Tristan Do was brought down at the edge of the box by Clowuttiwat. Heberty’s resulting free kick cannoned off the wall to bring a corner, which failed to yield anything substantial for the Kirin.
The visitors thought they had forced their way back in to the game at the death with a dangerous cross into the box, but goalkeeper Prasit’s final act was enough to secure the Kirin safe passage into the next round of the FA Cup.
SCG Muangthong United are in action again this Sunday, July 1st, a 7PM home match kickoff against Prachuap F.C. Tickets at https://www.ticketme.co/events