After the Kirin failed to register a win in their last three games, something of a tense atmosphere descended upon the SCG Stadium. As the drizzle began to fall and the skies began to grey, Muangthong knew the importance of ending their barren run with a win against Nakhon Ratchasima.
Nerves were settled early on when a lung-busting run by Tristan Do (19) won the Kirin a corner with just three minutes on the clock. Despite the well-swung cross, Jaja Coelho (50) was unable to convert the header just a few yards out.
With that early encouragement, the Kirin began to press forward, spraying sideways and progressively pushing the visitors defense deeper and deeper into their own half. With Tristan and Peerapat Notechaiya (2) galloping down either wing, Muangthong were able to fashion many chances from crosses early in the game, with goalkeeper Samuel Cunningham having to work exceptionally well to deny the Kirin’s surging attack around the tenth minute of the game.
Attacking focal point Jaja found it difficult, however, to find space in the box, being consistently double-marked by Korat center-backs Lee Won-Jae and Thai international Chalermpong Kerdkaew. The best he could muster was an acrobatic effort that sailed over the bar in the 14th minute. Sanukran Thinjom (16), who looked fully acclimatized to his role on the left of midfield, also tested the goalkeeper in the opening stages, but was unable to break the deadlock.
Charyl Chappuis (23), who had one of his most stellar performances of the campaign in this match, continued to pick out excellent passes to the surging wide players. A well-worked move found Peerapat in miles of space down the left wing, but his cross to Jaja was once again unable to convert with 20 minutes gone. He was given a second chance just moments later with from a Heberty (7) free kick, but his glancing header went just wide of the far post.
In a rare moment of defensive frailty from the visitors, Sanukran Thinjom found himself entirely in the clear at the edge of the 18-yard box, but his ferocious shot was only able to find the post, adding to the growing sense of frustration at the SCG Stadium.
Nakhon Ratchasima created their first meaningful chance of the game when Yayar Kunath managed to break past the Kirin defense, setting himself one-on-one with the onrushing Prasit Padungchok (28). The Korat attacker was able to take the sidestep the Kirin’s veteran shot-stopper, but lost control of the ball in the vital moments and squandered his side’s best chance of the game. Prasit was in action again minutes later to tip a shot from range over the bar with the Kirin surviving a strong spell from the visitors.
However, the tide of the game once again shifted, as Korat midfielder Ekkachai Rittiphan received his marching orders after a reckless tackle on Jaja, reducing the visitors to ten men. This turn of fortune offered the Kirin an opportunity to go on the offensive, committing even more men forward in an effort to break the deadlock.
A well-positioned cross from Sanukran looked to have finally found Jaja in the clear, but a timely defensive intervention from Chalermpong denied the burly Brazilian of the opener as half-time rapidly approached, and the sides went in level.
The second half seemed to slightly break the Kirin momentum, and the second half began at a slightly slower pace. The Kirin’s high defensive line offered the visitors more chances than they had in the first period, who came out of the break looking stronger despite their reduced numbers. Their attacking intent manifested in a free-kick at the edge of the box, which narrowly clipped the bar on it’s way over.
Coach Radovan Curcic looked to his bench in order to change the flow of the game, with Sanukran being withdrawn for Thai youth international Poramet Arjvirai (20) in what appeared to be an attacking change.
Normal service seemed to be resumed by the hour mark, however, as the Korat defense receded further and further into a deep block in the face of overwhelming Kirin possession. Poramet had his first major involvement in the game when he was set running at the opposition defenders, but his hopeful effort went well over the crossbar.
Frustration began to grow as the Kirin were once again denied by the astute Cunningham in the Nakhon Ratchasima goal, who completed a string of inspired saves, much to the visual frustration of the Muangthong bench.
Chenrop Samphaodi (22) came on for Tristan as fatigue began to weigh the home side down, and they were yet to break down their opponents’ resolute defense with only ten minutes remaining on the clock.
The visitors looked to spring a surprise of their own with five minutes of normal time remaining, as a rare breakaway opportunity for the visitors had to be dealt with by Naoaki Aoyama (5) in the Kirin defense, but yielded a free-kick to the visitors, which once again went narrowly over the bar.
Desperation began to set in as stoppage time approached, but once again the Kirin’s best efforts were repelled by an incredible defensive display. A hopeful ball was lobbed from the halfway line by Wattana Playnum, and even though the ball dropped to Heberty, he was unable to provide the flair and spark needed to give his side the all-important goal.
The hosts were handed a lifeline in the dying embers of stoppage time when the referee awarded them a free-kick at the edge of the box, placing the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Heberty as he looked to give Muangthong the points their performance warranted. The palpable sense of expectation began to rise, but yet another strong defensive display denied the Kirin.
At the end of stoppage time, the game remained goalless and the Kirin were once again denied of valuable points in the race to revive their season. Nakhon Ratchasima’s plan to shut down and stifle the attacking talents of the home side was ultimately successful, leaving the Kirin with yet another disappointing result to swallow.
"We are not satisfied with the result, but other aspects of the game were good," admits coach Curcic. "Our players were not ready for this schedule of playing every Wednesday and Saturday, so we have to work to improve for the upcoming matches."
While the scoreline may not have gone their way, the Kirin can take many positives from their strong performance in this match, as they prepare for the next round of Thai League fixtures.