Florent Sinama Pongolle leads from front as Chainat chase PLT survival
Chainat's former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama Pongolle continues to lead his side's survival battle from the front, and his goal on Saturday sparked a stunning comeback as the Hornbills won 4-2 at Army United in the Premier League of Thailand (PLT).
The hosts had been 2-0 up, and cruising, when Chainat were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time. The former France international kept his cool to net what turned out the be the catalyst for a complete turnaround in the second half.
Bangkok United needed a late goal from Dragan Boskovic to rescue a draw at home to Chonburi, falling off the pace in their battle with Muang Thong United for the 2016 title.
Here are five things we saw on PLT Matchday 30:
1. Florent is spot-on once again
Sinama Pongolle netted an incredible seventh penalty since his arrival in Thailand in July, and this one may turn out to the most important. He calmly slotted home to pull his side back into the game when they were 2-0 down, and Army were threatening to pull six points clear of their relegation rivals.
A spectacular effort from Josimar Rodrigues gave the home side an early lead before Thammarat Wanmanee drilled home the second. The Gentlemen were in cruise control until a crude lunge presented Chainat with a route back into the game, and Sinama Pongolle made no mistake from the spot.
It was a different game in the second half. Sho Shimoji levelled in the first minute of the second half. Sinama Pongolle went off with a thigh strain, but his replacement, Deivdy Reis, proved more than adequate as his impressive double completed the comeback.
Sinama Pongolle admitted that the timing of his goal had been the key to the result. He told ESPN FC, "Getting back to 2-1 just before half-time gave us a real lift. In the first half, we didn't play to our strengths, and I had to drop deep a lot to try and get the ball. When we started to play our passing game, we began to control the match and it paid off."
The Frenchman admitted that he is relishing the responsibility of trying to lead his team to safety. "There is a lot of pressure on me and I know that my team-mates are looking to me to have a positive influence on the field," he said. "When we were given the penalty, I knew it was down to me to get the team back on track. After 15 years in the game, I think I can not only handle the pressure, but I thrive on it."
Japanese striker Shimoji made a big impact after coming on at half-time and he admitted that the game had not gone according to plan. He said, "In the first-half, we tried to keep it tight and hit on the counter attack but we lost two goals and Army were in control. It was a difficult game but we never gave up and got our reward, though we still have to win another four games."
2. Jaycee blow hits Bangkok Angels
Jaycee John's goals have been key to Bangkok United's title challenge, particularly in the second-half of the season. Before the weekend's matches, he had scored 12 in the last nine games, as Mano Polking's side kept pace with league leaders Muang Thong.
But the Nigerian-born Bahrain international striker suffered a first-half injury in the home game against Chonburi. Prince Amponsah put the visitors in front in the 62nd minute to leave Bangkok United's title hopes hanging by a thread, but Boskovic's late strike ensured that the hosts earned what could yet be a vital point.
Polking is unsure if Jaycee will be fit for next week's clash at Chiang Rai United, but believes he will be fine for the final three PLT games in October.
3. Pain and gain for Marco
Nakhon Ratchasima claimed a vital three points with a 2-0 home victory over Buriram United in the Isan (northeastern) derby. And Marco Tagbajumi took one for the team as he netted a first-half goal for the Swatcats.
Tagbajumi headed home on the half-hour mark, but took a nasty blow to his face in the process as Siwarak Tedsungnoen's attempted punch clear caught the striker. But the Nigerian recovered to play on after treatment.
The visitors had the perfect chance to level in added time in the first half, but Bruno Moreira missed from the penalty spot, his shot going wide. German midfielder Bjorn Lindemann ran clear, and slotted home the clinching second in the 93rd minute, edging the Swatcats up to 11th spot and closer to PLT safety.
Tagbajumi was delighted with his side's performance and insisted a sore face had been a price worth paying for a crucial goal.
"I think the key was that we defended well," he told ESPN FC. "We kept it compact and tight at the back and tried to break on the counter. My head is okay. I thought he had knocked my teeth out but I'm fine -- just a couple of cuts and bruises. It was worth it because I scored."
Buriram's defeat was good news for Bangkok Glass, whose 3-1 victory over Suphanburi puts them just a point behind the Thunder Castle in the battle for third.
4. No fans, no problems for Muang Thong
Midweek crowd trouble in their League Cup match with Port FC saw Muang Thong United's game with BBCU FC moved to neutral territory. Kirins' fans were banned from the fixture, giving the league leaders a second disadvantage.
But the lack of support proved no problem for Muang Thong as they thumped the relegated side 5-1. Former Newcastle United striker Xisco gave them an early lead with a smart header, and the floodgates opened in the second half as a Teerasil Dangda strike, a Cleiton Silva double and a second from Xisco saw off the bottom club, who replied through Woo Geun-Jeong.
At five points ahead with four games left, it looks like the title is heading back to the SCG Stadium after a four-year absence.
5. Wada hopes to take his second chance
Sisaket head coach Masahiro Wada took a huge step towards succeeding where he failed last year as his side crushed Pattaya United 4-0. In 2015, Wada was tasked with keeping a struggling Port FC in the PLT -- a mission that proved beyond him.
Wada stayed at Port until a run of poor form in Division One cost him his job. But his appointment at Sisaket has given him a shot at redemption. Sunday's victory put his side three points clear of the relegation zone, while putting Pattaya in real trouble -- just a point above it.
Five points separate six sides between 17th and 12th spot. But it is Sisaket in 12th, giving Wada the best chance of survival.
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