Mario Gjurovski hat trick while Ratchaburi roar in Thailand
Bangkok United playmaker Mario Gjurovski made a spectacular return to the starting lineup as he hit a first-half hat trick in a 5-2 romp at Super Power Samut Prakan in the Thai League (T1).
The Macedonian has often found himself on the bench this season, with the limit on foreign players working against him. But the 31-year-old sent out a clear reminder of his abilities with three goals in a 20-minute spell, as the Bangkok Angels surged to a 5-0 lead just after the half-hour mark.
Leaders Muang Thong United kept up their good form with a straightforward win at home to Navy FC and extended their lead at the top to seven points as Buriram United lost and Chiang Rai United drew.
Here are five things we saw on T1 Matchday 13:
1. Mario leads Bangkok blitz
Bangkok United's topsy-turvy season hit its biggest low last week when a defensive collapse saw them go from 1-0 up to 4-1 down against Muang Thong. The eventual 4-2 defeat was a cruel indication of the gap that has grown between last year's runners up and the champions.
But the Bangkok Angels seemed to take out their frustration on hapless Super Power in a first-half blitz that saw Gjurovski help himself to three goals, while Dragan Boskovic reached 14 for the season with a brace.
Gjurovski was delighted to be back in the starting eleven, and felt that his team gave the perfect reaction after the disappointment against the Kirins.
"I was happy to be in the starting line up after a long time," Gjurovski told ESPN FC. "I'm always ready to help and today was a good response after the defeat to Muang Thong United.
"I can still play at a high level and my job is to prove that every time I'm on the field. It has been a difficult period but I never give up."
It wasn't all good news for Bangkok United, however, as striker Gilberto Macena suffered a knee ligament injury that sees him join fellow striker Jayce "Jojo" John on the sidelines. Gjurovski hopes that this will not affect the team's attempts to get a consistent run of form going.
"It has not been a good start but we can still fix that," said Gjurovski. "I hope Macena and Jojo will come back soon and we can be the same team as last year. There is a long way to go, but I'm positive. Today's game was just the first step."
2. Essombe settles seven-goal thriller
Ratchaburi stunned Buriram United by taking a three-goal lead in the first 20 minutes at the Thunder Castle, with strikes from Sompong Soleb, Takafumi Akahoshi and Marcel Essombe.
But the hosts pulled one back through Jaja Coelho in the 25th minute, and only heroics from Ukrit Wongmeema in the Dragons' goal kept Buriram at bay until Jaja's second in the 63rd minute. Just six minutes later, Diogo Luis Santo's penalty levelled the score and, at that moment, it looked like Buriram would go on and win.
But instead of being demoralised by the turnaround, the visitors were energised and went for the winning goal. They got their reward in added time when Essombe got on the end of Yai Nilwong's low cross to seal an incredible 4-3 victory.
3. Another stroll for ruthless Muang Thong
The league leaders were again untroubled as Muang Thong United eased past Navy FC ahead of their trip to Japan for the AFC Champions League clash with Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.
Teerasil Dangda opened the scoring with a fine first-half header, and Celio Santos smashed home the second just after the hour mark -- his first goal for the club. Mongkol Tossakrai added a third before Teerasil rounded off the scoring with the pick of the bunch.
Thailand's new head coach Milovan Rajevac was watching from the stands. He will have been pleased to see many of the national team players contribute to another dominant performance.
4. Picha puts Port FC in their place
What a difference a week has made for Port FC and Pattaya United. Last weekend's late collapse against Navy FC saw Pattaya lose their fourth consecutive match, while Port's victory at home to BEC Tero Sasana was their fourth in five games.
Last Wednesday, Pattaya stopped the rot as they edged to a 1-0 win over Thai Honda, as Port lost losing 2-1 at Chonburi. On Saturday, the Blue Dolphins continued their recovery with a deserved 2-0 triumph over a lacklustre Port.
The hero for the visitors was Picha U-Tra as the 21-year-old midfielder's second-half double capped an outstanding individual performance. Pattaya striker Milos Stojanovic was also influential, including providing an assist for the opener.
"This was a very hard game for us because Port FC are a strong team and play very well at home," Stojanovic told ESPN FC. "It was a very important win for us and everyone gave more than 100 percent."
Pattaya's form has been inconsistent this year, but Stojanovic put the recent run of defeats -- three of them a result of conceding late goals -- down to a lack of squad depth.
"We lost those games because we didn't have enough players," said the striker. "We had many injuries and because of that, in the last 10 minutes, we lost energy and ended up losing games. In the last home game [against Thai Honda], we fought until the last minute and today was the same again."
5. Sukhothai rediscover fighting spirit
For much of this year, Sukhothai have been almost unrecognisable from the side who took the Thai League by storm last season. The Fire Bats finished an impressive seventh in 2016, following their promotion from League Two.
But the team from the north have struggled to live up to expectations this season. On Sunday, however, there were signs that the old Sukhothai were back. After losing an early goal at Bangkok Glass, they levelled before half-time through Admir Adrovic.
When Jakkapan Pornsai put the hosts back in front in the 71st minute, it looked like another defeat for Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok's man. But substitute Bireme Diouf muscled his way through to net a second equaliser for a 2-2 draw.
Sukhothai are finally out of the bottom three again and, though there is a long way to go, the signs are finally encouraging.
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