AFC Cup. Citizen 3 Chonburi 3
Before Chonburi’s game against Hong Kong’s Citizen, the team third in the table behind Singapore Armed Forces on goal difference, the Thai’s coach Withaya boldly claimed Chonburi will achieve more than Buriram United this season:
“We feel we are better than Buriram as they depend on individual skill, while we have better teamwork and we will do better than them this season,”
Chonburi’s 5-1 defeat of Esan United on Saturday maintained their unbeaten start to the TPL season, and they knew that a win at Mong Kok Stadium, coupled with three points for Home United against Myanmar’s Yangon United in Singapore, would see Chonburi secure a place in the Round of 16 with two games to spare
The picturesque but sparsely populated Mong Kok Stadium must make people wonder how many people a league game attracts if a crucial AFC tie can barely register home support.
As the game started people strolled around the edge of the pitch, apparently oblivious to the fact that a game was going ahead, adding to the atmosphere of a pre season friendly. After five minutes of adjusting to the absence of an atmosphere, Chonburi began to impose their impressive midfield structures and the home team had clearly set up for a deep lying defensive strategy in the hope of a breakaway goal but, even when possession came their way, they lacked commitment to attack.
But then disaster struck in the seventh minute when Yuto Nakamura scored after cutting through the centre of the Chonburi defence and, with composure and a great deal of time, easily shot over the advancing Sinthaweechai. Not surprisingly, the home team became more confident and another pass split the Chonburi defence but Sham Kwok Fai couldn’t quite control the pass before the advancing Sharks keeper. A dipping shot by Diakite had the strangely nicknamed Flat Bags keeper Tse Tak Him scrambling after thirteen minutes but the home team were happy to pack their defence in deep lying positions.
After 20 minutes the home side played with a lone striker who was often the only home player in the Chonburi half, but the final pass continued to let Chonburi down as their usual energy and momentum began to ebb. Then came the equalizer that had the Chonburi signature style written all over it. After a sustained passage of calm possession, a cross from captain Therdsak Chaiman was smartly hooked into the net by Nattaphong. The second goal for the Sharks seemed inevitable after 24 minutes but Ludovick slipped at the vital moment on the edge of the box. The Citizen midfield was becoming ragged and one dimensional, but the balls over the top of the Chonburi defence still contained some menace.One in the 26th minute lead to a well taken corner, but Chiu Chun Kit showed height without menace. Ludovick’s massive upper body strength was in evidence in the 28th minute followed by a deft chip cross that was beaten away.
A rare sequence of home town pressure on 31 minutes lead to impressive control and a left foot shot just wide by Sham Kwok Keung as Citizen started to play higher up the pitch, but they soon reverted to giving Chonburi uncontested possession in their defensive half and allowed the away team to come on to them, which is rarely a good career decision against a team famous for pinging passes and off the ball movement. The home side became more ponderous in possession as half time approached and Chonburi’s second corner almost lead to their second goal when Diakite rose well above the static Citizen defence. Chonburi should have gone into the break ahead but a smart save from a Diakite pile driver was followed up by an even smarter save from the onrushing Ludovich by Tse Tak Him.
The second half started with Pipob coming on for Doumeng and an immediate yellow card for Yeung Chi Lun on the pocket rocket showed the fear his pace creates. A draw is little use to Citizen, so they will have to make chances and they started the half showing positive intent but with little focus despite changing to two up front. Diakite was getting good possession down the Chonburi left as Citizen put little pressure on the Thai ball carriers. Dangerous crosses were starting to come into the Citizen box, but Ludovich was well shackled by the home defence for the first ten minutes.
Citizen’s lanky defender Chiu Chun Kit started to make more attacking runs, an ominous sign for later in the game, but he didn’t get the service he needed. The Chonburi passing became surprisingly sloppy in the first fifteen minutes as players were too often on their heels. Ludo almost steamrollered through the home defence on 60 minutes but was eventually stopped by three defenders. Chonburi now started to shift up a gear as they sensed the home side begin to tire. After 62 minutes Yeng Chi Lun was taken off to add more attacking options and captain Baise got a smart shot away after 66 minutes, but the home side were unable to create sustained pressure. Then came the goal after 69 minutes, beautifully headed by Pipob from a Therdsak cross. Rather controversially the Thais carried on playing when Citizen’s captain lay injured in the attacking half and was then stretchered off.
Citizen’s Helio committed a shocking challenge on Pipob and there was even crowd trouble despite the absence of a crowd when a disgruntled fan made his feelings known and managed to stop the game for no particular reason. To add to the odd atmosphere the Citizen captain made a full recovery. Perhaps a career in the TPL beckons. Pipob then planted a punch off the ball on Chiu Chun Kit which barely registered a reaction and things were heating up nicely.
Eighty minutes saw the Sharks very much in control against a team running out of ideas. Baise completed his miraculous recovery with a smart shot from the edge of the box on 80 minutes but, at the other end, Ludo was causing more and more trouble for a tiring defence. Ludo then went off on 83 minutes to be replaced by Sukree who, on 86 minutes, seemed to finish the contest with a smartly taken finish after being put through by the evergreen Therdsak. Then came the drama of a goal for the hard working Chiu Chun Kit who headed in smartly off the post before a last minute, heart breaking equaliser.