The visitors, who stood 16th on the table before the game, had travelled from their Chonburi seaside home to Phuket determined to win their first game and move up from the relegation danger zone.
The home side was equally eager to win their first game of the season, and to break a longstanding “spell”: Phuket had never before won a league game against Sriracha.
For this game “Coach Tuu” Paniphol Kerdyaem shuffled his first 11 and deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation on the pitch, to make use of his new defensive midfielder Asawin Boonmun, who recently signed with Phuket FC from Esan United.
Nene Bi Tra Sylvestre had also recovered from his cold to make the squad at Surakul on Saturday (March 16).
The Islanders didn’t waste a minute after kick off, and Brazilian striker Dudu, with his distinctive mohawk, tested Sri Racha’s Japanese goalie early on with a close-range shot from inside the penalty box.
The Islanders didn’t have to wait long for their first goal, taking the lead after only 7 minutes when Sakareya Kolea stepped up from his right back position and clipped the ball from the right sideline, towards Sriracha’s keeper who slapped the ball out into Geoffrey Doumeng’s line of fire.
The Frenchman skillfully juggled the ball over the keeper’s head and scored the early opener for Phuket FC.
The change in Phuket’s formation worked like magic. Assawin Boonmun stopped a Sriracha play and passed the ball to Ake-atit Somjit, who dribbled the ball from midfield before passing it forward to Dudu – who sped ahead of a Sriracha defender and side-footed a shot through the goalkeeper’s arms before he could dive for a save.
The goal sent the 4,200 Phuket fans in the stadium roaring with joy.
Phuket then threw wave after wave of attacks on the Marlins for the next 30 minutes of the game but, perhaps tiring, slowed the pace down a few minutes before half-time, which gave Sriracha more space to play.
It was a tactical mistake that punished the Islanders with an equaliser from a corner kick, when a Sriracha midfielder leaped in front of the recovering Nene Bi, and flicked a header off the far post just a minute before half time.
But Lady Luck seemed to stay on Phuket’s side this time out, and the Islanders’ third goal arrived only 10 minutes into the second half.
Dudu had sent the ball back to a teammate, who slipped and fell and lost possession of the ball. But midfielder Kritsada Sakaew charged forward and sent a perfectly-weighed pass back to Dudu, who sprinted ahead and tipped the ball off the far post into the back of the Sriracha net, stretching Phuket’s lead to 3-1.
By this time Sriracha could only defend in their own half while Phuket kept up their assaults. Dudu missed the chance for a hat-trick in nearly the last minute of the game, when his shot hit the cross bar at the wrong angle and bounced back to be hoofed out by a Sriracha player.
Referee Chaiya Mahaprab blew the whistle after five minutes of extra time, giving Phuket their first win of the season and putting them in fourth place in the league, behind first-placed Singhtarua FC, Bangkok FC, and Air Force United.
Phuket’s head coach,.Paniphol “Coach Tuu” Kerdyaem, said after the game: “The footballers played a spectacular game. It was great that we got three points at home today and I am very happy. I believe that our game will be better and better from now on.”
Meanwhile, the Thai Premier League (TPL) ban on loud cheering with drums and horns in the main stands has had a direct effect on Phuket FC’s cheer squad “The Hulks”, who usually cheer from the roofed zone not far from the VIP box.
Fierce comments posted on Facebook fan pages and Phuket FC’s official page about the TPL ruling made it clear the ruling was unpopular with both Thai and foreign fans – but in the end the “The Hulks” decided to move a little further out from their usual location, from where they continued to sing and cheer their hearts out.
Phuket FC’s next home match will be a knock-out round Toyota League Cup game on Saturday, March 23, against the “Fire Power” PTT Rayong FC.