Thursday, October 4, 2012

Brief Preview of Division 2 Play-offs

The Division 2 play-offs are set to commence this weekend. The 10 week schedule is the pinnacle of the regional league season with the top two from each group earning a spot in Division 1 in 2013.
Here is a brief outlook of Groups A & B.

Group A
Pattani v Roi Et Utd (Sat)
Paknampo NSRU v Phitsanoluk (Sat)
Ayutthaya v Rayong Utd (Sun)

Roi Et Utd and Ayutthaya both won their respective regional leagues and they jump out as favorites to progress to Division 1 come December. Ayutthaya only lost one league game all season and made it to the quarter finals of the Toyota League Cup before ultimately losing to Bangkok Glass. Roi Et will be cautious after they were widely tipped last season to make it to Division 1 through the playoffs. Their campaign got of to a calamitous start when their 2-1 victory over Korat was overturned due to them fielding six foreigners for a few minutes near the end of the contest. The White Squirrels never really recovered and their bid eventually petered out with them finishing well off the pace.
From the rest, Pattani are unbeaten at home this season so not many sides will fancy making the long trip down to the Rainbow Stadium. Phitsanoluk, like Roi Et, have a point to prove after their 2011 campaign didn't meet expectations after they'd stormed to the Northern region title. NSRU have steadily improved since moving back to the north from the Bangkok region although taking the step up to the first division might be asking a bit much, while Rayong United are a club that have attracted attention this year for all the wrong reasons. There have been rumblings of unpaid salaries over the course of the season and they'll be without a couple of suspended players after their loutish behavior during their last league match against R-BEC.

Group B
Thai Honda v Sisaket Utd (Sun)
Trat v Trang (Sun)
Rayong FC v Chiang Mai FC (Sun)

There is no doubt that Chiang Mai will be expected to complete a quick return to Division 1. They won Div 2 North comfortably and with the title sewn up weeks ago, they'll have had plenty of time to rest and prepare players for the forthcoming 10 weeks. Nevertheless, I'd say this is a tougher group than Group A with any of the other five teams capable of challenging Chiang Mai for the top 2 spots.
The two teams from the Central/East will be strong contenders. Rayong FC have experience of the playoffs and have been whiskers away from promotion in the last two seasons. In 2010, they lost to Saraburi in a play off while in 2011 they were denied when Krabi scored a stoppage time equalizer in the last game to advance at their expense. Trat just squeezed into the playoffs despite the fact that they've spent a lot of money on their squad. They've shown in the cups that they can mix it with the big boys and I have a sneaky suspicion that they might prevail from this group.
Thai Honda and Trang both won their respective leagues. The Bangkok sides have generally struggled in the last couple of years in this competition while Trang will be hoping to emulate fellow southerners Phatthalung and Krabi from last season and not dwell on their disastrous 2010 effort when they lost nine of their ten matches.
The remaining side is Sisaket United who were unpopularly formed at the beginning of 2012 at the expense of Sisaket FC who metamorphosed into Esan United. I've only watched them once on SMMTV this season and from what I saw they'll probably fall short of making one of the promotion berths.

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