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 By Paul Murphy

Sunny heroics as Army hand first TPL home loss to Suphanburi

Hassan Sunny is once again the hero for Army United making a series of saves to give his TPL side an away win at Suphanburi.

Suphanburi winger Jakkapan Pornsai is targeting FA Cup glory to make up for his side's first home loss of the season against Army United in the Thai Premier League (TPL).

The visitors put up a resilient defensive performance and were once again indebted to Singaporean goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who pulled off several impressive saves to preserve the team's 1-0 lead.

But Jakkapan wants his teammates to pick themselves up, with another meeting with Army United coming up on Wednesday in the FA Cup. "We started the day in fourth place and we stay in joint fourth," he told ESPN FC. "This was our first home defeat of the season and we can't let our heads go down. The FA Cup is a big target this season. Winning it would mean qualification for the AFC Champions League."

Asked about the reason for the defeat against Army, Jakkapan said, "Hassan Sunny is a very good keeper and was the main reason we lost."

Sunny was delighted to put last week's disappointment against Chonburi behind him and hoped that the second half of the season will see him in better form.

"We didn't do well last week so it was important to get back on track," the Singapore international goalkeeper told ESPN FC. "Victory against Suphanburi was a like a miracle for us. No one gave us a chance because Suphanburi have been playing well and we haven't been in great form. But all credit to the players, they really worked tirelessly."

Suphanburi winger Jakkapan Pornsai gave Sunny a testing time but the Army custodian was equal to the task. Photo credit: Suphanburi FC

Sunny is looking forward to the return of Brazilian playmaker Raphael Botti to give Army more creativity after a series of defensive performances. "With Botti, I hope we can do better," he said. "We haven't played well in the last seven or eight games. We have just been defending. So hopefully Botti can make a difference."

Army head coach Issara Sritaro hailed the performance of custodian. "Sunny was very good and he helps give the defence confidence," he said. "We are still hoping for a top five TPL finish. We are still involved in the cup competitions so it will be tough."

The hosts came into the game as favourites but Army arrived boasting a good record in Suphanburi. Against the odds, they had won twice and drawn once in their previous three visits.

Both sides made some attacking forays early in the game, without creating any clear cut chances. There was finally some goalmouth action in the 20th minute when Suphanburi won a free kick on the right of the Army penalty box.

Jakkapan floated in the set piece and Jetsada Phulek found time and space to power a header towards goal but Sunny tipped the ball over the bar.

Army's recent problems in creating chances were evident again as several promising positions were squandered with a poor final ball.

But, out of the blue, Army took the lead in the 30th minute. Striker Tangeni Shipahu, on the right edge of the box, worked the ball out to midfielder Mongkol Tossakrai who curled an exquisite low shot into the far corner.

The hosts then struggled to make inroads into a determined Army rearguard. Jakkapan made an excellent weaving run as he attempted to open up the visitors but his shot was blocked. As the half drew to a close, Suphanburi came close again when Jakkapan's low cross reached forward Andre Luis 12 yards from goal but another brave block denied him.

Midfielder Mongkol Tossakrai's first half strike for Army against the run of play handed Suphaburi their first home defeat.

At the start of the second half, the home side won a free kick 30 yards from goal. As expected, Jakkapan took it but his curling effort was held by Sunny at full stretch.

The War Elephant were showing a renewed sense of urgency and forward Naphat Thamrongsupakorn pressured Army full-back Dawut Dinkhet into giving the ball away before shooting over from a narrow angle. Luis then made a surging run down the left and crossed low into the Army box. Naphat tried to guide it into the net but Sunny made a superb save with his legs.

Army had a good chance on the counter when South Korean midfielder Lee Seung-hee gifted possession to substitute Kai Hirano. The Japanese attacker played in Shipahu but the Namibian dragged his shot harmlessly wide. Hirano himself came close minutes later but his powerful long-range free kick was just too high.

The hosts hit back as forward Thossapol Yodchan showed a fine bit of skill before sending a shot just over the bar. They came even closer when Jakkapan cut in from the right, leaving several Army defenders in his wake before curling a left-footed shot just wide of the far post.

Suphanburi squandered another chance with just over 10 minutes remaining. Seung-hee released Luis but the Brazilian was denied as Sunny saved at his near post. Luis soon had another attempt from the edge of the area. But this time Sunny came up with a straightforward save and the visitors held on for a vital win.

Elsewhere, Buriram United remained on top of the TPL but only just on goal difference after recovering from a serious scare to draw 3-3 at home to Tero.

After a goalless first half, the Fire Dragons took a 2-0 lead early in the second period. Buriram pulled one back before Adisak Kraisorn restored Tero's two-goal advantage.

But Diogo Dos Santos struck twice in the last 12 minutes to preserve the Thunder Castle's unbeaten record and keep them ahead of Muang Thong United.

Muang Thong had an easier time, with Mario Gjurovski's superb strike the highlight of their 2-0 win at home to Saraburi.

Bangkok Glass remained in third spot after surviving a tough test at Port FC to win 1-0. Despite reports to the contrary, Gary Stevens remains in charge of the Port Lions.

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


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