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 By Paul Murphy

Siroch Chatthong shines despite Thailand losing to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia celebrate the opening goal against Thailand.
Saudi Arabia cruised to a 3-0 win over Thailand at the Rajamangala Stadium on Thursday night.

A lackluster Thailand side slipped to a disappointing 3-0 defeat at home to Saudi Arabia as poor defending once again proved their undoing in the Group B World Cup qualifier.

Kiatisuk Senamuang's men paid for a slow start to the game, with slack defending handing the Saudis the lead through Mohamed Alsahlawi. The Thais were pushing for an equaliser late in the game when Tanaboon Kesarat diverted a cross into his own net and Salman Mushawar scored in added time to leave the Thais rooted to the bottom of the group with just one point from six games.

Thailand's head coach had set his team out in a bold formation, with three predominantly attacking midfielders and two strikers. The Thais opted for a flexible 3-5-2 formation, with Tristan Do and Theerathon Bunmathan given freedom to push forward from wide positions.

But things didn't work out in a desperate first-half performance. Kiatisuk reshuffled the pack at half-time, bringing on left midfielder Peerapat Notchaiya for centre-back Prathum Chuthong, with Theerathon moving into the left of a back three.

In a much-improved second-half display, Peerapat looked lively throughout but the Thais struggled to create any clear openings. When Peerapat sliced horribly wide with 10 minutes remaining, it became clear that this was not going to be Thailand's night. And the two late goals ensured the night ended on a cruel note.

Here are three things we learned at Rajamangala Stadium:

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1. Daydreaming defenders cost Thailand again

While the refereeing could have been more favourable in the first half, it was ultimately familiar weaknesses at the back that saw the Thais lose the game.

Warning signs were there as the Saudis had the first opening in the ninth minute when they broke down the right, but Adison Promrak was on hand to clear Taiseer Al Jassam's cut-back for a corner.

In the 23rd minute, a nice move from the visitors ended with a low shot from the edge of the box from Nawaf Alabid going just wide.

The Saudis deservedly took the lead in the 25th minute when a simple ball over the top from Nawaf caught the Thai defence napping. Alsahlawi had drifted into a dangerous position unchallenged, took the ball down and hammered past Kawin Thamsatchanan from close range.

Just before half-time, Yasir Alshahrani stole in down the right to meet a free kick and side-footed into the side netting. Again, there was a shocking lack of concentration, with no one picking up the full-back's run.

There was less blame for the two late goals that sealed Thailand's fate but their campaign has repeatedly been undermined by lapses of concentration.

While the hosts performed much better in the second half, the damage had already been done. If the Thais are to achieve their aim of becoming one of Asia's top sides, stopping the concession of soft goals is a must.

Siroch Chattong of Thailand celebrates
Siroch Chatthong put in a much better display than most of his Thai teammates.

2. Man in the middle takes centre stage again

Thailand were nursing a lingering sense of injustice over the controversial refereeing performance that they felt cost them the game in Riyadh last year, when a late penalty handed the Saudis all three points, with the Thais having been denied two strong penalty claims

Kiatisuak stoked the flames ahead of the game as he questioned the appointment of Bahraini referee Ali Hasan Ebrahim Abdulnabi in a game featuring another West Asian country. If he hoped this might lead to a more favourable performance, it didn't look the case early on.

The first controversial refereeing call of the night came as early as the seventh minute. Chanathip Songkrasin appeared to have been barged over near the right touchline, but Abdulnabi waved play on to trigger the first chorus of boos from the sceptical home support.

The home fans were upset again in the 20th minute when Omar Othman went down easily under minimal contact from Teerasil Dangda and a foul was given.

The referee came under scrutiny again in the 31st minute when Abdulmalek Al Khaibri was awarded a foul after what looked a fairly innocuous a coming together with Teerasil.

Jeers turned to outrage in the 35th minute when Teerasil fought his way past Motaz Hawsawi to get on the end of Chanathip's through ball. The referee blew for a foul when the defender went down as Teerasil looked set for a one-on-one with the keeper.

The referee could not stay out of the spotlight until half-time as the fans felt he was harsh in giving a yellow card to Theerathon for a trip on Nawaf. Jeers rang out at the break as the Rajamangala crowd let the referee know what they thought of his performance.

But anger turned to resignation in the second half as the referee drifted out of the limelight and Thailand struggled to make inroads on the Saudi goal. While there were perhaps some poor calls in the first half, the War Elephants will have to look at their own inadequacies before the game in Japan next week.

3. Siroch shines amid the gloom

Thailand's muscular forward Siroch Chatthong showed he was up for the battle early on when he brushed off the attentions of Hawsawi as he chased down a through ball. He was at it again minutes later as he bulldozed past two defenders on the right before running the ball out of play.

In the 12th minute, he broke free down he left, forcing Othman to make a last-ditch tackle and concede a corner.

After a quiet spell, Siroch was again the danger man when he cut in from the left and found Chanathip in a good position on the edge of the box. Unfortunately, Chanathip's touch deserted him and the chance was gone.

Siroch came closest to a first-half goal for the hosts when he took Teerasil's pass on the left, cut inside and curled a shot just wide from 16 yards -- it would have been a carbon copy of his second goal in the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup final against Indonesia.

Siroch remained the home side's biggest threat early in the second half but came up short when Peerapat swung in a teasing cross from the left. Siroch was first to the ball but got his contact all wrong and headed weakly wide.

In the 68th minute, Kiatisuk decided it was time for a new approach and Adisak Kraisorn was introduced.

Siroch may not look like becoming a prolific goalscorer any time soon, but his graft and physicality certainly gives the Thais another dimension.

They certainly need something different in what is becoming a traumatic campaign.

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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