Thailand 2 Singapore 0: Lions succumb to late goals
The Lions looked to have done enough to earn a creditable away draw before Suttinun Phukhom popped up to head home two minutes from time.
Pokklaw A-Nan then added the icing on the cake two minutes into injury time to seal the win for the reigning AFF Suzuki Cup winners.
Both sides had met in the group stages of the biennial tournament last year, with the Thais running out 2-1 winners en route to lifting the cup.
Only one of Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang’s starting eleven that day remained in this line-up as the likes of Kawin Thamsatchanan and Teerasil Dangda stayed on the bench, while Singapore counterpart Bernd Stange kept seven of those players – bringing in Afiq Yunos and Zulfahmi Arifin.
It was the Thais who started the game the better side with recalled playmaker Jakkapan Pornsai looking to make up for lost time, having been dropped from the squad that went on to become ASEAN champions.
He first released Pokklaaw with a good through ball three minutes in that the latter was unable to capitalise on, before curling his 20-yard freekick just wide of the left-hand post 12 minutes later.
The Suphanburi man could have easily been the villain midway through the half though, with Singapore captain Hariss Harun nicking the ball off him but both Safuwan Baharudin and Gabriel Quak failed to beat Thailand keeper Chanin Sae-Ear from close range.
Khairul Amri then twisted past Suttinun on the left flank before setting up strike partner Sahil Suhaimi, who was unable to turn his header on target.
On the half-hour mark, disaster struck for Singapore as centre-back Afiq landed awkwardly on his right foot after closing down Prakit from a long ball.
Hafiz Sujad was brought on as his replacement while Shaiful Esah was pushed into the heart of defence alongside Zulfahmi Arifin.
The makeshift defence held out till half time but the hosts looked reinvigorated after the break.
Hotshot Adisak Kraison was on the end of two excellent openings in front of goal which he perhaps should have done better to trouble Izwan Mahbud.
Both sides rang in the changes after the hour-mark, with Zico making three substitutions while Stange brought in Al-Qaasimy Rahman for Quak, pushing Ismadi Mukhtar to the right wing.
Those changes disrupted the flow of the game and the next meaningful opportunity came only in the 74th minute.
Stealing possession from Singapore in midfield, the War Elephants surged forward with Adisak teeing up captain Theerathon Bunmathan but the latter’s long-range stinger was parried to safety by Izwan.
Courts Young Lions duo Shakir Hamzah and Shahfiq Ghani then joined the fray for the last 15 minutes, when the Lions had a couple of opportunities to steal the win.
Faris Ramli’s close-range shot was deflected wide by centre-back Prathum Chutong, while Safuwan’s header from Shahfiq’s outswinging corner was well held by Chanin.
The Thais then scored two goals in four minutes to sink the visitors.
No one picked up Suttinun inside the box as the Thai centre-back found himself in acres of space to flick Theerathon’s deep freekick past a stranded Izwan, via his shoulder.
Then Pokklaw killed off any hopes of a Singapore comeback as he latched on to a Anuwat Noichuenphan ball before lobbing emphatically beyond the onrushing Singapore custodian.
Singapore will look to bounce back from this defeat when they host Guam next Tuesday.