Chiangrai United win, Muangthong United falter as Thai League 1 returns

Chiangrai United forward Bill (left) helped lead the Beetles over PT Prachuap FC in Thai League 1's return. Asian Football Confederation

There was a winning return for defending champions Chiangrai United while traditional heavyweights Muangthong United suffered an upset at the hands of Sukhothai FC as Thai League 1 resume play for the first time in six months.

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The Thai top division was suspended on March 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic with Bangkok United and Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC topping the standings after four rounds of matches.

The restart plans went haywire even before a ball was kicked after Akbar Ismatullaev, Buriram United's new signing from Uzbekistan, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. The result forced the postponement of three matches across the Thai first and second divisions.

Thai League 1 matches between frontrunners Ratchaburi and Bangkok, scheduled for Saturday, and Buriram versus BG Pathum United on Sunday were suspended indefinitely along with Saturday's Thai League 2 tie between Khon Kaen United and Siam Navy.

Ratchaburi and Khon Kaen had faced Buriram in friendly fixtures on August 30 and September 5 -- matches Ismatullaev played a part in -- forcing the organisers to suspend their league fixtures as well. The 29-year-old midfielder is the only player to return a positive result among the 1,115 tests administered on players, staff, officials and referees across Thai League 1 and 2. The source of infection, however, remains unknown. Ismatullaev is the second Buriram player to test positive after striker Marko Scepovic last month.

Despite the troubles off the field, there was plenty to talk about in the three matches which proceeded with stands filled at 20%. A dominant Chiangrai had failed to find an opening past Prachuap for half an hour in the early kickoff at the Singha Stadium before a Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul cross was headed in at the far post by Chotipat Poomkeaw in the 31st minute.

The Beetles were then handed a penalty a little more than a minute later after South Korean defender Yoo Jun-soo brought down Brazilian forward Bill inside the box, but the VAR overturned the spot kick to just a freekick after deciding the foul had been committed at the edge of the box.

William Henrique, facing his former club, could have equalised for Prachuap with six minutes left on the clock, but it was not to be as the Brazilian failed to hit the target with the goal gaping and Chiangrai had their three points courtesy of a 1-0 victory.

Meanwhile, at the Thung Thalay Luang Stadium, Muangthong had their third defeat of the season by Sukhothai who nicked a 1-0 win against Alexandre Gama's side at home.

Sukhothai goalkeeper Peerapong Ruennin kept his side in the game before Ibson Melo struck the winner in the 81st minute with a solo run that covered almost half of the field. The home side could have doubled their lead in injury time, but the Kirins' Vietnam international goalkeeper Dang Van Lam did incredibly well to deny Sila Srikampang from point-blank range.

In the other match of the day, Suphanburi FC defeated Nakhon Ratchasima FC 2-0 at the Suphanburi Provincial Stadium, thanks to goals from Parndecha Ngernprasert and Kasidech Wettayawong in either half of the game.