Korat played in Division 1 Group B in 2007. The Stingray accrued thirteen points in the first half of the campaign (eleven matches) and looked set for a lower mid-table finish. However, about two-thirds of the way through the season the FAT announced that the bottom FIVE would be relegated from this twelve-team division as a new third tier was being launched in 2008. Korat had been hovering around eighth and ninth all season without really feeling they were in relegation trouble. But in light of this announcement, things looked bleak.
With five games left to avoid the drop Korat won 3-0 at home to Central Association. The following week they came away from Bangkok with a point after a fine 1-1 draw at promotion-chasing Air Force, and the Great Escape seemed to be imminent as Korat beat Chachoengsao 3-0 to take their tally to seven points from three games. The next game was 'must win'. An away match at fellow strugglers Sriracha. Korat didn't win and the effects of their 0-0 draw were worsened by results elsewhere going against them.
By the final day, two teams had already been relegated (Marine College and Chachoengsao) and three teams from a possible six would join them. Korat hosted a Samut Songkhram side who were playing for promotion to the TPL. An end-to-end game saw Samut Songkhram run out 4-2 winners and gain promotion to the Promised Land.
In the final table, four teams finished on 29 points: Phitsanulok, Siracha, Nakhon Sawan and Central Association. The first three teams escaped by the skin of their teeth whilst Central Association went down on the head-to-head rule. Korat finished on 28 points â€“ relegated â€“ and Sisaket on 27.
The club used the Central Stadium for the first half of the season, but moved out to Pak Chong for the second half as the Central Stadium underwent SEA-Games-related renovations.
So in 2008, Korat found themselves two levels below the TPL in Division 2 Group B. The top two were to be promoted automatically to Division 1. The Oranges started the season slowly, but went on five game winning streak in the third quarter of the season which gave them a real chance of finishing second. However, they failed to win in their final four games and had to settle for a respectable, yet disappointing, fourth place. Halfway through the season, the club left the Central Stadium for good and moved to the new 80th Birthday Stadium (the 2007 SEA Games Stadium) on the outskirts of town.
The league structure was changed again in 2009 as the Regional League was launched (note that Korat were cruelly relegated in 2007 for the sake of a format which lasted just one season). Korat now found themselves in the Northeast Division with eleven other clubs from Isaan. There was to be no automatic promotion; only finishing top of the division would gain them access to the end-of-season promotion play-offs. The club was also relaunched in 2009 as Nakhon Ratchasima F.C 'SWAT Cats' and the club was extensively promoted around the city.
Attendances rose dramatically as the team produced the goods on the pitch. One of the main attractions was the amazing goal-scoring feats of Promphong Kransumrong. The local boy from Khonburi scored hat-tricks for fun in 2009 as, at one stage, Korat looked like they may run away with the title. They even went on an excellent cup run: reaching the quarter-finals of the relaunched FA Cup before bowing out 3-1 to TPL club Thai Port.
Korat were doggedly pursued by Loei City, however. The club from the north of Isaan never let Korat get too far away from them and gradually began to rein in Korat as the season reached its climax.
It all came down to the final day: Korat needed to win at home against Nakhon Phanom to be sure of winning the championship and of qualifying for the play-offs. In a match that fans will never forget, Korat fell at the final hurdle. They could only manage a 1-1 draw whilst Loei won 1-0 at Chaiyaphum to leapfrog Korat on the final day.
Loei took the title and the sole play-off spot, whilst Korat fans were left to muse on the fact that their club had finished second in the only season in their history when second place counted for nothing.
2010 brought fresh hope. The division was expanded to sixteen teams, but there was now two automatic play-off places and an extra one if the team that finished third was one of two best third-place finsishers.
As in 2008, Korat were left to rue a slow start to the season. They won just once in the first eight games, and Buriram and Loei rapidly got away from them. They found their form in the middle third of the season and embarked on a fine thirteen-game unbeaten run which brought them to within two points of second-placed Loei. But that was to be the high water mark of their season. Their form dipped in the run-in and Korat eventually finshed fourth in a campaign which was remarkably similar in its pattern to that of 2008.
Photo: An iconic image. Korat's Anucha Sripong after the final-day match against Nakhon Phanom in 2009.
This feature is currently in development but will be available soon.