Former England and Premier League striker Jay Bothroyd is preparing for the biggest match of his short spell thus far with Thailand’s Muangthong United.
The Thai powerhouse tackle the A-League’s biggest club Melbourne Victory on Saturday in Geelong with a place in the AFC Champions League group stage at stake.
Bothroyd joined the Thai runners-up a month ago after playing for numerous clubs including Wolves, Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers, earning one England cap in the process.
The tall athletic 31-year-old netted his first goal for the club over the weekend as Muangthong remained on course for a second consecutive appearance in the AFC Champions League with a comfortable 2-0 win over Vietnam champions Hanoi T&T.
Bothroyd is looking forward to following in the footsteps of friend Djibril Cisse after the former France international played for Qatar’s Al Gharafa in last year’s competition.
“I had heard a bit about the AFC Champions League because Djibril Cisse is my friend and he played in Doha last year,” Bothroyd said. “And when I was talking with the coach Scott Cooper and the chairman before I signed they told me it is a massive competition, and every player wants to play at the highest level possible.”
The meeting with Hanoi last weekend represented only the second outing of the year for Bothroyd and his new team-mates after Muangthong earlier lost the season-opening Royal Cup 1-0 to domestic treble winners Buriram United, while Melbourne are already over halfway through the current A-League campaign.
“We know it will be tough game as Melbourne are an organised side and they have Kevin Muscat as manager, who I know from England, and I’m sure he has got them organised in playing the way he would like which I’m sure will be aggressive and organised with him being a defender,” said Bothroyd.
“But we are looking forward to it, players want to play in big games, and this is a big game.”
And while Muangthong were downing Hanoi on Saturday, Kevin Muscat’s Melbourne side recorded a 3-1 comeback win over champions Central Coast Mariners to move into an equal share of third on the domestic ladder.
Bothroyd points out that Melbourne Victory are at advantage being midway though their season, although the Australian club are being forced to play outside their home city due to stadium availability issues.
“As an attacking player you always want to contribute with goals or by making goals and I was happy to get on the scoresheet at the weekend and also make one as well,” Bothroyd said. “It could have been more, we could have scored more, but it was a solid performance even though we are not at 100 per cent.
“Melbourne are already in their season and they have no excuses as they are at 100 per cent. They have the advantage in that respect because they are about halfway through their season and they have a settled team.”
Thailand have earned themselves an impressive track-record in recent years. In their Asian debut two years ago Buriram United took the group phase by surprise, opening with victories over Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol and Chinese big-spenders Guangzhou Evergrande.
Entering last year's AFC Champions League qualifying play-off as Thai FA Cup winners, they eliminated highly-regarded A-League champions Brisbane Roar on penalties to seal their second continental appearance.
In the subsequent group competition, Buriram racked up four draws and a win to progress alongside section winners FC Seoul. They went on to complete what was arguably the biggest upset of the competition seeing off two-time semi-finalists Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan to reach the last-eight, where they fell against Iran big guns Esteghlal.
Last season Muangthong reached the group stage earning a credible 2-2 draw against former Asian champions Jeonbuk Motors of Korea Republic.
Now a place in Group G is in the offing alongside defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande, Jeonbuk Motors and Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos.