Falcons' 1-0 victory thrills home crowd
A 1-0 victory over Otago United at Trafalgar Park yesterday sent the Nelson Falcons into the bye in outright second, a position they will likely hold when they return to action against Canterbury United next weekend.
With all other ASB Youth League southern conference teams playing a midweek match on Waitangi Day, Nelson's three-point and eight-goal buffer over Canterbury looks secure until the two sides meet in Christchurch on Sunday.
After Team Wellington's 4-0 win over Manawatu, a win against Otago was crucial to keep the Falcons in the hunt for a place in the grand final, and they delivered to remain just two points adrift.
The New Zealand King Salmon Nelson Falcons scored the only goal, in a physical encounter against the southerners, in the 72nd minute.
Omar Guardiola displayed great pace and balance to win a high ball inside the right edge of the Otago box. The striker kept his feet in the contest and cut the ball back to team-mate Tore Waechter in the middle, who calmly played it on for replacement Ashley Langbein.
Langbein measured his steps to the ball and sent the right foot strike into the back of the net.
"Everything slowed down and I thought, ‘There is no way I'm going to miss this'," said Langbein.
The game opened up for the remainder of the match, with Guardiola denied by a good save in the dying minutes, although for the most part, two solid defences let little get through.
Otago United were uncompromising and were all over Guardiola early in the match, frustrating the man from Marlborough. Nelson had the better of the first-half possession because of the landslide of fouls Otago were committing and the resulting free-kicks.
In the 40th minute Guardiola produced the most entertaining passage of first-half play that kicked the remaining five minutes into life. Dancing in and out of the box and foiling defenders, Guardiola played a ball across goal. When it was partially cleared, Taine Swete's shot went very close.
Otago seemed to feed off the energy the passage of play created, and Coey Turipa was forced into a great save from a driven shot, low and to his left. Captain Mark Johnston was then called on to clear off the line moments later.
Just before halftime, referee Grant Peattie finally had a talk to the Otago captain, addressing the number of fouls the team in gold were committing. When the teams turned at 0-0, it was less than a minute before Otago were booked, the first of two occasions in the second half.
Otago United coach Tony Martin said he had seen much worse go unpunished this season.
"I thought the referee was keen to explore his pocket if the opportunity arose," said Martin, tongue in cheek.
"If we were a bit physical, that was interesting because I actually thought Nelson were stronger on the ball."
Nelson Falcons head coach Davor Tavich had made some observations of his own, identifying a lack of intent in the final third, and moved to remedy that in the second half.
"We needed a bit more energy going forward with Omar, he gave us a lot, but I think we needed a little more to spark off him," said Tavich.
"We made some changes in the second half and the boys brought a little bit more."
Replacing both attacking positions on the flank, Tavich bought on Langbein and Fletcher Slierendrecht.
Nelson did manage to press more in the second half and the substitutions proved a masterstroke when the winner went in.
Man-of-the-match Swete had an outstanding game in the middle of the park showing strength and composure in attack and defence. Adding to the attacking gusto of Waechter and Guardiola, the three Marlborough boys form an integral part of the Falcons side.
Turipa, Johnston and Harry Tod-Smith again had excellent games before the latter went off injured, and Niall Young continued his solid work at left back, which didn't go unnoticed by Tavich.
"Otago were pretty physical, and I think we dealt with it quite well," said Tavich. "They played with a big heart.
"I was happy with the commitment we showed. There is plenty to work on in our fluency going forward, I think we were a bit hesitant."
"It was a very important game and we needed three points to stay in touch with Wellington. I'm very happy, the boys played really well and I think we deserved to win it."
The next time Nelson play Otago, it will be under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the curtain raiser for the Wellington Phoenix match on March 3.
Nelson will travel to ASB Park to play Canterbury United in the start of the second round next weekend.