Falcons' charge goes on
On a stunning Waitangi Day, Canterbury United came north to test the Falcons' title credentials, and a crowd of 700 watched the home side pass with flying colours.
The 2-0 win in the top-of-the-table clash at Trafalgar Park completed a perfect first round for the New Zealand King Salmon Nelson Marlborough Falcons, winning five games from five starts in the southern conference. The win at fortress Trafalgar also maintained the remarkable record of having never been beaten at home, since day dot.
Second-half goals to Carl Connor-McLean and Omar Guardiola gave the Falcons a six-point buffer at the top of the table, on the maximum 15 points while Wellington lead the chasers on 9 points after beating Southern United 5-0.
Falcons' fans won't have to wait long to see their side in action again as the wave of winning momentum will crash upon Southern when they attempt to storm the fortress on Sunday.
If they are to have any chance, Southern United will have to bring more creativity and resolve than Canterbury could muster yesterday, as the Falcons dominated the game from the outset. The back five were outstanding, the midfield maintained their high standards and the strikers nailed the ones that counted.
The home side applied all the pressure in the first 15 minutes and could have opened the scoring a lot earlier, had the radar been calibrated early on. Daniel Grimshaw had an early chance with the keeper coming out, but swung the shot away from the open goal, into the breeze.
Swinging in a corner Ryan Stewart's effort was squeezed out between the goalkeeper's hand and crossbar. The midfield lynchpin then climbed to get on the end of the resulting Sam Maxwell corner but was only denied by the crossbar.
Stewart's midfield partner Furkan Kokcu was applying good pressure in his usual abrasive style, winning a corner that was again saved off the head of Stewart. Nelson was creating all the chances, but their best first-half opportunity came from a penalty.
Good work following a high ball into the box from Guardiola won the the spot kick, when the keeper tripped him after he turned his defender. Canterbury's Edward Ashton made amends for his mistake, pushing the Stewart strike around the post and snuffing out the resulting corner.
With 10 minutes to go Canterbury finally came to life, gaining chances through the set piece, handled well by Coey Turipa and Fox Slotemaker. The visitor's best chance came from the foot of striker Michael Munro, Turipa stretching to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Maxwell and Slotemaker were booked under pressure close to the box, but it didn't cost the team on the score sheet as the sides went to the sheds at 0-0.
It only took two minutes to undo the first half's frustration as the deadlock was broken immediately after the restart.
Stewart played a tidy one-two with Guardiola, releasing himself on goal. Great vision from Stewart turned the one-on-one chance into a sure thing as he held the goalkeeper on the right and laid-off across goal for the late arriving Connor-McLean to finish into an open goal from a metre out.
The midfield pairing of Kokcu and Stewart were bossing their opposition, while tight work at the back from Slotemaker, Josh Sanson and Josh Moffat had Canterbury looking bereft of ideas going forward as the game went into a holding pattern.
Then, in the 73rd minute, the Falcons capitalised on their dominance to double their lead.
On the break from a Canterbury corner, strapping replacement Josh Lis streaked up the centre of the field, turning the last defenders inside out before laying off a precision pass to the feet of Guardiola who finished past the outcoming keeper. Guardiola celebrated with his trademark backflip, to fans' delight.
Visiting coach Alan Walker, who is also the federation development manager at Mainland Football, was unimpressed with his side's performance. Conversely he was blown away by the Falcons.
"It is fantastic for the Nelson region. They were awesome. I'm really impressed with them and I take my hat off to the way they played," said Walker.
"The young lads Josh Moffat and Josh Sanson were, for me, the two standout players. Omar is always a threat up front and he hurt us. From our perspective, we had nine underperforming players."
Walker, in principle, does not agree with the two overage players rule but Falcons' assistant coach Mark Johnston picked out the midfield of Taine Swete, Kokcu and overage player Stewart as his key players.
The Falcons play Southern United at Trafalgar Park on Sunday. Kick-off is at 2pm.
Straight into new round
Following a 2-0 win over Canterbury, the table-topping Falcons have a three-day turnaround before the start of the second round and another home game.
Southern United travel to Trafalgar Park for a 2pm kickoff on Sunday. It is a ground where no side has defeated the Falcons and the visitors are fresh from a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Team Wellington yesterday.
In the first match of the season, the Falcons beat Southern 2-0 in terrible conditions in Dunedin. Since then the Falcons have defeated every other team in the southern conference, opening up a six-point lead.
Assistant coach Mark Johnston said while the side can be happy with their first round performance, they cannot be complacent, with their performances only now reaching the standards they set for themselves.
"To be honest [the game against Canterbury], was one of the easier ones; our boys had it under control," said Johnston. "The other four games, the other teams have been in it the whole game. We haven't just cruised through, I think we have had a bit of luck which we may not get in the second round.
"Any team can beat any team in this league, so we will be going into the second round thinking that."
"We have a short turnaround but we have got the boys really fit, which is the crucial thing."