Falcons make hard work of another win
The dream run continues, but what a nightmare it was.
The New Zealand King Salmon Nelson Marlborough Falcons had to score three second half goals to earn a 3-2 victory over Southern United at Trafalgar Park yesterday.
Now six-from-six with an eight-point lead over Wellington and four games to play, the Falcons remain unbeaten at home with just Manawatu standing in the way of that record spanning two seasons. However Nelson looked anything but a top team and the comeback victory was remarkable, even more so given the shoddy first half.
Head coach Davor Tavich described the first half effort as "embarrassing" when held up against their most polished performance, a 2-0 win over a strong Canterbury United just three days earlier. But, vitally, the Falcons players and staff always believed they would win.
The Falcons fans must have thought it was a different team out on the park as Southern shot out of the blocks and looked a sure thing at the midway point.
One minute in and Gabriel Schwartz had made it 1-0 to the visitors with a homing missile strike from 22m on the angle. From the left hand side of the field, the rocket shot across goal keeper Coey Turipa, who could only watch flat-footed as it struck home in the top right hand corner.
It was the start Southern needed after being on the wrong side of a 5-0 bath on Thursday.
By the time Falcons' fans stopped scratching their heads, the visitors had two. Rahan Ali released a shot from the edge of the box straight at defender Josh Sansom. The ball went through Sansom's legs leaving Turipa unsighted and too late to react.
For a side two goals down, the Falcons' urgency seemed limited in some areas. This led assistant coach Mark Johnston to remind players they needed to do the little things, like chase hard to win the 50-50 ball.
Southern were bumping the home team off the ball, winning the air battle and when, the shoulders went in chasing the long ball, it was United ending up in front.
Ali had the ball in the back of the net of the net again but the offside flag saved further blushes.
The Falcons had chances, but the best saw Furkan Kokcu slide the ball past the wrong side of the post after a Ryan Stewart cross. Halftime couldn't come quickly enough.
It was a noticeable that Tavich and Johnston emerged from the tunnel at halftime a good five minutes before the team. In the sheds, captain Turipa asked the team one question: Can we score three goals to win this game? The answer was yes and Turipa told them to get on about that business.
He said the Falcons are a second-half team. But Tavich added balance, saying, "If you keep on like that, one day you are going to dig the hole too deep."
The poor first half was reflected with three halftime changes. Josh Lis, Sam Wilson and Harry Tod-Smith replaced Daniel Grimshaw, Kokcu and Sansom.
The Falcons were inspired. Their best movement of the game coming when Lis, Omar Guardiola and Taine Swete put together a series of passes working into the box with the Lis shot just wide.
The revamped attitude was given legs when Stewart took control. The midfield general took the ball from attack, reset play and, after a couple of holding passes, he charged through the middle of the park with the ball on a string, and hit the perfect finish.
Two minutes after coming on, replacement Matt Todd-Smith had the Falcons level, finishing a set piece with 20 minutes to play. A Stuart corner back across goal off a Falcons' header and Matt Todd-Smith was mobbed by the team, including brother Harry.
Tempers were frayed on both sides and it spilled over to the Southern coaching box as Mike McGarry was officially asked to sit down.
On pitch the Falcons momentum and campaign was dealt a significant blow when Guardiola lashed out while setting up for a corner. The straight red card for striking will not see Guardiola in the game day squad for a while.
At 2-2 and the Falcons down to 10 men with 15 minutes to play, an element that has been with the Falcons this season emerged once again.
The Falcons have fortune on their side in 2014 and the Southern keeper's clearance bounced off the back of Lis for the ball to rebound into his own net.
Southern had a good shout for hand ball turned down in the box. As the Falcons sat deep, a series of chances came from the visitors.
It was a late test for the Falcons captain, but Turipa showed them the door and the Falcons winning run stretched to six with Fortress Trafalgar intact.