Falcons star Guardiola kicked out of team
The Nelson Falcons head into a crucial period without their most dangerous player after he was stood down for disciplinary reasons.
Falcons striker Omar Guardiola has left the high-flying Nelson Marlborough-based football side and will play for Wairarapa United in the Central Premier League for the rest of the season. But the decision to leave the franchise at this time was made for him.
Guardiola was sent off during the Falcons' match with Southern United, resulting in him being removed from the squad for the remainder of the ASB national youth league season.
Coach Davor Tavich said: "Omar won't be returning to play with the Falcons for our last few games this season after being red carded for striking a Southern United player.
"As a coach I take discipline seriously, and all the Falcon players were warned at the beginning of the season about being red carded for such behaviour. Retaliation is not acceptable, no matter what the original offence was, so I hope Omar and all Falcon players have learned a valuable lesson that they can take with them into the future."
In the Falcons' second game, midfielder Taine Swete also earned a straight red card for striking, but the referee didn't book it as violent conduct. The incident was unsighted by Tavich, who held a team meeting to ask the players about what happened. The team felt that Swete was genuinely trying to break the grip of the opposition player pulling him back. But Guardiola's elbow while jostling for position ahead of an attacking corner was blatant.
The Marlborough-based player is a big loss for the team. He was without doubt their biggest attacking threat, scoring three times this season and creating goals for his former team-mates.
He was a fan favourite ever since he scored the Falcons' first goal - a stunning 20 metre effort out of the blue - and sparked a comeback draw at Trafalgar Park in their first game.
Tavich was full of praise though for the X-factor player, who was fond of celebrating his goals with a back-flip. He said Guardiola had made a valuable contribution since the Falcons' inaugural season.
"He is one of the most talented football players the top of the south has ever had, and we wish him well for his future with the Wairarapa United football club," said Tavich.
"It is great that his exposure through local Marlborough football and through the NZ King Salmon Nelson Marlborough Falcons has given him this opportunity up north."
With the unbeaten Falcons looking likely finalists in the youth league, attention is turning toward a possible final venue.
Falcons board member Nigel Thompson said the venue for the grand final would be determined by NZ Football at its sole discretion after the finalists were confirmed, "meaning we won't know where we will play until both conference winners are decided".
That decision may not be far away. The Falcons have a perfect record of seven wins and one more against Team Wellington this weekend would send them into the final as southern conference champions, with two games to spare. In the northern conference, Auckland City are unbeaten, having dropped only two points.
Tavich will approach the game in Wellington as a must-win, but he has decided to shake up the squad by rewarding many of the young bench players who have contributed to the Falcons' outstanding second half performances this season.
Josh Lis will likely be the long-term answer to Guardiola's absence. He brings a different skill-set but has the potential to replace Guardiola's ability to break a game open, after playing a number of vital cameos this season.
Young guns Zac Muir, Lewis Miccio, Bertie Fish and Matt Tod-Smith will also get a start, meaning there is plenty of experience to come off the bench in the form of Sam Maxwell and the Falcons' leading scorer, Daniel Grimshaw.
Captain Coey Turipa will lead ably from the back as he has done throughout the breakthrough season, while fellow over-age player Ryan Stewart is rested.
Nelson Marlborough Falcons: Coey Turipa, Izaak Cunningham, Zac Muir, Fox Slotemaker, Lewis Miccio, Bertie Fish, Taine Swete, Sam Wilson, Matt Tod-Smith, Josh Sansom, Josh Lis. Subs: Jamie Creswell, Sam Maxwell, Dan Grimshaw, David Maisey, Logan de Joux.
The Nelson Mail