A NEWPORT footballer has been banned for 16 months for ‘doing a Paolo Di Canio,’ the Argus can reveal.

Rhys Cox, 27, who has played his whole career with Lliswerry, won’t be eligible to compete with his teammates again until May 31, 2015 after ‘manhandling’ a referee, just as Di Canio famously did in 1998 when he sent Paul Alcock tumbling while playing for Sheffield Wednesday.

Defender Cox, who is described in Lliswerry’s pen pics as “a no nonsense centre half who is a key player in the heart of the defence, who wears his heart on his sleeve every game,” was found guilty by an FAW disciplinary panel of assaulting a match referee.

The red card furore, which led to the Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division Three clash with Treowen Stars at Spytty Park being abandoned on 82 minutes with the scores at 2-2, has caused a storm in the Welsh League.

The incident, which happened on December 29, 2013, was reported at the time in the Argus as a double-handed push on match official Sean Hicks, from Cardiff.

A host of Lliswerry players were forced to intervene and separate Cox from the referee after the referee had sent off Cox for a second yellow card offence.

Cox also didn’t leave the pitch promptly after the incident, which lead to him being cautioned by the police and referee Hicks locking himself in his dressing room after abandoning the contest.

The Football Association of Wales told the Argus at the time of the offence that no punishment would be forthcoming until they received a copy of Mr Hicks’ report from the game.

However, after a hearing, Cox has been hit with a ban that effectively rules him out of this campaign and the next one. And an FAW spokesman told the Argus that Cox hasn’t even received the maximum punishment for the offence. Nor was his case prejudiced by the fact he received suspensions in September (three games) and November (four games) in 2013.

“The maximum suspension for assaulting a match official is two years and that length has been handed out before,” the Argus was told.

“An assault on a referee is something we treat very seriously and the length of ban reflects that.

“However, the punishment is based solely on this one incident. We did not take into mitigation any previous disciplinary offences as it was appropriate to judge this incident without any prejudice.”

Lliswerry AFC defended their man but admitted they have no objection with the findings of the FAW.

“Rhys is disappointed, it was a heat of the moment incident and he knows it shouldn’t have happened,” Lliswerry committee member Haydn Notley explained.

“He’s very much a one-club man, he is still watching us play games even since his suspension started and he will be more frustrated than anyone.

“He’s sorry for what he has done and we are sorry to be without him, but we 100% accept the verdict of the FAW.”