Soccer: Phoenix march on with extra-time triumph

By Daniel Gilhooly

The Wellington Phoenix advance to the A-League preliminary final with a 3-1 win over the Newcastle Jets. Photo / Getty Images
The Wellington Phoenix advance to the A-League preliminary final with a 3-1 win over the Newcastle Jets. Photo / Getty Images

The A-League soccer dream lives on for Wellington Phoenix after striker Paul Ifill inspired a 3-1 defeat of the Newcastle Jets in their minor semifinal today.

Brilliant Englishman Ifill buried a decisive goal midway through extra time to carry his team into next Saturday's preliminary final across the Tasman.

The winners of that game - against the losers of the major semifinal between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory which is being finalised tonight - will advance to the grand final.

Victory will have to come away from Westpac Stadium, which the Phoenix tonight farewelled for the season in front of a delirious club record crowd of 32,792, where they have not been beaten in 19 matches since October 2008.

They defied a heavily disrupted buildup to pull off a memorable win, dominating large chunks of the match and appropriately sealing the result through Ifill after Jets captain Matthew Thompson and inspirational Phoenix midfielder Tim Brown had struck in the first half of regular time.

Substitute striker Eugene Dadi ensured the match wouldn't go to a penalty shootout with a third goal five minutes from the end of extra time, tapping home as the Jets went in search of an equaliser

At times the match resembled the Paul Ifill show, his teasing skills on the edge of the box at the heart of the hosts' many attacks, either creating chances for himself or others.

Ifill's goal came via a neat Brown pass and was his 13th of the season, rifled past goalkeeper Ben Kennedy after he deceived yet another defender.

The hosts had a mortgage on possession and created seven shots at goal to two by halftime, a statistic that had more than doubled after 90 minutes, while they also won nine corners to one.

The visitors were most dangerous on the counter and that was borne out in the 20th minute when Thompson blasted his team ahead with a left-footed bullet that left under-employed Phoenix goalkeeper Liam Reddy with no hope.

Brown's eighth goal of the season was his most important, taking advantage of typically elusive Ifill buildup with a first-time left-footed strike from 10m out in the 33rd minute.

The Phoenix had a far from ideal buildup for the match, with their four starting All Whites -- Brown, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos and Tony Lochhead - all heavily involved in the international against Mexico in Los Angeles last Thursday (NZT).

All but Bertos played out 120 minutes despite they and coach Ricki Herbert arriving home only yesterday morning, having left assistant coaches Jonathan Gould and Luciano Trani to prepare a depleted squad.

Brown popped up all over the park in a mammoth display, while Bertos joined Ifill in posing countless problems down the flanks.

The back four were largely sound while Vince Lia anchored a midfield that comfortably won the battle for possession.

Defender Sigmund could easily have registered a goal after just 75 seconds but his low, diving header was cleared off the line by Ali Abbas.

Another clear chance came when midfielder Manny Muscat was clear on goal but his strike was blocked by a sprawling Kennedy.

It was mirrored at the other end soon before halftime when Newcastle defender Tarek Elrich fluffed a clear one-on-one with Reddy.

The hosts had the edge through most of the second half although a clear chance was squandered by the Jets' best player Thompson, who failed scuffed a low, hard cross in front of an empty net.

The Phoenix controlled the last half hour and Elrich nearly conceded an embarrassing own goal, needing Kennedy to stretch and tip a looping header over the bar. Moments later Brazilian Daniel - who replaced Bertos with 25min remaining - found space but blasted over the top.

The arrival of Dadi saw the Phoenix lay siege on goal in the dying stages of normal time but they couldn't find an opening while the Jets squandered a couple of gilt-edged raids.

The crowd was breathless in the final minute of injury time when Ifill rounded Kennedy but his touch was too heavy and he was closed down.

It was end-to-end action in extra time, with Ifill and Jets substitute Sasho Petrovski both finding the woodwork but the Jets struggled to lift after they fell behind.

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Tim Brown, Paul Ifill, Eugene Dadi) Newcastle Jets 1 (Matthew Thompson) in extra time. Halftime: 1-1. Fulltime: 1-1.

- NZPA

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