Soccer: Phoenix celebrate sweet and sour victory

Paul Ifill of the Phoenix is stretchered off of the field injured against the Newcastle Jets. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Ifill of the Phoenix is stretchered off of the field injured against the Newcastle Jets. Photo / Getty Images

There is very good and potentially very bad news for the Wellington Phoenix soccer team.

They delivered their best performance of the season in thumping the Newcastle Jets 4-0 tonight, but their A-League playoff ambitions may have suffered a big blow with key weapon Paul Ifill stretchered from the field.

The English-born Barbadian, scorer of a club-high 13 goals last season and the Phoenix's leading striker this season with seven, immediately signalled for help after falling awkwardly following a 10th-minute challenge from Tarek Elrich.

In his 50th match for the Phoenix, Ifill looked in considerable pain as he was carried from the ground.

He was taken to Wellington Hospital for X-rays, which cleared him of a suspected fracture just below his left knee, a team spokesman said, but the extent of his injury remained unclear.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert's concerned look and brief words of encouragement to Ifill as he passed the team bench told the story, with Herbert well aware of his importance at the business end of the season.

If the players were downcast at the loss of their talisman they did not show it, proceeding to rip apart a Newcastle team unbeaten in seven matches prior to tonight and having not conceded a first-half goal for three months.

The first half was easily the best the Phoenix have delivered at home this season and speedy 19-year-old New Zealand talent Marco Rojas, starting his first A-League match, was in the thick of the action.

His delightful right-wing run and through ball to Chris Greenacre set up the first goal, captain Tim Brown waiting at the back post to head home Greenacre's pinpoint cross in the 18th minute and celebrate his club-record 75th appearance in style, although imitating lifting weights with the corner flag will go down as one of the more bizarre goal celebrations.

The diminutive and fresh-faced Rojas was like a terrier nipping at the Newcastle players' heels all night and his inspiring performance was rewarded with his first A-League goal, lashing a 31st minute shot past goalkeeper Matthew Nash after Dylan Macallister had knocked a Manny Muscat cross into his path.

Greenacre put the match beyond reach for the Jets when he scored from a corner three minutes before halftime, the ball bouncing into his path and his shot adjudged to have crossed the line despite protests from the Jets players, who felt Elrich had successfully cleared the ball.

Newcastle, missing seven first-choice players, had won just once from five previous matches here and scored just two goals in the process, and they did not look like adding to that tally tonight as the home team dominated all facets, and crucially the midfield battle.

While there was plenty of huffing and puffing in the second half it took until the 88th minute for the Phoenix to added the fourth goal, courtesy of a neat finish from Macallister.

Herbert made four changes to the starting 11 who lost 0-2 at Gold Coast United last Saturday, with goalkeeper Danny Vukovic and attackers Rojas, Leo Bertos and Macallister in for Mark Paston (injured), Andrew Durante (suspended), Daniel and Greenacre (both dropped, though Greenacre played 80min after replacing Ifill).

The new players delivered but none more so than man-of-the-match Rojas, whose flair is a breath of fresh air to New Zealand soccer.

Wellington moved up to sixth place, with 25 points from seven wins, four draws and 10 losses, although they will drop out of the top six again if Melbourne Victory beat Perth at Melbourne later tonight.

Wellington Phoenix 4 (Chris Greenacre, Marco Rojas, Tim Brown, Dylan Macallister) Newcastle Jets 0. Halftime: 3-0.

- NZPA

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