Soccer: Ifill inspires Phoenix to another road

By Terry Maddaford

Paul Ifill (L) of Wellington competes with Cameron Watson (R) of Adelaide. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Ifill (L) of Wellington competes with Cameron Watson (R) of Adelaide. Photo / Getty Images

Paul Ifill inspired the Phoenix to a club-record fourth straight win last night (Fri), turning on the style to help edge Adelaide and consolidate second spot in the A-League.

It was the first time in club history Wellington triumphed in Australia after falling behind, and the 2-1 result was an unprecedented third win in a row across the Tasman.

However you look at it, these are historic times for the team many pre-season prognosticators had taking out the wooden spoon. If the Phoenix manage to maintain second spot over the last seven games to earn a place in the minor final, it will probably have a lot to do with Ifill - a man coach Ricki Herbert called the A-League's finest.

On the evidence of last night's performance, that sentiment would be hard to argue against. Ifill was a constant menace for the Adelaide defence, often looking like a man among boys as he did everything bar grab a goal.

"Paul is a real talent," Herbert said. "He is special and a great guy with it. He can be a game breaker for us. Now that he has come through the injuries he sustained last year and the beginning of this season I think he is the best player in the competition."

Ifill called those words "very flattering", but pointed to the form of the full squad as the explanation for the Phoenix's current golden run.

"It is nice to be appreciated by a manager because I've worked with some who haven't," he said. "But honestly, that result was down to team spirit. We have balance in the side and everyone plays for each other. We might have a thin squad but there is real competition for places."

That may be true but one place never in doubt is his own, especially on last night's vintage form. He laid on an assist for Tim Brown's opener in the first half with a beautifully-weighted cross from the left and, after Dani Sanchez edged the visitors in front, Ifill almost made the points safe with a thunderous drive denied only by the bar.

He also, rather inexplicably, picked up a yellow card for diving to win a late penalty - a decision which replays showed referee Gerard Parsons had completely botched.

"As I hit the ground I was thinking 'I've got to dust myself down and put this [penalty] away to make the game safe'," Ifill said. "I couldn't believe it. Why would I dive when I looked certain to score?"

Ifill picked up the man-of-the-match award for his efforts but that was the last thing on his mind post-game.

"What makes the result good is the way it was achieved," he said. "We battled every inch of the way. In the past we've never won ugly."

After winning ugly, winning in Australia and winning from losing positions, there's growing belief second spot isn't an aberration but a fair reflection of the quality within the team. And with Ifill in irrepressible touch, there's no reason that quality cannot be translated into a successful playoff run come April.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 28 Nov 2014 20:33:13 Processing Time: 347ms