Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Soccer: Paul Ifill holds the key for Phoenix

Paul Ifill. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Ifill. Photo / Getty Images

Paul Ifill denies he was the catalyst behind the Phoenix's mid-season resurgence in the A-League but there's no way the club could challenge for the title without him.

It's fair to say one man doesn't make a team but the Phoenix look like a different outfit when their valuable forward in the No 8 shirt is playing.

The Barbados international is the club's all-time leading goal-scorer with 26 strikes and since he joined the side for the 2009-2010 season his impact has been pronounced.

When he is on the pitch the Phoenix rarely seem to lose and never look out of a contest.

The 32-year-old former Millwall stalwart has an ability to beat players, can shoot with both feet and is equally adept at playing out wide or up front.

When he was out of the side from weeks 3-6 and 11-13, Wellington lacked the cut and thrust the 1.85m marksman provides.

Ifill is fully aware of the impact he has on the Phoenix and the fan-favourite said it was part of being a big signing at a club.

"I think the boys were going along OK without me," Ifill said. "If I don't come in and help them then I shouldn't be in the team. That's kind of how I see it. I think that's the same as everybody, otherwise I'd be on the bench.

"So, like I've said before, you take a little bit more pressure when you're an import because otherwise there's local Kiwis or Aussies who can do the same job and it wouldn't be fair. So, I think it's time to step up and obviously in these last three games I need to do that."

With three weeks left in the regular season the Phoenix occupy third place on the A-League ladder and face a tricky week in Melbourne where they meet the Heart tomorrow and the Victory next Friday.

A win from either of those games would guarantee them an all-important spot in the top four, while two wins from their final three should see them lock up third place.

Finishing third would give the Phoenix two home playoff games - providing they were to win in week one - and they're also a long shot at making the top two.

Ifill, who has bagged six goals and three assists this season said the side's recent away form, where they have won four from their last five, was down to taking a more attacking approach.

"I think so. We try to press a bit higher and take the game to them a little bit more. It's not easy. Away teams probably before have looked at the Phoenix coming in to town and thought, 'here we go, we've got a nice easy three points'. So we just had to change the mindset a bit and I think obviously that first away win [against Gold Coast in January] did that."

The Phoenix have shared the honours with the Heart this season with a 1-0 loss in round nine in Morwell, but returned serve with a 3-1 victory in round 17 at Westpac Stadium.

The Victory have been a different proposition though and, despite their poor season, the talent-laden Melbourne side have beaten the Phoenix home and away this season.

Ifill said finishing the season with the two Melbourne sides and the league-leading Central Coast Mariners on March 25 was a better way to build-up for the playoffs.

"You could have some of the team at the bottom at home and go in with three wins on the trot thinking you are flying and then get a rude awakening when you come up against somebody who's been doing the business week in, week out. So I think it's good that we've got pretty tough games."

- APNZ

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