Phoenix rise to home semi

THE Wellington Phoenix continue to pen new chapters in the history book with a 3-0 trouncing of the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night securing them a Hyundai A-League home semifinal.

Having become the first New Zealand-based club to qualify for the Hyundai A-League playoffs after the penultimate regular season round, the Phoenix put the hapless Mariners to the sword in front of a massive home crowd at Westpac Stadium in Wellington in their round 27 clash to secure fourth spot and a home semi next weekend.

With 14,318 vocal fans driving them on at a wet and windswept Westpac Stadium, the Phoenix dominated the match throughout – goals to Tim Brown and Paul Ifill, who bagged a brace, ensuring the Phoenix-s unbeaten run at their Wellington fortress stretched to a staggering 17 games.

It was a complete performance from a fired up Phoenix side, though Ifill was the undoubted star of the show with two finely taken strikes.

Brown got the hosts off to a great start in just the 14th minute when he nodded a neat Manny Muscat cross past Mariners keeper Danny Vukovic. Though the match hit a flat spot midway through, Ifill steamed things up again in the 79th minute. A Mariners free kick was pounced on by Phoenix, who broke downfield as the Mariners- defence scrambled back.

Chris Greenacre was nearly rewarded from the attack when his fierce volley was parried by Vukovic, his fellow British striker, Ifill, on hand to tap in.

Just a minute later it was Ifill who made sure of the history-making result when he drilled the ball home from an acute angle after another trademark jinking run into the box.

The Phoenix could well have scored two or three more, such was their dominance in the closing minutes, but the final finish just eluded them.

Nevertheless, the win sealed Ricki Herbert-s men a historic semifinal at their Wellington stronghold and with it a decent crack at the Hyundai A-League title.

Ifill, rated by Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert as the best player in the competition, again underlined his value to the team. He was a constant menace to the Mariners- midfield and defence and his finishing was clinical.

The workaholic Briton said the Phoenix were thrilled with the result – and confirmation of the home semifinal – but that the job was not done.

“It was up to us to do the business (against the Mariners) and we have. We-ve got a home semi and hopefully we can get 20,000-plus people here for that. We know that to get a team over here we-ll fancy ourselves, so now it-s down to us as a squad to do the right things and plan, because we-ve got a great chance to go on with it.”

Ifill also sounded a personal word of warning to his rivals following the 3-0 win.

“To be honest I thought I had a good 20 minutes but I wasn-t best pleased with the first half. I was a bit frustrated and I felt I was trying to do too much with the ball, trying to take people on to tight. We talked about that at halftime, about moving the ball more quickly, and I think we all did in the second half.

“I said in the press that I thought I was due to stand up and be counted. Like I said, I think I only had a good 20 minutes, so I-m due another one – I-ll save a bit in the tank for next week and we-ll go again.”

While Ifill won the plaudits, he was adamant the win was another total team effort.

“Greenie (Greenacre) runs his backside off and although he-s frustrated, because he prides himself on goals, I don-t think we could have won as many games as we have without him. For me the back four was so strong, Rocket (keeper Liam Reddy) has kept his third clean sheet in a row (another club best for the Phoenix), and the midfield boys were superb. Personally it-s nice to score goals but I can-t get them without the team.”

Wellington Phoenix 3 (Tim Brown 14, Paul Ifill 79, 80)
Central Coast Mariners 0

HT: 1-0
Crowd: 14,318 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington