Maiden Wellington win marred by Ifill injury

by Jeremy Ruane
with the compliments of

A-League Season 2013-14, Round 11
Sunday 22 December 2013, 7pm, Westpac Stadium, Wellington NZ

Wellington Phoenix FC 1  (Stein Huysegems 33′)

Sydney FC 0

Wellington Phoenix finally scored their maiden win of the 2013-14 Hyundai A-League season at the eleventh time of asking on 22 December, 2013 – but their 1-0 triumph over Sydney FC at Westpac Stadium came at a heavy price.

The sad sight of club talisman Paul Ifill being stretchered off the pitch, after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the 49th minute, marred what was only the fourth victory Wellington had recorded in this calendar year, and temporarily silenced the 6,339 fans present, who broke out into spontaneous applause and chanted Ifill’s name as he headed down the tunnel, perhaps for the final time in a playing capacity.

As sad as it is to see this happen to any player, particularly one as popular as Ifill, there can be no denying that this is a potentially career-ending injury for the 34-year-old Barbados international, who, because of injuries, hasn’t had the chance to complete a single

ninety-minute match this season, and comes off contract with the club at the end of this campaign.

It is certainly a blow to Wellington’s play-off prospects, but they inflicted one of their own on a Sydney side which sorely missed their own talisman, the injured Alessandro Del Piero, in this match.

The opening ten minutes saw great chances spurned at both ends of the park. Albert Riera played a super ball down the left to release Stein Huysegems in the sixth minute, with the Belgian getting the better of Seb Ryall en route into the penalty area, from where he battered a rising drive narrowly past the far post.

Two minutes later, Sydney responded with a contender for ‘miss of the season’! Ali Abbas – a strong game – sent Ranko Despotovic dashing down the left, where he scampered past Louis Fenton en route to the by-line.

Looking up, he spotted Joel Chianese arriving on cue in the goalmouth, and duly rolled the ball into his path. Sliding in, the striker made contact with the ball, but somehow contrived to steer it past a gaping goal from six yards … the wags on the terraces weren’t quick-witted enough to unleash a chorus of “Are you Brockie in disguise?” in response to this miss!

Wellington went desperately close to breaking the deadlock in the tenth minute. The fit again Carlos Hernandez slipped the recalled Ifill through the inside-left channel to the by-line, from where he pulled the ball back into Huysegems’ stride.

The striker evaded a challenge before hammering a shot past Vedran Janjetovic, only to see it crash off the near post and ricochet to safety via the head of the goalkeeper, who was still diving to his right in an attempt to keep it out.

The visitors retorted with a “hair-parter” – Matt Thompson, after being released down the left by Abbas, skimmed the crown of Chianese as he raced in to meet the midfielder’s cross at the near post in vain.

The end-to-end nature of the match continued, with both Huysegems and Ifill not far away from getting on the end of a searching cross from Fenton in the twentieth minute, Kenny Cunningham and Vince Lia having combined to release the overlapping fullback.

His opposite position-wise, Abbas, retorted with a solo raid in the 23rd minute. Allowed to run unchallenged, he ate up the ground afforded him before unleashing a twenty-yarder which Glen Moss was at full stretch to keep out as he dived to his left.

Only the timely intervention of Nikola Petkovic prevented Huysegems from opening the scoring in the 25th minute, after Ifill had caught Pedj Bojic in possession and promptly set up his fellow front-runner, while the tables were turned two minutes later as Manny

Muscat was caught in possession by Chianese, who played in Despotovic. With just Moss to beat, the striker fired wide of the near post.

Referee Peter O’Leary – who generally had a very good game, not something which can be said of many A-League officials this season – turned down Wellington appeals for a penalty on the half-hour when Huysegems went down under Ryall’s challenge in the area as he looked to exploit another Riera pass.

The home team weren’t to be denied, however, and after Ifill had been thwarted by Janjetovic after Huysegems had been gifted possession by Petkovic, Wellington opened the scoring in the 33rd minute.

Hernandez slipped a slide-rule pass into the stride of Huysegems as he timed his run to perfection to beat the offside trap. The striker then rounded the advancing goalkeeper before tucking the ball home into an empty net from an acute angle, to the undisguised delight of his team-mates and their vocal fans.

The goal stunned Sydney, who struggled to cope with the pressure Wellington’s midfield was applying, pressure which denied their opponents space and time in which to go about responding to the setback. Riera, in particular, was outstanding in this regard, with Nick Carle decidedly subdued thanks in large part to the Spaniard’s industry.

The second half was four minutes old when Ifill’s premature departure came about, as he looked to set off on a run near the edge of Sydney’s penalty area. His leg collapsed beneath him, and the striker was instantly pounding the turf in frustration and pain, a sight which soon silenced Wellington’s fanatical “Yellow Fever” fraternity.

His exit earned a reprieve for Jeremy Brockie, whose failings in front of goal in recent matches had seen him dropped to the bench by Wellington coach Ernie Merrick on this occasion. He rattled the side-netting within seven minutes of entering the fray, this after Ben Sigmund had seen his unchallenged header from a Hernandez corner grabbed by Janjetovic.

Sydney mounted a 58th minute raid which featured the involvement of Bojic, Chianese, half-time substitute Corey Gameiro and Thompson, with Despotovic, the recipient of their enterprise, unable to direct his close-range effort on target at full stretch.

Thompson then blazed an effort wide of the mark, after a bit of Carle magic took out three opponents and opened up Wellington’s right flank, while Thompson’s last contribution to proceedings saw him sky one from eighteen yards in the 67th minute, after Richard Garcia and Despotovic had prised open the home team’s defence in impressive fashion.

In between these attempts, Wellington had twice gone close to doubling their lead. Hernandez released Huysegems down the right, and he evaded two challenges before sending a cross zooming across the bows of Cunningham at the near post.

Seconds later, Riera, Cunningham, Brockie and Hernandez combined to set Huysegems free down the right once more. He lured the defence before slipping the ball inside for the Costa Rican, whose stinging shap-shot was matched by a splendid one-handed reflex save by Janjetovic, the ‘keeper swiftly recovering the rebound before Brockie could react to the opportunity.

After Wellington’s substitute had been denied by Sydney’s goalkeeper in the 68th minute, the visitors looked to build up a head of steam in their pursuit of parity. But Riera and company managed to restrict Sydney to just one meaningful shot throughout the rest of the match – a thirty-five yarder from Carle which Moss was right behind, six minutes from time.

Yes, there were a few close calls either side of this effort, but with Sigmund at his belligerent best in Wellington’s defence, little head-way was made by the visitors, who themselves restricted their hosts to just one more clear-cut scoring chance in the match, an injury time effort from Huysegems which soared over the bar when scoring appeared the only alternative.

The Belgian had done the damage, however, his 33rd minute effort ultimately settling the contest, much to the delight of the Wellingtonians, who last tasted victory at this venue some 360 days previously. It’s been a trying twelve months for their fans in between times, but they couldn’t have been afforded a better Christmas present from the club they support.

Match details
Crowd: 6,339

Wellington Phoenix FC: Moss (gk); Fenton, Sigmund, Durante (booked 82), Muscat; Lia, Riera, Cunningham (Hicks +68′); Ifill (Brockie +49′ (booked 80)), Hernandez (Bertos +85′), Huysegems

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Sydney FC: Janjetovic; Bojic (Jurman +62), Ryall, Petkovic, Abbas; Thompson (Yau +68′), Carle, Garcia; Chianese, Despotovic, Naumoff (Gameiro +46′ (booked 73))

Coach: Frank Farina

Points and ratings

Referee: Peter O’Leary 7/10
Match 5/10
Pitch 8/10

3. Riera (WP)
2. Ali Abbas (SF)
1. Stein Huysegems (WP)

By Jeremy Ruane