Phoenix belt Newcastle, Ifill injured

Wellington Phoenix overcame the loss of talisman Paul Ifill to claim a vital 4-0 win over a depleted Newcastle Jets side in Wellington on Saturday night.

Wellington Phoenix overcame the loss of talisman Paul Ifill to claim a vital 4-0 win over a depleted Newcastle Jets side in Wellington on Saturday night.

Ifill left the field on a stretcher after landing awkwardly following an attempted shot on goal in the 10th minute and was taken to hospital for X-rays which cleared him of a fracture just below his left knee.

But far from putting the Phoenix off their stride Ifill’s departure seemed to galvanise them with Tim Brown, Marco Rojas and Chris Greenacre, who had replaced Ifill, all scoring before half-time.

Dylan Macallister coolly slotted home a fourth in the dying stages of the match and the comprehensive win lifted the Phoenix level with the Jets on 25 points and kept their play-off hopes alive.

“It was important that we won, that was the crucial thing tonight,” said Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert.

“When you’ve got (Mark) Paston out, (Tony) Lochhead out, (Nick) Ward out, (Andrew) Durante suspended and Paul only lasted five minutes, I think it’s testament to the players that came in and did a great job. It’s the best we’ve played all year I would say.”

Both teams were without key personnel due to suspension and injury with the Jets missing seven players who would normally have been in their starting XI, including captain Ljubo Milicevic (suspended).

Taylor Regan came into the defence for Milicevic with Tomislav Misura and Jacob Pepper in for the suspended Kasey Wehrman and injured Ruben Zadkovich and they did not look like the side that had gone unbeaten in their past seven games, nor one that had conceded only 12 goals heading into the match.

For the Phoenix, Danny Vukovic replaced Mark Paston (leg/knee) in goal, Rojas was handed his first start for the club with Leo Bertos, playing his 100th A-League game, returning to the other flank.

Macallister lead the attack with Ifill, although it turned out to be a short-lived 50th A-League appearance for the Barbados international.

Rojas’ cameos off the bench had given a hint at his talent and he was a constant menace, popping up all over the pitch as he harried Jets players whenever they had the ball and ran hard at them when the Phoenix pressed forward.

It was a strong run down the right flank by the livewire teenager that set up Brown’s opener. Rojas got to the edge of the box, laid off to Greenacre, who crossed the ball in for Brown to head home less than 10 minutes after Ifill’s departure.

Rojas doubled the tally in the 31st minute when Manny Muscat floated a ball into the back post, Macallister nodded it into the path of his young team-mate who slotted the ball past Matthew Nash for his debut goal.

The Phoenix’s third came three minutes before the break when Greenacre turned and fired in from close range. Nash was beaten but Tarek Elrich cleared the ball but was behind the line when he did so and referee Jarred Gillett, after only a moment’s hesitation, awarded the goal.

Jets coach Branko Culina turned to his bench at the start of the second half with Misura replaced by Kaz Patafta and Labinot Haliti brought on for Pepper.

Haliti was quickly into the action and forced a smart one-handed save from Vukovic 10 minutes after coming on. Elrich had another effort saved by Vukovic on the hour mark but chances remained few and far between for the visitors as their golden run came to an end.

With the points sewn up, Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert emptied his bench swapping one teenager for another when he replaced Rojas with defender James Musa for the final 10 minutes and Macallister crowned a good team performance when he calmly slotted home two minutes from time.

Culina was phlegmatic about the defeat. “Obviously we weren’t good enough but we’ve had a good run. Tonight was a bit of a hiccup but we’ll bounce back.”

“We missed a lot of players and don’t forget we played a very hard game on Wednesday. We’ve travelled 11 hours to get here on a Saturday, the scheduling is just … but you can’t blame that alone. But we’re a good team we’ll bounce back.”