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PAUL IFILL sets himself the highest of standards as a professional footballer and the Wellington Phoenix striker is barely giving himself a pass mark following his first match for the club.
Despite having only joined his new teammates just a week before the Phoenix’s Hyundai A-League 2009/10 opener – a 3-2 loss to the Newcastle Jets in Newcastle – the former Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Millwall marksman turned in a solid 68 minutes at EnergyAustralia Stadium.
But Ifill saw his performance differently. Asked whether he gave himself a thumbs-up for his efforts against the Jets, the 29-year-old was blunt in his assessment.
“No, not really, to be honest. It was a safe, rather than spectacular performance. I think I held the ball up fairly well but I needed to be receiving the ball in better areas where I can do damage, and that wasn’t the case. That’s down to me, being a creative player, to put myself in positions where I can be a threat.”
Limited training time to form combinations with his teammates played a significant role, the experienced Ifill admitting he perhaps tried to do too much.
“I was getting frustrated and I found myself getting deeper and deeper and taking on a bit of a defensive role, which is not really my game. We didn’t seem to do the things we’d worked hard on and done well at training; we didn’t play good football and try to build things from the back.
“The pitch didn’t help, it was awful. We like to keep the ball down and pass it, but the conditions forced both teams to try and go aerially and from our perspective that’s not what we’re about.”
Ifill admitted before the Jets game that he was short of peak match-fitness and was hoping to get by “on adrenaline”.
“But I didn’t feel too bad, really. The medical team did a great job getting me ready and I thought I probably had another 10 minutes left in me against the Jets. But I could understand what (Phoenix head coach) Ricki Herbert was thinking around that.
“I’m working hard now and doing extra training in my own time, so hopefully I’ll get 90 minutes against Perth Glory on Sunday.”
The Phoenix’s home opener at Westpac Stadium against the West Australian outfit – also first-round losers – promises to be a cracker.
“We’ve worked on a lot of things collectively and individually,” said Ifill. “I think we’ll be good going into Sunday.”
Ifill said a much improved allround effort would be needed if the Phoenix were to roll the Glory after a tentative start against the Jets saw the Wellingtonians go two goals down after 22 minutes. However, one major positive was the resolve and grit the Phoenix showed to level the scores at halftime courtesy of goals to Ben Sigmund and Ifill’s fellow Briton, Chris Greenacre.
“I don’t know if we were nervous but we just didn’t seem to get on the ball like we know we can do and before we knew it we were 2-0 down. Siggy’s goal gave us belief and Greenie’s goal to get us back to 2-2 was excellent. When we came out in the second half I thought we looked strong and that we’d go ahead and win the game, to be honest.
“But unfortunately the goal didn’t come for us. While there has been some finger-pointing at the defence for the loss, it comes down to all of us. It’s about Greenie and myself, as well, to be making better movements. The goals will come.”
Confidence and belief within the Phoenix camp was strong.
“We’ve worked hard on the things that went wrong and we’ve all been honest and said the performance in Newcastle wasn’t good enough,” Ifill said.
“I think if we’d got beaten 3-0 then we’d have been really worried. We showed good resilience to get back to 2-2, only to let it go with six minutes to go. A lot of teams would have rolled over at 2-0 down and away from home in the first game of the season. We didn’t.
“That character bodes well.”