Wellington Phoenix have at last broken through for a win but it appears to have come at a heavy cost.
A 1-0 defeat of Sydney FC in Wellington on Sunday broke coach Ernie Merrick’s winless record at the A-League club but was soured by an apparently serious injury to classy forward Paul Ifill.
The 34-year-old crumpled in a heap for no obvious reason just after halftime and was stretchered off in considerable pain. If he has damaged his achilles tendon, it is probably a season-ending blow.
There was still plenty of reason to smile for a side and 6313 supporters at Westpac Stadium who have endured a season of near-misses.
Their run of bad luck appeared set to continue when they spurned a number of early chances.
But in the 33rd minute, striker Stein Huysegems breezed around goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic and slotted into an empty net after a through ball from Carlos Hernandez.
Before that, Huysegems and Ifill produced some madcap moments up front while Sydney FC also went close a handful of times in a hectic opening half hour.
The visitors’ best chance was butchered by Joel Chianese, who stretched to tap the ball into an open net but scuffed it wide.
Sydney FC looked less likely as the match wore on, clearly missing the assured skill of injured playmaker Alessandro Del Piero.
They started the 11th round in fourth place after winning five of their last six games but could drop to as low as sixth if the Central Coast Mariners beat Western Sydney Wanderers on Monday.
The Phoenix remain ninth but adding a win to their four draws and six losses should boost sagging confidence levels.
It ended a three-match losing run against Sydney FC and was their first win at Westpac Stadium in the calendar year, having suffered five losses and three draws in 2013.
Merrick will need to consider his attacking formation if Ifill is, as expected, sidelined for some time.
He started with the former Barbados international ahead of Jeremy Brockie, whose touch has been cold in recent weeks.
Any angst playmaker Hernandez has about the late arrival of his family to New Zealand was put aside as he returned from injury with a typically influential outing behind the front line.
Fellow Costa Rican Kenny Cunningham limped off with 20 minutes to play but his injury didn’t appear serious.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX 1 (Stein Huysegems 33m) bt SYDNEY FC 0 at Westpac Stadium. Crowd: 6,339. Referee: Peter O’Leary.