Ifill hits the spot for Phoenix
Penalty call at last goes talisman's waySAM WORTHINGTON
Paul Ifill had thought the A-League's referees had been conspiring against him this season.
The Phoenix's talisman had twice been outspoken after being denied seemingly clear-cut penalties during the regular season, but it seems keep asking and you shall eventually receive.
After Sydney FC's Joel Chianese had shocked the still-celebrating Phoenix by scoring twice to level the scores at 2-2, Ifill weaved his way into the penalty box, was brought down by Michael Beauchamp and finally referee Chris Beath pointed to the spot with four minutes to play.
Ifill, who had been diligently practising his penalties the day before the game, was assured under the spotlight. He struck the ball hard and true past Ivan Necevski into the top right corner to end Sydney's brave comeback.
Last night's 3-2 win at Westpac Stadium means season over for Sydney but the Phoenix march on to play the winner of tomorrow night's Perth Glory-Melbourne Heart elimination final.
If Perth win, the Phoenix are flying to Western Australia, if the Heart come through then they do it all again at Westpac Stadium next weekend.
"It's a great feeling, nothing's ever easy here and we made it very hard for ourselves," said Ifill after a pulsating match that unfortunately was played in front of just 10,019.
"It's just nice to get a penalty at last, I probably had two more stonewall ones than that; but I still think it was a pen and it was nice to be able to dust myself down and take it.
"I've said I've wanted one for a long time but with four minutes to go in an elimination game it was a little bit nerve-racking and they were doing their best to put me off. It took a long time; it's nicer when you can just put the ball down and put it in the back of the net. I don't like the waiting around but at the end of the day I stuck it in the net and we go on so I'm pretty pleased."
He has played a lot of football but Ifill admitted last night – with two goals at each end within seven minutes – was fairly dramatic.
"[It was] 2-0 up and I thought the last 10 minutes we could just keep the ball and do it a little bit easier. Three minutes later, we're 2-2 and it's like, oh my god, this could be the end of that."
But the show goes on and not surprisingly the Phoenix are crossing their fingers for the sixth-ranked Heart to upset the third-placed Glory.
Earlier, it seemed the Phoenix might advance with a regulation 1-0 win.
If Tim Brown wants to retire he's going a funny way about it.
The Phoenix centurion, who is quitting football to hit the books in England, ensured he would lace up the boots at least once more by scoring the opener when play resumed after a scoreless first half. In a congested penalty box, the midfielder pounced when good mate Ben Sigmund nodded a header in his direction and snapped a close-range shot past Necevski.
The 31-year-old has possibly never run faster than he did to get to the corner flag to soak up the raucous Yellow Fever celebrations and Sigmund looked to have sealed the win in the 79th minute with a trademark powerful header.
But the Phoenix fell asleep as Chianese scored literally from the kickoff. The youngster lopped a shot over Mark Paston after a Nick Carle ball had taken a fortuitous deflection off Mark Bridge.
Four minutes later Paston couldn't hold a Bridge shot and Chianese had a simple followup for 2-2 before Ifill's 86th minute winner.
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