One man doesn't make a team, but nonetheless it is hard to shake the feeling that the Wellington Phoenix's playoff hopes hinge on Paul Ifill and his suddenly dodgy groins.
The 32-year-old striker has overcome hamstring problems earlier in his career, but for the first time it is his groins bothering him during a stop-start 2011-12 A-League season.
Fifth-placed Wellington have done well to box on without their talisman for large chunks of the season, but in some games Ifill's swagger and playmaking ability are sorely missed.
Friday's 2-0 loss to Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium was one of those nights and so it is welcome news that Ifill is poised to return for the back-to-back home games against Sydney FC (Wednesday) and Perth Glory (Sunday) this week.
Ifill has missed the Phoenix's last three games after first playing a starring role and then limping off during the 2-0 win over Brisbane Roar in Dunedin.
He visited his physio yesterday and received the green light to participate fully in training today and make himself available to coach Ricki Herbert for selection.
Ifill said it would be unrealistic to play 90 minutes in both games, but hoped to contribute.
"When I come back, I want to stay back, that's the trouble," Ifill said.
"I feel like I'm playing quite well, like I'm in the sort of form I had in my first season here. That's why it's frustrating but I've worked hard all week and I feel pretty good. But with groins, people can say that they feel great and then they can go quite easily, which is what I've found. I just hope there's not an underlying problem and within a couple of weeks we're not even worried about it."
Ifill was a frustrated spectator on Friday as the Phoenix's road woes continued. Wellington are yet to win in Australia this season and Tim Brown in particular was guilty of blowing a golden chance to equalise in Adelaide.
"We've got to make the most of our chances," Ifill said. "That's normally Browny's game. I don't need to tell him what to do with heading the ball because I can't head the ball to save my life. I probably wouldn't have even hit the target myself so I can't have a go at him for that. But that is his bread and butter and I just think we're not making the most of our chances away like we do at home.
"And to be honest I thought the crossing was pretty average all night. Obviously it's frustrating for the fans but trust me, it's just as frustrating for us."
The Phoenix have already beaten both Sydney and Perth at Westpac Stadium this season and Ifill said claiming the maximum six points was a must if the club was to push for a top-four, rather than top-six finish.
After this week, seven of the Phoenix's last 11 games are on the road.
"If you'd said going into the new year, you'd be fifth, we'd have definitely taken that. You add in a few injuries and the trouble we had over summer, I don't think it's all bad," Ifill said.
"Our away record is ... I wouldn't even say it's average, it's way worse than that. If we don't sort that out in those last 11 games then we're not going to make the playoffs."
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Brisbane returned to winning ways with a 3-1 defeat of Melbourne Victory. The other two games ended in draws.
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