Paul Ifill is used to tying defenders' legs in knots with his mazy runs.
Now he's tying himself in knots as he racks his brain for the reasons behind his current form slump - and that of his Wellington Phoenix team as a whole.
His pre-season was disrupted by a knee injury but Ifill isn't using that excuse.
The 33-year-old has a variety of theories but the one thing he knows for certain is he needs to snap out of his malaise if the ninth-placed Phoenix are to break a three-game losing streak against the third-placed Jets in Newcastle on Sunday.
The loss to Adelaide United can be attributed to a mixture of poor defending and poor officiating.
The Phoenix then simply didn't turn up for the first hour against the Melbourne Victory and, while they at least raised a good sweat against Central Coast, Ifill agreed "the creativity definitely wasn't there".
"Obviously, I take a lot of blame for that," Ifill said.
The Englishman is certainly not the only one failing to fire.
Jeremy Brockie scored two wonder goals against the Victory but is not having enough impact in general play.
"No, but nor am I," said Ifill, who is playing on the wing this season.
"I don't know, do you swap us around, is he a striker, am I a striker?
"I think both of us are very similar in that we're probably better sort of having a free role but you can't have two in a team having a free role. So it's a conundrum for Ricki [coach Ricki Herbert]."
Ifill is the team's talisman - as he goes, the team goes.
But the arrival of Brockie, Stein Huysegems and Louis Fenton this season means the Phoenix suddenly have a wide range of attacking threats, albeit ones not currently clicking.
"Maybe last year we didn't have as many options and the first thought was get me the ball," Ifill said.
"Now there's more options, so maybe I don't get on the ball as much as I used to . . . but maybe I've got to go and get the ball, but in better positions.
"That's one thing I have noticed - that I'm going and picking it up in front of the back four and off the fullbacks. Whereas last year I was probably picking it up, most of the time, in the final third where I can do damage."
Ifill is the club's all-time leading scorer with 29 goals but he has scored one goal - a penalty - and one assist in six games this season. He can't be accused of not caring - Ifill has been poring over video from his more successful 2009-10 and 2011-12 campaigns in search of answers.
"There's loads of things - you can over-analyse," Ifill said.
"Everybody's trying, you know, so hopefully it will come. I think when you go three losses on the bounce, everybody gets a bit excited and it has to be fixed straight away and everybody gets a bit worried. So I know where we are and I know what football's like, so I'm sure we'll bounce back. I'm pretty confident."
Huysegems, the club's leading scorer this season with three goals, sat out training yesterday with an ankle injury but will leave with the team today. The Belgian has been nursing a knock picked up in the Victory game but assistant coach Chris Greenacre said he was sure he would be fine for Sunday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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