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.
Meanwhile, Perth Glory’s drama-filled week hit another low note on Sunday after star winger Ryo Nagai was injured in the club’s 0-0 A-League draw with Adelaide at nib Stadium.
Nagai was carried off the ground by two trainers in the 77th minute after appearing to injure his hamstring while sprinting towards goal.
In a match blighted by poor errors from both sides, Glory goalkeeper Danny Vukovic made a few sharp saves in the first half to ensure his team escaped with a share of the spoils.
The result left Perth three points adrift of the top-six, while Adelaide are a further three points behind.
That gap will widen if Central Coast pick up any points in their clash with Western Sydney on Monday night.
The Glory entered the match under the spotlight following the mid-week sacking of coach Alistair Edwards.
The former Socceroo was given his marching orders following a player revolt led by skipper Jacob Burns, with the issue of nepotism central to their concerns.
Burns was re-instated to the starting line-up by interim coach Kenny Lowe, but there was no room for Ryan Edwards, who according to the club had been struck down by a bout of gastro on Friday.
However, his brother Cameron, who had featured mostly off the bench this season, was handed a rare start before being subbed off in the 58th minute.
Burns received mostly cheers when his name was read out pre-game, but there were a few boos around.
The 35-year-old didn’t enjoy his best outing, committing a series of mistakes after experiencing what must have been a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the week.
Although Glory controlled play for much of the first half, it was Adelaide who created the better opportunities.
Vukovic did well to block out Marcelo Carrusca’s long-range effort, and the custodian pulled off a brilliant reflex save with his legs in the 40th minute to deny Jeronimo Nuemann.
Adelaide started the second half brightly, with playmaker Jeronimo causing Perth’s defence a few problems.
But the visitors couldn’t find a clear-cut path to goal, with the match ending in a tame draw in front of 9436 fans.