The Phoenix's key forward had been in doubt for his side's Week 1 match with Sydney FC, though a starting role in Herbert's XI is not guaranteed
|By EMMA STONEY
Paul Ifill has declared himself fit for Wellington Phoenix's A-League opener against Sydney FC after getting through 45 minutes of his side's final pre-season hit-out.
Ifill continued his comeback from knee and ankle injuries by playing in the second half of the 7-1 win against New Zealand league side Young Heart Manawatu on Saturday.
The 32-year-old said bar a little bit of soreness in the ankle, which he had expected, he came through the hit-out well but knew he was still not guaranteed to start against the Sky Blues.
"It's the first time I've done anything sort of serious I suppose in a couple of weeks so I'm pretty pleased with how it went. Hopefully I'll be involved in some way at the weekend," Ifill said.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert has already hinted Ifill is unlikely to start against Sydney given the way teenager Louis Fenton has performed during pre-season.
He was one of the standouts on the club's tour of India and his pace and ability to get balls into the box has been a real plus for the Phoenix so far.
With new signings Stein Huysegems and Jeremy Brockie set to play as the two up front, Ifill, Fenton and Solomon Islands forward Benjamin Totori will be battling it out for the two wide attacking roles this season.
So far, the combination of Fenton, Totori, Huysegems and Brockie has been fruitful – particularly for Brockie who has scored 18 goals in pre-season – and Ifill is comfortable with the fact he may start next weekend's match at Westpac Stadium off the bench.
"Coming back from injury that is what you have to do. [Herbert's] got a lot of options this year and there is definitely less pressure on me to have to come back and play," Ifill said.
"It might be a good thing to get 30 minutes if they need me. If they don't, then hopefully they can do the business without me and I'll be fully fit for the following week in Melbourne.
"I'd put my hand up to play but I think the way the boys have been going, they've been doing okay without me, so I would imagine [Herbert] will keep it unchanged which I've no problem with."
Herbert certainly has no qualms about handing Fenton his debut start on Saturday, rating him even more highly than Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas – two of the most recent young successes to come out of the Phoenix.
"He's excelled. He's probably been the best young one we've had at the club," Herbert said.
"His work ethic is just top draw. He's good local talent. He's a good signing and I think he'll be a handful in the league.
"When you compare him to other young ones we've played against he's probably right up there."
Also factoring into Herbert's thinking for the opening game will be the fact that for Wellington's trip to Melbourne Heart the following week, seven of the squad – including Brockie – will be away on international duty with New Zealand, while Totori will be with the Solomon Islands, meaning Ifill will have to play at AAMI Park.
"I won't be waiting long for a game," said Ifill.
"So if he wants me from the bench (against Sydney) that's fine."