Ifill in a race against time

Paul Ifill will play 45 minutes in a training game on Saturday afternoon to prove his fitness for Wellington Phoenix's Hyundai A-League season opener against Sydney FC next weekend.

Paul Ifill will play 45 minutes in a training game on Saturday afternoon to prove his fitness for Wellington Phoenix's Hyundai A-League season opener against Sydney FC next weekend.

Ifill suffered a small tear to the medial ligament of his right knee and damage to his right ankle in a training game earlier this month.

The 32-year-old and midfielder Vince Lia, who is returning from a knee injury, both came through training on Friday and will each play a half in the final pre-season match against New Zealand national league side Youngheart Manawatu in Palmerston North.

"Paul is good. You can normally tell with him. He's got some good banter around this morning. He's feeling good," Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said.

"I think he'll be OK. He looks fine. It's just really he hasn't had the matches now. He did a little bit in India but he's missed quite a bit of work."

Saturday's game will be Lia's first after he missed the club's tour to India because of his injury, which was initially predicted to keep him out for a couple of weeks.

Instead it has been months and even if he comes through his 45 minutes unscathed, Herbert felt it was unlikely his midfielder would be pushing for a starting spot next week.

"I'd say Vinnie will take two or three games to get back," the Phoenix coach said.

Ifill's chances are slightly better but his recovery will not be rushed after he came back too early from a groin injury last season, hurt himself again and ended up missing around 10 games in total.

"The thing that was different last time is that it was a muscle injury and it's a little bit dangerous to come back too early," Ifill said.

"I did the rehab and it felt fine. But you can't replicate the speed of an A-League game in training. We misread the script a bit there.

"This is a different injury and I've done this before. Once the ligament has healed it's fine.

"The ankle is still sore but I've been running around (at training). It's manageable. Tomorrow will be some sort of test."

Herbert is also under less pressure to pick Ifill for the season opener now he has far greater attacking options following the signings of Benjamin Totori, Jeremy Brockie and teenager Louis Fenton this year.

Fenton, in particular, has done well in the wide attacking role earmarked for Ifill this season.

"If it had been last year then I'd probably be playing 90 minutes tomorrow and definitely would have been playing against Sydney," said Ifill.

"Now we can say maybe 45 minutes tomorrow and then if it's good enough for the bench then that's fine because he (Herbert) trusts his players like Benji and 'Brocks' and young Louis who have come in and done really well.

"It's a good place to be. It's the best squad we've had since I've been here."

Despite missing a training game against a Team Wellington select 11 and the pre-season hit-out against A-League newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers, Ifill was confident his match fitness was not too far behind his team-mates.

"Western Sydney is the only one that I would count because that's a proper test," he said.

"I probably would have played 70 minutes so maybe I'm 70 minutes behind the boys.

"It's a long, long pre-season. I'm used to six weeks at home (in Britain) and I've done three months so I'm sure I'll be up to scratch."