Bolters are a rare sight in professional football but the Wellington Phoenix are poised to unveil one of the bigger surprises in their short existence.
Teenage defender James Musa is set to line up at left back when the Phoenix host the Melbourne Victory in a key A-League match here tomorrow night.
The 18-year-old will enter a pressure cooker fixure between two sides sitting on the fringe of the top-six and desperate to build some momentum through the second half of the season.
Normally conservative with his selections, coach Ricki Herbert admits he is taking a risk by injecting someone so raw to replace suspended defender Ben Sigmund but has a gut feeling the English-born and Wanganui-raised Musa has the goods.
"How cool's that for a young kid," Herbert said today.
"He's going to come in and debut against probably one of the best clubs in the league historically and go for it."
The athletic Musa signed for the Phoenix as one of their under-21 players in June.
He will become the 50th player to play for the club and the third youngest after Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas, who both debuted aged 17.
Two matches at centre back for the Phoenix A team this month against Waikato and Wellington impressed Herbert. He will play out of position, although is a natural left-footer.
Herbert told NZPA he sensed Musa had the maturity to make the massive step up.
"When you come out onto the real stage, you can't write anything for him," he said.
"You have to cut him a little bit of slack. He's played two games in a hell of a long period of time .. and he might not be there. But we'll see.
"Will he make mistakes? I think he probably will, but I'll probably invest in him tomorrow. He's got a good stature, a good presence, and he's not slow."
The absence of Sigmund - who misses a week after picking up a fifth yellow card for the season during the 2-0 defeat of the Heart on Sunday - has prompted Herbert to shift Jade North from right back into his favoured centre of defence and move Troy Hearfield from left back to his more natural right side.
The coach considered shuffling either Manny Muscat or Vince Lia back from the midfield but was reluctant to break up the combination that helped beat the Heart, a result which has brought some pep back into their campaign.
It means there is still no place for veteran All Whites midfielder Simon Elliott, who has taken time to settle into the team pattern.
"I'm very tempted to leave the boys in the middle and at the top," Herbert said.
"It's got nothing to do with whether Simon is good enough or not good enough. Those other boys have been here for 2-3 years and they know each other really well. There's a comfort around that in the team."
The Phoenix and Victory have identical records, sitting on 18 points from 16 matches, with both deemed to have under-performed to this stage given the strength of their squads.
The Victory - runners up last season and champions the year before - haven't won on the road in their last six games, a club record.
"They're tinkering a wee bit. They're no better than us at the moment, up and down, same points, same games," Herbert said.
"I think it's got the recipe for quite an attractive game."
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