Phoenix's Muscat to bring up ton vs Victory
In a more logical world, Manny Muscat would be playing his 100th game for the Melbourne Victory tonight.
A born and raised Victorian, Muscat captained Sunshine George Cross as a 19-year-old before going on to star for state rivals Green Gully.
But despite his Victorian Premier League success, Muscat couldn't get a look in with the Victory, not even a trial.
Their loss has been the Phoenix's gain and Maltese international Muscat - perhaps the league's most under-rated player - will bring up his ton in front of his family and friends at Etihad Stadium tonight.
"A hundred games for one club . . . it's been a wonderful experience here and hopefully there's many more games to come," Muscat said.
"There was no interest from Melbourne. I did have a stint with Brisbane for a week and then a week with Sydney but it never came through, so third time lucky with the Phoenix and I've never looked back."
Muscat arrived at the Phoenix in 2008 as cover for Tony Lochhead, who was trialling with Middlesbrough at the time.
Initially used at right back, Muscat impressed Ricki Herbert enough to earn a permanent contract, and has really found his home as a defensive midfielder, with tonight's other centurion, Leo Bertos, shifting into the backline.
Muscat was belatedly offered contracts by both the Victory and Melbourne Heart but re-signed with the Phoenix in January.
The temptation of home meant that wasn't an easy decision and Muscat also co-owns a building business in Victoria with his father.
"I still do the town planning and building permits from here, corresponding with the draughtsman and all the tradesmen," Muscat said. "And then when I go back in the off-season I carry on and be more hands on. But I love this club and I thank Wellington Phoenix for the opportunity."
While the Victory are last on the ladder, the Phoenix have never won in Melbourne in 10 attempts.
They may never get a better opportunity than tonight given the hosts' shaky defensive record.
The Victory have conceded 10 goals in four games as coach Ange Postecoglou stays loyal to his play out from the back approach perfected in Brisbane.
Postecoglou's men have completed 1545 passes - more then double that of the Phoenix with just 763, but Herbert's direct tactics have yielded more shots and goals and they will be happy to break the hoodoo by any means necessary.
"It's just one of those teams that we can't get three points against, especially away from home," Muscat said.
"In the first four games there's been spells where they've played some good football. But it's just not working out for them at the moment.
"With Ange directing them they can be a solid side too. But I just think the personnel at the moment, they're not clicking as a unit.
"I think their weakness at the moment is through defence so hopefully we can target them and get some goals early and carry on.
"Let's hope this 100th game is a successful one and I get the three points, and what better occasion to do it than in Melbourne in front of my family."
The Dominion Post