Manny Muscat on move against Central Coast

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 21/02/2014
Manny Muscat
Fairfax NZ
CHANGE OF TACK: Manny Muscat is set to shift into midfield for the Phoenix tonight.

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The numbers make for ugly reading.

Not once in their past 10 meetings have the Phoenix belted out their victory song following a game against the Mariners.

The record reads eight losses and two draws dating back to August 2010, when Leo Bertos and Paul Ifill scored in a 2-0 win at Westpac Stadium.

It might sound absurd, coming off the back of a record 5-0 hammering from Melbourne Heart, but the Phoenix won't get a better chance to snap that streak than tonight.

The Phoenix went from the A-League's form team to woefully inept last Sunday while Central Coast have lost their past three games and were equally poor in their previous outing; a 2-0 loss to Adelaide United, who could have easily scored five had their strikers had their shooting boots on.

The defending champion Mariners, already ravaged by injury and transfer defections, have been further weakened with suspensions to starters Josh Rose, Nick Fitzgerald and Matt Simon.

Highly-rated South Korean attacker Kim Seung-yong will make his first start but the Phoenix fancy their chances.

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick is set to play a trump card by shifting left back Manny Muscat into midfield.

It is a sensible move. The Maltese international has done the job before and, in the absence of an injured Albert Riera, will be asked to shield a suddenly leaky defence.

The Phoenix's past five games featured 21 goals - 11 for and 10 against.

As much as Merrick likes to attack, the Scotsman knows he can't expect to qualify for the finals while copping two goals a game.

Muscat's move will open a berth for either Reece Caira or Josh Brindell-South and allow Vince Lia to revert to the right side of a midfield diamond, where has been effective in conjunction with Carlos Hernandez.

The Heart showed the Phoenix are vulnerable if Hernandez can be shackled.

Mariners midfield men John Hutchinson and Nick Montgomery will have taken note and will try to force an attacking plan B from their visitors.

"The boys are well aware that we never want to play that type of game again and that very, very poor performance just can't happen again for the rest of the season," Merrick said.

"He [Muscat] is certainly a very good defensive midfielder, there's no doubt about that. Midfield was an area we were particularly poor. Especially when Carlos was taken out of the game and a lot fell on Vince Lia, as really the only defensive midfielder we had last weekend. So we've been addressing that."

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Defender Ben Sigmund said an honesty session had convinced him that the Heart flogging was merely a blip in their run at the top-six.

"It's good that we can all look in the mirror and say we didn't quite do what we were meant to do," Sigmund said.

"If people are saying it wasn't my fault or whatever, then I think that's when you've got the problems. But everyone's accepted it and we're ready to move forward."

While respectful towards the resilient Mariners, Sigmund said their high turnover meant they had to be viewed as vulnerable.

Central Coast have lost coach Graham Arnold and key players Michael McGlinchey, Marcos Flores, Trent Sainsbury and Daniel McBreen mid-season.

"They've lost a lot of senior players and when you start losing senior players, you miss your communication and your organisation," Sigmund said.

"But they're a great team and we've got to respect them. If we stick to what Ernie wants from us, and get our gameplan right, then I'm really confident. We've got to come out all guns blazing because we've still got a great chance of the top-six. With the players we've got and the expectations we've got as a team, we'll be fine."

Merrick has dropped Jason Hicks and Hamish Watson, and included Brindell-South and Roy Krishna.

- Fairfax Media

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