Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said the absence of midfield hardman Manny Muscat had been crucial in his side's loss to Melbourne Victory.
Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert said the absence of midfield hardman Manny Muscat had been crucial in his side's loss to Melbourne Victory on Saturday.
Herbert believes the Phoenix - winless in the Victorian capital - played its 'best 42 minutes' in Melbourne before Marcos Flores opened the scoring at AAMI Park, with former Phoenix winger Marco Rojas rounding out the 2-0 defeat soon after the break.
Muscat was suspended for three weeks after being found guilty of elbowing Brisbane Roar forward Nick Fitzgerald, and the Malta international's physicality in midfield was certainly missed by the Phoenix as they worked to contain the triple threat of Flores, Rojas and Archie Thompson.
"(His absence) was probably important for us, absolutely," Herbert said.
"We're all really disappointed that a player of Manny's sort of stature is out for three weeks, and we've been quite strong on those opinions.
"But the depth from our perspective is limited, and when I say that (I mean) from an experience point of view.
"It's tough. He's out, (Paul) Ifill's out (through injury), and they're two very key influential players at this stage when we're going through this sort of transition.
"But you've got what you've got, and we've got to keep working, and for me there was some really good signs in the first half… The stats were 53 (percent possession)-47 (percent) in the first half, and that's completely different to what we've experienced before."
Despite the lack of depth in the squad, however, Herbert said he was unlikely to be overly active in January's transfer window.
A youngster on a short-term deal will instead be the target: "This club is now going to build on a great investment on some of our young players," he said.
"It's a chance for them to come and play a completely different way, and that may take some time. Like I said, this is a three- to five-year plan. It's not something tomorrow.
"… Certainly a young player will come into the squad in January, primarily around a really good three-month window of opportunity of staking a claim to be signed longer term.
"That's probably where we sit."