Lochhead set for return

Tony Lochhead is looking forward to trading in the suit for his playing strip on Wednesday night.

Tony Lochhead is looking forward to trading in the suit for his playing strip on Wednesday night.

The Wellington Phoenix left-back has been forced to watch most of the season from the team's corporate box at Westpac Stadium or on TV after undergoing surgery on a torn adductor muscle in late September.

It kept him out of New Zealand's internationals against Honduras and Paraguay in October, but more significantly he has played no part in the Phoenix's 2010/11 campaign since week seven against Melbourne Heart.

"It's easier when you are at home watching it on TV but having to go to the stadium dressed up in your suit and you're not involved that probably the hardest thing," Lochhead said, before joking: "You do get a nice meal while you're up there but it's not much fun to be fair. I'd much rather be involved. The novelty wears off pretty quick."

The past 12 weeks or so have been like a pre-season for Lochhead doing the hard graft on the bike, rowing machine and in the gym.

"It hasn't been all that much fun but I had to do it," he said.

"I've been able to work on a few weaknesses and hopefully I won't have any more problems from now on.

"There was a chance I'd maybe miss the rest of the season so I had to put in the hard yards if I wanted to be playing at the end of the year. I've done my 12 weeks and I'm feeling pretty good. I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent yet but I'm pretty close to it."

"I guess the only thing now is to get out there and play. You can do all the running and biking and lifting but it's not the same as playing."

It has also been tough going for the Phoenix in Lochhead's absence. James Musa, Troy Hearfield and Manny Muscat have filled in at left-back at various points during the season with mixed success and there is no doubt when the New Zealand international plays Wellington look a more balanced side.

"For me he's arguably been the most consistent left-back in the whole of the league for the past three years," coach Ricki Herbert said of Lochhead.

"His stats, his contribution, his delivery into the box, his assists are pretty high. One year I think he topped the lot. We've had to mix and match a wee bit in that position which is not ideal."

The back four has chopped and changed regularly as well due to form and suspension and that uncertainty has played a large part in the Phoenix (35 goals conceded) having the third worst defensive record behind Perth Glory (38) and North Queensland Fury (36).

"I guess we haven't really had a settled back four and last year when we got on our run it was pretty much a set back four, the same guys playing week in week out," Lochhead said.

"That makes a big difference. Everyone has an understanding even without saying things."

Lochhead hopes his return - whether as a starter or via the bench - against Melbourne Victory on Wednesday night can spark a late revival, which the seventh-placed Phoenix need if they are to take one of the two remaining finals spots up for grabs.

"It's all about getting to the play-offs. Hopefully I can be on the field rather than having to watch again," the defender said. "I don't feel like I want to watch anymore games I feel like I want to be out there playing. So fingers crossed Ricki puts me in there.

"If I can come in and hopefully we keep some clean sheets we can get on a bit of a roll."