Milligan fills the Muscat void

Replacing Kevin Muscat appeared an impossible task for Melbourne Victory but Mark Milligan has proved just as influential and inspiring for Ange Postecoglou's side.

When Melbourne Victory blew a 2-0 lead to finish the match 2-2 against Sydney FC on Australia Day last year, then Victory coach Jim Magilton ripped into his team and accused them of footballing naivety. Save for the newboy, Mark Milligan, whose performance was described as “outstanding” by Magilton.

Over a year later, not much has changed in the way of superlatives heaped on Victory-s Mr Versatile. Ange Postecoglou used the same adjective earlier in the season to describe Milligan-s performances. By January this year, Postecoglou had labeled the 27-year-old as the “quintessential box-to-box midfielder”.

Kevin Muscat was a driving force behind the signing of Milligan in early 2012, but as he sang the former Jet-s praises to Magilton, you wonder whether it was because he saw a little bit of himself in the versatile Socceroo - minus the fiery attitude, of course.

When Muscat decided to relay orders from the sideline as opposed to the backline, Adrian Leijer was the player burdened with the expectations of filling the Muscat void, both as the team-s on-field leader and rock in the heart of defence.

Despite being groomed by Muscat himself, Leijer has been unable to replicate his mentor-s qualities, at times displaying a lack of defensive organisation, quality distribution and influence.

In Milligan, Muscat could have ticked off all three before he presented his case to Magilton.

“He's a very strong character with a real belief in himself and he tends to lift people around him,” Postecoglou said earlier this year. The fact that Milligan is proving to be as equally prolific from the penalty spot as Muscat once was is an added bonus.

Just as Muscat was pivotal to the Victory cause in his deep lying defensive midfield role, Milligan has figured as a key ingredient in Postecoglou-s masterplan.

Originally deployed in the centre of defence at the start of the season, Postecoglou moved Milligan into the base of midfield from Round 3 to take advantage of his influential nature and facilitate the transition from defence to attack.

“I was going to use him as a centre-back when I first signed him, but he's such a dominant influence in the middle of the park that I feel now we might be robbing ourselves if we use him there,” Postecoglou admitted.

The move has paid dividends in Victory-s march towards this weekend-s sudden death semi-final against Central Coast Mariners, with a host of inspiring performances leading Milligan to establish himself as Victory-s most consistent performer of the current campaign.

One only had to witness his tireless contribution in Victory-s highly-entertaining Round 25 clash against Sydney FC, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

“He is one of those guys who can do it all: he works hard, he is a good passer of the ball and he scores goals,” Postecoglou said post-match.

Some have suggested that Milligan-s versatility has worked against him in his bid to receive more match time with the Socceroos, however there-s no doubt it-s one of his trump cards at Victory given his ability to slot into defence when required, stifle opposition attacks in midfield or generate attacks of his own.

And as was the case with Muscat, they-re qualities that make him indispensable to the way Victory want to play.

Ahead of Victory-s Round 3 clash against Adelaide United earlier in the season, then Reds coach John Kosmina remarked how Victory “haven't really replaced [Muscat] as a player or as a character”.

Replacing Muscat the character is virtually impossible, yet in Milligan they have a player capable of inspiring those around him, just as Muscat did.