Muscat relishing midfield role

When Manny Muscat first stepped into the role of defensive midfielder for the Wellington Phoenix he admits he copped plenty of good-natured flak from his team-mates.

When Manny Muscat first stepped into the role of defensive midfielder for the Wellington Phoenix he admits he copped plenty of good-natured flak from his team-mates.

Having started the Hyundai A-League season at right-back the Maltese international found himself kicking his heels for three matches during December after being banned for elbowing Tommy Oar in the Phoenix's 4-1 loss to Brisbane Roar.

During his absence Troy Hearfield cemented himself in Muscat's position, forcing a switch to the midfield when he returned in the 2-0 win against Central Coast on New Year's Eve.

"I think Luc (Phoenix assistant coach Luciano Trani) noticed me when I was back in the Victorian premier league that I was playing that position sometimes," said Muscat, who joined the Wellington club from Victorian side Green Gully in 2008.

"Luc had a word to Ricki (head coach Ricki Herbert) and obviously we gave it a go and it's brought us to the finals."

Muscat is approaching his 10th game in that screening role and having brought some solidity to the midfield and had a hand in several goals, the comments from team-mates have all but dried up - particularly given the Phoenix have only lost twice in that period.

Muscat admits he couldn't be happier with footballing life at the moment as the Phoenix players head into the biggest game of the club's history against Newcastle Jets on Sunday.

"It's a bit more hard work but I like the challenge of that, of working hard for the team," the 25-year-old said.

"In a defensive midfield role you get more of the ball so it's more about your awareness of things around you and making sure you don't get caught with the ball. If you get caught with the ball you get punished."

"It's quite an intense job and I have to work hard and communicate well. It's about winning the ball and playing it off to the attacking players."

Muscat is not afraid to push forward himself when the situation warrants it and he delivered the perfect ball for Chris Greenacre to score the opening goal in the dramatic Hyundai A-League semi-final win against Perth Glory two weeks ago.

"My first obligation is the defensive role … but those times I've gone up we've created a goal," he said.

However, it is perhaps his one-on-one tackling that sets him apart as it is rare that opposition players get the better of him.

He puts his success down to desire.

"In that position it's about winning the ball. The more times you win the ball the more times and more chances we have to get forward," he said.

"It's more about dedication and getting the ball and working as a unit."

"It's also about technique and staying on the right side of the referees. You don't dive in, full stop."

"If you win the ball fair and square there is nothing the ref can do at the end of the day."

"There are going to be tackles where it's a bit late but that's part of that role."

"It's more about showing (the player) one way and limiting their options of beating you. If you cut out the options they've only got one way to go and you know he's going that way so you just cut it out."

Muscat can expect to get through a mountain of work in Sunday's semi-final showdown with the Jets.

Wellington, bolstered by an expected capacity crowd of 34,500 vociferous fans and an 18-game unbeaten run at Westpac Stadium, go in as favourites.

It's a tag that sits comfortably with Muscat.

"I'll take it that we're favourites but I can assure you it's not going to be an easy game. It's anyone's game when it comes to finals," he said.

"It's always tough when a team comes to Wellington, especially now with the sell-out crowd. It feels like another player on the pitch with everyone screaming 'go Phoenix'."