Kevin Muscat has praised the efforts of his makeshift rearguard after Melbourne Victory defeated Wellington Phoenix 2-0 in the Hyundai A-League on Monday night.
Missing Daniel Georgievski and Adrian Leijer through suspension and Matthieu Delpierre due to injury, Victory fielded 19-year-old Dylan Murnane at left-back, with Mark Milligan and Leigh Broxham in central defence.
And while they all had a role to play in helping Victory keep their first clean sheet in the A-League since December 2013, Muscat lauded the efforts of the teenage newcomer in particular.
“The back four was unrecognisable from the first two games,” he said.
“Dylan Murnane showed a lot of character tonight. First half he wasn’t having the best of games, he was put under a lot of pressure. Having played 120 minutes Wednesday night in Perth, to come out and then produce that in the second half showed a real determination not to let his team-mates down. He was a standout for me.”
Although club captain Milligan began his career at the back and Broxham has filled in there with some frequency, both players are more accustomed to midfield.
Ultimately though, their technical ability proved an advantage for the hosts at AAMI Park.
“I didn’t think they’d come under a great deal of pressure,” Muscat said of his emergency centre-backs.
“They were able to keep the ball and start attacks pretty comfortably. It allows Millsy and Broxie to step into midfield because they didn’t have too many bodies high up the park, so yeah, it might have worked for us.”
Goalkeeper Nathan Coe and another teenager, Scott Galloway, were the only regular members of the defence to line-up against Phoenix, with the right-back restricting Wellington playmaker Michael McGlinchey to one of his quietest games since joining the Phoenix.
“That was one of the areas,” Muscat said when asked about the importance of Galloway’s performance.
“The main area for us was in transition, they really took Newcastle to the sword last week and I think we nullified a lot of them opportunities this week.
“Scotty had to play his part. Coming out of a fullback position and almost stepping into midfield, he was comfortable doing that. He’s only going to get better.”
Next up for Victory is a match away to the Newcastle Jets on Saturday, when Leijer and Georgievski will be available again, while Muscat was cautiously optimistic about Berisha and Delpierre’s chances of featuring.