After two weeks of will he, won’t he, Vince Lia will start at right back for Wellington Phoenix this weekend against Brisbane Roar.
Lia was on standby as cover for Manny Muscat for the past two wins against Adelaide United and Melbourne Heart as Muscat awaited the arrival of his first child.
On each occasion the Maltese international made the dash from Melbourne for the matches meaning Lia was left to bide his time on the bench as he made his comeback from bone bruising in a knee.
But Muscat, whose daughter Nevaeh was born on Tuesday, collected his fifth yellow card in last Friday’s 2-1 win over Adelaide meaning he is suspended for Sunday’s showdown at Westpac Stadium.
“We’ve just played him in a light intensity game at right back and he’s fine,” said coach Ricki Herbert of Lia.
“He’s done everything right. He knows the role. He’s played there for us before so it would probably make sense that he will slot straight in.”
Lia is unfazed about where he plays after four games without a start. His knee injury kept him out of the trips to Gold Coast and Newcastle Jets then he was unused off the bench against the Heart before getting 20 minutes against Adelaide.
“(The knee is) better. It’s not fully 100 per cent recovered but they say bone bruising could take ages to fully go away,” Lia said.
“It’s manageable. It’s feeling all right. Getting through training this week and getting through that 20 minutes at the weekend gives me that peace of mind that I’m ready to go.”
After a mid-season form slump that coincided with star playmaker Thomas Brioch’s injury lay-off, the Roar have rediscovered the kind of fluidity that saw them stretch their unbeaten run to an unprecedented 36 matches since the German’s return four games ago.
Last Saturday’s 2-0 win away at league leaders Central Coast will have lifted Brisbane’s confidence too.
Lia knows he will be targeted at right-back, much like young Brent Griffiths was down the other flank in Dunedin earlier in the season.
But the Australian believes the defence will be able to withstand the pressure they will be put under after coming out with a win and a draw from their two previous encounters this year.
“They have the ball a hell of a lot and if you try and outplay them you get beat,” he said.
“We know that it’s going to be a tough game and we have to defend really, really well.”
Those results coupled with the fact the Phoenix are on a club record four-match winning streak means confidence is high ahead of the showdown between the second and third-placed teams who are separated by just a point.
“The boys have been doing well. We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing well and hopefully the result takes care of itself,” said Lia.