|By JAMES WILLOUGHBY
Leigh Broxham has emerged as a surprise candidate to step in for the suspended Adrian Leijer in the Melbourne Victory defence as they prepare for Friday's clash against the Newcastle Jets.
Leijer will miss the clash after picking up five yellow cards this season, while Mark Milligan – at defensive midfield most of this A-League season but equally adept in the heart of defence – was hit with a two-match ban for striking Jonatan Germano in last Saturday's Melbourne derby.
With Leijer and Milligan out, Petar Franjic, Matthew Foschini and Sam Gallagher emerged as likely favourites to partner 18-year-old Nick Ansell at the back against the Jets.
But utility Broxham, who is just 169cm tall, looks set to fill the void after completing a large chunk of Thursday's training session alongside Ansell in defence.
Broxham – having started just once this season – is neat on the ball and his versatility is likely to have appealed to Victory coach Ange Postecoglou.
It was not Postecoglou but his assistant Kevin Muscat who fronted the media at AAMI Park after training, and although he refrained from confirming that Broxham would play alongside Ansell, his comments hinted at the 24-year-old's inclusion.
"It's not cemented yet," said Muscat when quizzed if Broxham was locked in to start at centre-back.
"There's been a couple of combinations tested throughout the week. Foschini will come in at right-back [for Diogo Ferreira, who has a groin injury], Jonny [Jonathan] Bru will come in in the midfield [for Milligan] but we'll make a decision on who is going to play central defender."
Muscat was confident about the impact the inclusions could make in the absence of three players who started the 2-1 win against rivals Melbourne Heart, which came thanks to Archie Thompson's dramatic stoppage-time winner.
"Unfortunately we are missing a couple through suspension but the reality is everyone is going to have to use their squad over this period of time," he said.
"We have got a number of games and this gives an opportunity to a couple of the other boys. Adrian misses, 'Millsy' misses, Diogo is not playing... it just gives an opportunity to someone else.
"Is our depth going to be tested? Yes it is going to be. We have had to deal with players missing in the past through international duty. We have won without our boys being here that are in international teams. We are quite comfortable where we sit."
Muscat said he was very pleased with Ansell who has "done very well" and is confident he and his new partner can deal with the threat posed by Newcastle forwards Emile Heskey and Ryan Griffiths.He also said the late win over the Heart had given the squad "a great deal of belief", as they prepared for a busy festive period in which they will play four times in 16 days.