Lochhead Locks Away Number 100

In last weekend’s away win over Adelaide United, Tony Lochhead became the Phoenix’s third centurion.

In last weekend-s away win over Adelaide United, Tony Lochhead became the Phoenix-s third centurion.

Lochhead-s consistency is the hallmark of his career in Wellington. He was the first man to bring up fifty matches for the Phoenix and he did that in the 53rd game of the club-s existence - the 6-0 win over Gold Coast United on Labour Weekend Sunday 2009. He played 67 of the club-s 72 matches in its first three seasons. Had injury not severely restricted his involvement last season, he-d have become the first Phoenix centurion well before Tim Brown brought up his ton four weeks ago.

The most conspicuous feature of Lochhead-s one-hundred games is that they-ve all been starts. Not once has he begun a game on the Phoenix-s bench and on just five occasions has he looked across during proceedings to see his number on the fourth official-s board and trudged off. By contrast - and this is by no means a slight on him - Daniel-s 100 matches featured just thirteen instances of a full ninety minutes. Even Tim Brown-s hundred games included a dozen when he was either subbed on or off.

Born and raised in Tauranga, Lochhead attended Tauranga Boys High School before leaving for the United States in 2001 to play college football for UC Santa Barbara. He debuted for the All Whites against Iran in 2003 and two years later, signed for New England Revolution, making 19 appearances in the MLS. He arrived in Wellington shortly after the Phoenix-s formation in May 2007, and he-s been the club-s first-choice left-back ever since.

Lochhead looked impressive from day one at Wellington Phoenix FC, combining solid defence with attacking forays down the left flank. In fact, he provided the cross for Shane Smeltz to head home the late equaliser against Melbourne Victory in the club-s very first A-League match. The Phoenix always looked dangerous when Lochhead raided into the left-wing position and he chalked up a number of “assists” as well as scoring himself against Perth in round six. It was an extremely pleasing debut season for him with many nominating him the league-s best left-back.

So impressive were his displays that Lochhead earned the chance to trial with then Premiership side Middlesbrough in July 2008. While he left for the UK with high hopes of emulating All Whites team-mate Ryan Nelsen and breaking into the EPL, the trial didn-t go as well as hoped and Lochhead was home in time for the start of the 2008 09 A-League season.

While never quite reaching the heights of his first campaign, Lochhead played every game in the 2008 09 season. At times it appeared he was suffering a hangover from his failed English trial but there was never any question about his place in the side and he signed a fresh two-season contract in November 2008. The Phoenix-s stand-out 2009 10 season provided more of the same with Lochhead missing just two matches all season. He did however pick up a relatively serious groin injury which necessitated surgery before and after the 2010 World Cup, and led to a three-month lay-off in the middle of the 2010 11 season. His return in January 2011 coincided with a run of results which saw the Phoenix qualify for the A-League playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The 2011 12 season has been pretty much plain sailing and apart from an injury which kept him out for three games in December, Lochhead has been typically ever-present. Phoenix fans don-t even need to ask who-ll play at left-back. If he-s fit, it-s Tony Lochhead. His trademark aerobic fitness is never in doubt, and pleasingly the frequency of his raids into the left wing position and delivery into the penalty area seem to have returned to close to season one levels. The Phoenix always look dangerous when Lochhead overlaps and receives the ball in the attacking third. It-s something we-re starting to see far more often.

In an ironic twist, Lochhead-s trial with Middlesbrough back in 2008 provided the catalyst for Manny Muscat-s arrival at the Phoenix. In Lochhead-s absence, Muscat slotted in at fullback and did enough to earn a contract which has led to him becoming one of the club-s best players. In a fitting piece of symmetry, Lochhead and Muscat have been mainstays at left- and right-back respectively in an extremely impressive 2011 12 back four.

Lochhead-s versatility came to the fore in the All Whites- run to the 2010 World Cup and in South Africa itself. After the 2009 Confederations Cup, it became obvious there was no international class right-back available for New Zealand. Ricki Herbert switched to a three-man defence and asked Lochhead to play on the left side of a four-man midfield, something he did with aplomb in both playoff matches against Bahrain and all three games at the World Cup.

Breaking his goalscoring duck early in his Phoenix career saved Lochhead from the scrutiny Manny Muscat recently endured as he went game after goal-less game before finally scoring in his 85th A-League match. However, Lochhead has been even less prolific; it-s now been 94 matches since he put the ball in the back of the net. It-s a fact he-s had pointed out to him recently, but Lochhead simply shrugs and speaks of a preference to provide chances for others. It was something he did as recently as the last home game against Melbourne Heart when his early cross resulted in Paul Ifill-s opener.

Lochhead is one of those unique individuals who would probably excel at any sport he tried. His younger brother Jason has been a regular on the world beach volleyball tour for several years and word has it Tony was a better than average volleyball player himself. These days, golf is his passion away from the football field, so much so that he regularly squeezes in some putting practise at the Miramar Golf Club (which is adjacent to Wellington Airport) before flying out on away trips.

In characteristically modest fashion, Lochhead didn-t want a fuss made upon bringing up his Phoenix century last weekend. He-d have been downcast if it had ended in anything other than a win and the fact it was a personal milestone wouldn-t even have crossed his mind during the game. In fact, you get the feeling he-d have been completely unaware it was his hundredth match unless someone had told him.

Left-back isn-t a glamorous position. It-s rarely front and centre. Rather, it-s complementary to a much greater whole, while being no less crucial than any of the other parts. It requires dependability, consistency, a cool head and the ability to provide an attacking spark when necessary. Tony Lochhead-s presence at the Wellington Phoenix has ensured those qualities have always been evident in the number three shirt.

THE NUMBERS

2007/08: 18 appearances, 1 goal 2008/09: 21 appearances 2009/10: 28 appearances 2010/11: 16 appearances 2011/12: 17 appearances TOTAL: 100 appearances (all starts), 1 goal