Steven Lustica of the Roar and Andrew Durante of the Phoenix challenge for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between the Brisbane Roar and the Wellington Phoenix at Suncorp Stadium on February 17, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. Photo: Getty Images
Mike Mulvey knew something was missing when he was catapulted into the Brisbane Roar hot seat in December. He needed a midfielder, one who could control play, sum up a situation and play an integral role in the back-to-back champions being able to resurrect themselves from the bottom of the table.
This is how Canberra product Steve Lustica suddenly finds himself as a key figure in the Roar's bid to rain on Western Sydney's finals parade.
''When I joined the club I needed a midfield player, and Steven was the first one I thought about,'' Mulvey said, before Friday night's sudden-death preliminary final with the Wanderers at Parramatta Stadium.
''He fitted in with the style of play I had in mind for the club, and I'm thankful he's come in and made a very telling contribution.''
From the turmoil of languishing in last in November, and sending coach Rado Vidosic packing a month later, Mulvey has orchestrated a recovery mission of monumental proportions.
Lustica has played a leading role in the revival since arriving on loan from Croatian giants Hajduk Split in January. He has quickly established himself in the starting side and scored a telling goal in the Roar's final-round victory against Sydney FC to book its place in the top six.
The former Young Socceroos skipper has played under Mulvey, who was the coach of the youth team at the now-defunct Gold Coast United. Limited opportunities in the A-League with United led to Lustica going overseas, but the 21-year-old returned home in the search of increased game time.
''He's an intelligent footballer and reads the game very well,'' Mulvey said. ''He plays the game in a simplistic fashion, he doesn't complicate things and he's able to link with players in either attack or defence.''
Given Lustica's talent, a return home appears only temporary. He has two years left on his contract with Hajduk Split and Mulvey is realistic enough to know he is going to be highly sought after.
''I think he has the potential to play at a very high level with his intelligence,'' Mulvey said.
''You won't meet a more professional young man in football than Steven because he takes care of himself on and off the field and is maturing into a very fine footballer.
''From a dedication perspective, it will take him as far he wants to go and it's not beyond him to play in the national team.''
The Wanderers - featuring fellow Canberra junior Nikolai Topor-Stanley - are favourites to keep their hopes of the Premier's Plate-A-League title double alive in front of a sold-out stadium. However, the resurgent Roar cannot be discounted after last weekend's 2-1 win against Adelaide.
''We've got momentum, we've got good form, there's nothing beyond this team,'' Mulvey said. ''Saying that, Western Sydney are a good team and have parochial fans. It's going to be a difficult challenge, but one we're not going to [shy] away from.''