Melbourne City will head into their crucial, fifth against sixth clash with Wellington Phoenix buoyed by the likely return of captain Scott Jamieson but will be forced to wait at least another week until the man that lines up on his right shoulder, central defender Bart Schenkeveld, is fit to play.
Jamieson hasn’t featured for City since he suffered an injury to his toes in his side’s 2-0 win over Sydney FC in round 22 but, after completing a number of training sessions in the lead into the meeting with Wellington, looms as a likely selection.
“Jamo’s done a couple of days training this week,” City Head Coach Warren Joyce told journalists on Thursday.
“It’s a bonus what he’s done so far this week. He’s had three days building his work up with no reactions, so we’ll just look at it again in the next couple of days and see how he feels really.
“You’ve got to plan it out. You’ve got to look at it from (a) leadership (view) but also what’s best in planning for him to get him back in full fitness. So we’ll just assess that tomorrow.
“He’s worked tremendously hard behind the scenes on the things he couldn’t do with the sports scientists and the gym lads and he’s got to a stage ahead of schedule but looks in good nick as well.
“He’s done that for the group, he’s trained well with the group. We’ll just look at it and assess what we think what’s the best route forward with the players we’ve got available.
The absence of Schenkeveld, however, will be a harsh blow to City ahead of a game that they realistically need to win to maintain any hope of securing the fourth position on the A-League table and a home final come to the end of the season.
The 27-year-old has been a tower of strength in Joyce’s backline throughout the campaign, receiving widespread praise as one of the best defenders in the competition and likely earning himself a marquee contract – be it with City or another A-League side – should he choose to stay in Australia beyond the 2018-19 season.
The Dutchman injured his groin in a seemingly innocuous attempt to kick a ball after training ahead of City’s draw with Adelaide United and Joyce, at this stage, was unprepared to put a timeframe on his return to City’s XI.
“Bart won’t be available, he won’t be travelling,” City’s gaffer explained.
“I don’t know the timeframe, we were hoping… he’s tried to kick a couple of balls this morning.
“He won’t be travelling. We’ll just assess it again. Instead of rushing it now he’ll do some kind of training tomorrow and over the weekend with a plan to get him back as soon as we can.”
Wellington sit above City on goal difference heading into this Sunday’s fixture, with Adelaide just above the two thanks to a one-point buffer.
The meeting between the two could easily be classified as a six-pointer but Joyce, in trademark fashion, was hesitant to glamourise the encounter.
“I think every game has been a big game for the last several weeks,” Joyce said.
“So, it’s not different than that: no different in our approach than we have in several weeks. We go there knowing that they’re a good side.
“They’re well organised, they’ve got a good coach, they’ve got a good way of playing and they’ve got some threats. They’ve got people who can score goals and are in the goalscoring charts.
“They can create chances and take chances. They’ve proved that all season.
“We know we’ve got a tough game on, we’ve played them twice this season, won one and lost one.”
Though it might have been one of the worst kept secrets in all of Australian football, the Nix will enter Sunday with confirmation that Head Coach Mark Rudan – who has overseen a reinvigoration of the finals-bound club in his first season in charge – would be departing – likely for A-League newcomers Western United – at season’s end.
The future of his opponent in the dugout, though, is less certain.
A report from SBS The World Game on Wednesday indicated that Joyce had been earmarked for a one-year extension by the powers that be at City, only for the club to declare such speculation premature.
On Thursday, those reports of an extension came as news to Joyce.
“You’re telling me something I don’t know,” he said of The World Game’s report.
“All I’m concentrating on with the players is just, we talked about it for several weeks now, that there’s a lot of people in the same boat.
“We’re doing our best to win the whole lot and the focus is just solely on that. I’m no different than the players.
“We all know that in football the better you do the more you get rewarded, so all the focus is on us being together as a group and not having outside distractions where people are talking about speculation and this and that.
“Everyone is pulling the same way to try and end the season on a high. You’ve got to do that. The only way is to try and build together.
“There’s been a lot of things behind the scenes this season that maybe everybody doesn’t know what’s gone on and we’ve all had to pull together.
“We’ve got (reports) from various sources but I think if you’re comfortable in yourself, you know what the truth is – and the people within the building know what the truth is – you can deal with that.
“You can deal with anything that happens outside. You just focus on trying to do your best whether you’re a coach or a player or any other member of staff because all the staff are pulling together as well.”