Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert is considering keeping Paul Ifill and Vince Lia on ice against Central Coast tomorrow in a bid to make sure they are fully fit for Friday's elimination final.
Ifill has been in bed all week with the flu and Lia has a minor groin problem. While the Phoenix can still finish third and improve their finals prospects, Herbert is taking a cautious approach with two of his most experienced players.
Third-placed Perth host Melbourne Victory tonight and afterwards the fourth-placed Phoenix will know exactly what they need to do to finish ahead of the Glory.
"The Perth game will probably dictate what the outcome could be [tomorrow]. We've got one or two niggles," Herbert said.
"I don't really want to risk too many leading into the big game the following Friday."
Herbert said if Ifill had to play tomorrow he "absolutely" could and "if we need to we will".
"But when you're in bed all week I suppose you're a little bit lethargic maybe, coming in on Sunday.
"But we'll see, we've got a little bit of time to go yet."
Daniel has recovered surprisingly quickly from his ankle injury and is in the selection frame for Friday while Leo Bertos, who came off the bench in the 3-0 loss to the Victory, will "probably start" tomorrow after impressing at training.
"There's probably a few selection dilemmas but not a bad time to have them."
The Phoenix are privately unimpressed at having to host their first finals match on a Friday, with just a five-day turnaround from the Mariners.
Herbert cryptically said: "I suppose you don't get too much of a throw of the dice on that", but league leaders Central Coast won't have much sympathy for the Phoenix given they are themselves backing up from Wednesday's Asian Champions League fixture.
Aside from settling up third and fourth place, tomorrow's game at Westpac Stadium will be the 100th Phoenix appearance for skipper Andrew Durante. The reliable defender joined the Phoenix after a man-of-the-match performance for champions Newcastle in the 2008 grand final.
"A few people obviously thought it was pretty crazy coming from the team that just won it to the team that came last," Durante said. "But I had several conversations with Ricki and Terry [Serepisos] over that time and I had a good feeling about it. I felt like I wanted to come over here and help change the club and create what it is now. I feel I've played a part in that."
Even if the Phoenix finish fourth behind Perth it is crucial they put in a decent shift against the league leaders tomorrow.
They were badly outplayed by the Mariners just over a month ago so are keen to reinforce their finals credentials.
"We want to build momentum going into the finals game, we don't want to come off two losses and then have to play on Friday and try and pick ourselves up again," Durante said. "The result's one thing but I think the performance is key this Sunday."
Meanwhile, Herbert shot down reports in Australia that continue to link the Phoenix with young Gold Coast striker Golgol Mebrahtu. "No, no idea, never spoken to him," Herbert said.
- The Dominion Post
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