Season on the line for Wellington Phoenix against Western Sydney Wanderers
Anthony Hudson has done the Wellington Phoenix a massive favour by leaving Kosta Barbarouses out of his All Whites squad.
While the biggest part of the favour takes place when the winger is available for the Phoenix against Newcastle in Wellington on March 26, instead of for New Zealand against Fiji the day before, it also extends to this Sunday against the Western Sydney Wanderers.
With the national team set to assemble in Wellington for a week-long camp from Monday, Barbarouses will have a perfect chance to show Hudson what he is missing out on with an impressive showing in Sydney.
While admitting surprise at Barbarouses' omission, Phoenix co-coach Chris Greenacre was understandably pleased to have him staying with the Phoenix next week.
"I think it's a surprise to everyone. The coach of the All Whites has his reasons why and we fully respect and appreciate them.
"Selfishly it's great for us because we've got Kosta in our lineup when we didn't think we would have, so for us it's a win-win. We're delighted to have Kosta here, his attitude has been exceptional as it is every day."
As if Barbarouses, or any of the squad for that matter, needed any extra motivation anyway in what is a genuine six-pointer at Spotless Stadium.
Western Sydney occupy the sixth and final playoff spot with five games to go. The Phoenix are two points back in seventh.
But Greenacre wasn't buying the line that the players would have to step up for the big occasion.
"We're professional people in a professional sport, you can't pick and choose the games you need to step up in.
"I fully expect every player to be stepping up every game, regardless of whether it's a relegation battle, top-of-the-table clash, mid-table, whatever it is, we need to do a professional performance and come away with Sydney with points."
With a run-in including losing six players for international duty for the Newcastle game, then playing three of the top four sides to finish, you would think it's curtains for the Phoenix's season if they fail to win in Sydney.
Western Sydney come into the game buoyed by a 3-2 win against FC Seoul in South Korea on Wednesday in the Asian Champions League, but only arrived back in Sydney on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix haven't played since their 3-3 draw with Perth on March 4.
Greenacre said they hadn't taken it easy in that time as they prepare for the final five games.
"We used it as a mini pre-season to give the boys a last jolt before we get into the last few games of the season. We've not gone lightly, but they've had the travel.
"Hopefully it favours us, but when you've had a good result and the next game comes up quite quickly, I know from past experience you can't wait to get back out on the field."
Midfielder Michael McGlinchey has been left in Wellington due to a lack of match fitness on return from a knee injury, while defender Jacob Tratt has returned home to Australia indefinitely for personal reasons. He may return later in the season.
AT A GLANCE
What: Hyundai A-League, round 23
Where and when: Spotless Stadium, Sydney, 9pm Sunday (NZ time)
TAB: Wanderers $1.80, Phoenix $3.95, draw $3.70
Wellington: Glen Moss, Roly Bonevacia, Ryan Lowry, Dylan Fox, Gui Finkler, Alex Rodriguez, Kosta Barbarouses, Hamish Watson, Adam Parkhouse, Marco Rossi, Vince Lia, Tom Doyle, Lewis Italiano, Roy Krishna, Andrew Durante (c), Matthew Ridenton, Shane Smeltz
Western Sydney: Jerrad Tyson, Jack Clisby, Brendan Hamill, Mitch Nichols, Steven Lustica, Dimas (c), Nicolás Martínez, Brendon Santalab, Scott Neville, Bruno Piñatares, Jumpei Kusukami, Kearyn Baccus, Jaushua Sotirio, Robert Cornthwaite, Vedran Janjetovic, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Terry Antonis, Ryan Griffiths