April 23, 2015 13:18:36 UK
The likely returns of Mickael Tavares and Nikola Petkovic will give Sydney FC a boost as they bid to secure a top-two spot by avoiding defeat against Wellington Phoenix on Sunday.
Graham Arnold’s side, who are 3.75 to win the Grand Final, have received some well-timed positive news ahead of the trip to Westpac Stadium, with the two international players given the green light.
Serbia international defender Petkovic missed last weekend’s 4-3 win over Newcastle Jets with a quad strain, while Senegalese holding midfielder Tavares has been sidelined for the past fortnight.
Arnold said Tavares had been “90 per cent ready” to face the Jets, but opted to sit him out to get him in peak physical shape for the final match of the regular season.
The Phoenix clash is arguably the club’s biggest match since they won their second Grand Final in 2010.
We’ll pick the team we think can get the job done.
If they pick up at least a point against Ernie Merrick’s side, they will finish second in the table. That would mean they sit out the first week of the finals, host a semi-final, and earn a place in the qualifying round for next year’s Asian Champions League.
Winning the Premiership is still a mathematical possibility for the Sky Blues, but they would need to beat the Phoenix by a big margin and hope Melbourne Victory lost at home to Central Coast. Sydney are three points behind Victory, with a goal difference that is seven worse than their rivals’.
Arnold won’t yet reveal whether he will bring Tavares back into the starting side, with Rhyan Grant having filled in well for him in the past two games.
“We’ll pick the team we think can get the job done,” said the coach. “It’s pretty rare you get this far into the season and your squad is as fit and healthy as ours and it certainly gives us a headache.
“Our players are physically ready and mentally very fresh. We’re alternating training sessions, both in timing and content, and we’re in good shape.”
If Sydney avoid defeat against the Phoenix, they will become just the second team in league history to go undefeated away from home throughout a season – they did it previously in 2007-08.
The Sky Blues are 2.70 to beat Wellington, who are 2.50 with the draw 3.40.
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