GOLD Coast United supremo Miron Bleiberg will be forced to reach even deeper into the club's National Youth League squad to scrape together a team for Sunday's home match against Adelaide.
An already-difficult assignment for the injury-plagued bottom-placed side was made even tougher on Friday with confirmation that leading goalscorer James Brown (ankle) is ruled out.
The 21-year-old will have plenty of company on the sidelines - the Coast are already sweating on injuries to key playmaker Peter Jungschlager (hip) and dynamic forward Maceo Rigters (foot).
The Dutch duo are awaiting scans which will tell them more about their respective injuries, but Bleiberg is resigned to facing Adelaide without them.
To make matters worse, towering defender Ante Rozic suffered a hamstring twinge at the end of Friday's training session, with the club saying it will learn more about his injury on Saturday.
Long-term casualties Dylan Macallister (hamstring), Joel Porter (calf), Tahj Minniecon (heel), Chris Broadfoot (ankle) and Glen Moss (adductor) are of course unavailable, which, combined with the release of Paul Beekmans on compassionate grounds, has made life incredibly difficult for the Israeli-born mentor.
His biggest concern lies in midfield. With anchorman Beekmans gone for the season and Jungschlager unlikely to feature, Bleiberg has usually looked to Brown to partner Jonas Salley in the centre of the park.
That isn't an option against the Reds. This week, he conceded he may have to ask talented speedster Ben Halloran to drop deeper for the second match in a row after he filled the void in their 4-0 loss to Perth.
Another possible solution is inspirational captain Michael Thwaite, who famously capitalized on one of his trademark marauding runs from centre-half with a late equalizer against Melbourne Victory last week.
Bleiberg remains pragmatic about his situation. "There is no secret - we are coming in with an undermanned side," he said.
"Adelaide are in a much better position than us, personnel-wise and points-wise. They have much more to play for, and the pressure on them is much higher because they have greater expectations."
"Both sides come in after disappointing results. If I had a full team I would go with full confidence. At the moment, I have to rely on the youngsters."
"When you rely on the youngsters you either get a good surprise or you get what you deserve to get."
Much responsibility is likely to fall on the shoulders of pacy striker Chris Harold in the absence of experienced pair Rigters and Macallister and usual sidekick Brown.
If Halloran is spared a run in midfield, the long-standing strike partnership between himself and close friend Harold that began way back when the two were in high school together will resume.
"The problem we've had all season is scoring goals, and that's one thing I've proved that I can do in the past," Harold said.
"I haven't been able to this season but I'm confident that I can grab a couple before the end of the season and help the team up the table a bit. For me, it's nice to get a bit more game time."
United's youth team were meant to play Newcastle on Friday afternoon but their match was abandoned after just 12 minutes due to a flooded pitch at Adamstown Oval, perhaps opening the door for other unheralded names to enter the selection frame.