Melbourne Victory will be without playmaker James Troisi when their A-League defence goes on the line in Friday night’s elimination final against Wellington Phoenix.
A hamstring issue means Troisi, one of Victory’s marquees and their leading assist-maker this campaign, will watch from the stands at AAMI Park.
It’s a significant blow for Victory, which has spent more on its squad this season than any previous campaign thanks to the addition of Japanese star Keisuke Honda.
That investment means an exit in the first week of the finals would be a stunning failure for Victory, grand finalists in three of the past four seasons.
Victory’s progression is fair from certain; three meetings with Mark Rudan’s Phoenix have produced three draws, including two at AAMI Park.
But coach Kevin Muscat wasn't countenancing failure today.
"Tomorrow’s a fresh contest, a fresh challenge and fresh opportunity,” he said.
One area where Victory has the edge is experience.
Whereas Victory are perennial contenders, under Mark Rudan, Wellington have gatecrashed the finals for the first time in five seasons.
Muscat said he hoped his side could draw on their success in last year’s finals series.
“(Finals) are generally really, really tight affairs,” he said. "Every moment will be a battle.
"The contest will be very important to us and then to go and express ourselves and play some football that we want to play.
"Having been there before does give you an insight into how the players are feeling and what sort of preparation is needed.
"The reality is, as soon as that whistle goes tomorrow night, we’ve got to turn up."
Wellington, 5-0 losers with an understrength team at Perth last week, are without any fresh injury issues.
With Troisi out, Terry Antonis is likely to be entrusted with the No.10 role, behind frontmen Ola Toivonen and Kosta Barbarouses. Muscat's chief selection question is who to field in goal.
Lawrence Thomas’s knee issues over the past month have opened the door for Matt Acton, who has performed well in his absence.
Muscat would only reveal that “someone with gloves” would be in goal.
"I’ve made up my mind but i don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss that here and now before I speak to the players,” he said.
Muscat said Troisi would play a backroom role after pulling up short.
"He’s played against Wellington, all the games, he’ll have some insight into them. It's important to keep him involved,” he said.
"You get to this point and you don’t want to see anyone not have the opportunity to contribute."
STATS THAT MATTER
* Victory and Wellington have played out three score draws this season, the pick being February's 3-3 when Victory clamoured back from a two-goal deficit.
* Unless Wellington triumph, the match will be Mark Rudan's last in charge of the club, having announced his return to Australia at season's end when he is expected to take up the helm of expansion side Western United.
* Victory have won 11 of their 12 home finals; their only failure was their 2010 grand final defeat to Sydney FC on penalties.