Brisbane Roar know it will be tough to reel in front-runners Central Coast but fit-again playmaker Thomas Broich has warned the A-League champions are back near their best heading towards the season's business end.
Set for his first match after missing eight with a complex heel injury, Broich denied he was under pressure to immediately show his class against Sydney FC on Saturday night.
The Roar have slipped eight points behind the dominant Mariners, who also have a game in hand, following a six-week struggle without the German linchpin and Brazilian striker Henrique.
They return together against Sydney, who coincidentally started Brisbane's fall by ending their record 36-match unbeaten streak. With leading goalscorer Besart Berisha unlikely to play due to a calf injury, the indications are that Broich will start with Henrique (knee) to come off the bench at Suncorp Stadium.
The former Germany U21 international can't wait after being frustrated by his injury which was far worse than first assumed.
"Obviously I've missed playing and when you haven't played for a while you get so much joy out of it again," Broich said. "When I first kicked the ball (in training) it was like being a little child again."
But he feels Brisbane have already turned the corner with a New Year's Eve 3-1 win over Melbourne Victory and a luckless 1-1 draw in Adelaide.
"To be honest personally I think the last few games have been pretty good," he said. "The team is actually in a good shape again so the pressure on me is not too big."
Broich felt the Roar's confidence was back, with their current form close to their best of their 14-month-long record run.
"Football sometimes is a psychological game and it's more momentum but we fought hard to come back and from what I saw (last week) I'm pleased - the Adelaide game was brilliant at times," he said.
"We kept possession and we penetrated again and the only thing missing was scoring goals."
Since beating the Roar, their most recent victory, Sydney have endured their own worrying drought, including losses in their past three matches. Goalkeeping coach Zeljko Kalac also believes the Roar are back to their best and feared the Sky Blues were meeting them at the worst possible time.
The timing would be worse if Berisha, who has struck a deadly combination with Broich, was fit but Ange Postecoglou is set to keep the Albanian international in cotton wool.
Defender Scott Jamieson is in line to return at left-back for Sydney while Mark Bridge could get his first start in two months, possibly replacing Bruno Cazarine.