Sydney FC continue late charge
Sydney FC's late quest for the A-League minor premiership continues with a crucial clash against the Wellington Phoenix in New Zealand's capital Friday night.
Sydney are third on 27 points and three points from top spot, while their second last-placed opponents still have a mathematical chance of making the finals with three rounds left.
Both sides enter the match at Westpac Stadium with impressive away wins last weekend after Sydney's 3-1 success at Adelaide and Wellington's 3-2 upset against Newcastle.
A win for Sydney would mean the inaugural A-League champions would need only a draw from their last two games against Queensland Roar and Melbourne Victory to guarantee a spot in the finals.
Coach John Kosmina has one forced change for the "must win" match with attacking midfielder Ufuk Talay returning from suspension to replace Olyroos captain Mark Milligan, who has a toe injury.
Talay, 31, will be full of confidence following his inclusion in newly-appointed Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek's 22-man training squad for Australia's world cup qualifier against Qatar next month in Melbourne.
Star midfielder Juninho will again start from the bench while defender Mark Robertson sits out another week with an injured hamstring.
Since Kosmina has taken charge Sydney have risen from sixth to third, winning five games, drawing three and losing one.
While Sydney are unbeaten away this season with four wins and four draws from eight matches, Wellington have a good record against the sky blues this season - winning 2-1 and drawing 1-1 in their two previous clashes.
Wellington, on 20 points, are five points behind fourth place and must win their remaining games for any chance of making the finals in their inaugural season.
It will be a huge task for the Phoenix, who play their last match at home in the regular season on Friday.
"Obviously it's everyone's ambition to make it to the top four, but it's going to be pretty hard, (we) pretty much have to win all three of our games," Phoenix captain Ross Aloisi said.
Aloisi is in doubt for the match after missing the last five games with back and leg injuries while the Phoenix will miss midfielders Tim Brown, Vince Lia and Daniel through suspension.
Phoenix striker Shane Smeltz will pose the biggest threat to Sydney's defence according to Kosmina, a former coach of the A-League's joint-top scorer.
Smeltz, 26, has scored nine times this season and has matured since Kosmina coached him at Adelaide United in 2003/2004.
"He's got some consistency in his game," Kosmina said.
"Smeltzy for me was always hot and cold for me, I think it had to do with his youth,
"I'm really glad he's doing well, just hope he doesn't do well this week."