Smiles return ... Alessandro Del Piero, centre, after one of his goals against Wellington Phoenix. Photo: Anthony Johnson
SYDNEY FC striker Joel Griffiths is touch and go for Saturday night's sold-out Australia Day clash against Melbourne Victory as he tries to recover from a hip-flexor injury.
The 33-year-old made a sensational return to the A-League last week after a five-year absence, scoring just 11 minutes into his debut for the Sky Blues and setting them on course for a 7-1 victory against Wellington Phoenix.
The former Socceroo lasted 65 minutes before being substituted by coach Frank Farina, who hailed Griffiths's arrival as a key part of his plan to reverse the club's abysmal early season form.
Now the club is sweating on the ex-Shanghai Shenhua star's fitness and will be waiting until the last minute before deciding whether to play him in one of the biggest games of the season.
Also in doubt is Rhyan Grant, arguably Sydney's most consistent performer this term, giving the coaching staff plenty to think about before kick-off.
"[Griffiths] has got a bit of a hip flexor [problem] at the moment, and Rhyan Grant has a calf injury, so we're going to nurse them through. They'll both definitely be travelling. We've still got two days really. Hopefully they should both be OK,'' Farina said. "Joel's not fully match fit at the moment but he knows his body better than anyone else. We'll be guided by him, on how it is, but we'll certainly not take any risks. We'll give him right up until match day for sure, both him and Rhyan."
While Griffiths remains in doubt, the player is privately confident after getting through training on Thursday, leaving him only to get through a shortened final workout on Friday to make selection.
However, Farina was in no mood to give his players an easy session at the club's Macquarie University training ground, berating the squad whenever he felt it wasn't working at the required intensity.
"It's pretty normal that the day after a day off things will be a little flat,'' the coach said. ''We were a bit flatter than I would have liked. I wouldn't say harsh words - no worse ones than that."
Farina is keen to ensure his players don't lose focus after their thumping win over the Phoenix, one that has put them firmly in contention for a place in the top six, a place they haven't occupied since Ian Crook was in charge earlier in the season.
''Consistency is the key in any football team and we haven't had that this year. That's being brutally honest and we haven't played that well,'' he said. ''We've just got to continue to work on. In training we have to work hard and we've done that. I wouldn't say we've strung some good football together, but we've strung some good results together and I'd say that was our best game on the weekend. Again, you've got to build on that and keep trying to get points."
Describing Melbourne as a ''definite title contender'', Farina added Victory would be lifted by the prospect of a capacity crowd - even if many of them will be there just to see Sydney's Alessandro Del Piero.
"They're a good side. They've had little hiccups here and there but they've been pretty consistent for most of the season,'' Farina said. ''They've got some dangerous players in there. There's going to be a big crowd and I think the atmosphere will be good. When you're playing at home, it's always a boost as well."
While Melbourne may boast the league's most potent attacking trio in Archie Thompson, Marco Rojas and Marcos Flores, Sydney won't be going to AAMI Park to defend.
In the Australia Day match last year, Sydney skipped out to a 2-0 lead before drawing 2-2 - an attacking effort they'd like to replicate or better on Saturday.
"I've never been one to sit back and if you sit back and defend and go a goal down, you've got to try and attack,'' Farina said. ''We want to be solid defensively, which hasn't been the case this year.''