Melbourne City FC will welcome back long-term absentees James Brown and Marc Marino into the first-team fold for the Club’s crucial away clash against Wellington Phoenix.
Brown and Marino have been included in John van’t Schip’s extended squad to face the Phoenix on Friday night, with both players recovering from their respective long-term foot and knee injuries.
For Brown in particular, a return to the City squad is a testament to the talented midfielder’s immense determination and mental strength.
A long and arduous 334 days have passed since Brown last saw his name on the Club’s team sheet, but van’t Schip declared the 26-year-old is fully fit and ready to provide a point of difference in the final third.
“He had a very unpleasant injury, very difficult to treat and mentally it was not an easy period for him,” the Dutchman said. “He coped very well, he tried everything. There was a moment when everyone was doubting what happened. “
“He looks back to his fitness again, of course game fitness is something different but if we need him to do something up front, we’ve seen that he is training well and he can help us in different positions, so that’s why we brought him in.
“Also seeing that he got over it mentally; he’s happy, he’s feeling free and he doesn’t have any problems physically. He’s been working hard, so that’s why he’s back.”
Marino has not made a senior appearance this campaign after suffering a knee injury in City’s pre-season friendly against North Geelong but, like Brown, all the hard work has come to fruition with both players now ready to play a part in the Club’s run to the Finals.
Wade Dekker and Steve Kuzmanovski, who both featured in City’s 4-1 win against Central Coast last week, have been left out of the squad to make room for the returning duo.
“I’m giving those two boys (Brown and Marino) an opportunity,” van’t Schip said. “They’ve been doing well in training for the last few weeks and are both coming from a period of injury as well. They’ve been training for weeks now and I think at this moment they both deserve a chance to be with the team.”
Competition for places is beginning to heat up as a host of City first team players make a return to full fitness. Defender Connor Chapman is in line to make his long-awaited return from injury against Sydney FC week, with Jack Clisby and Aaron Hughes also able to provide defensive cover.
Ben Garuccio and Michael Zullo are set to continue their combination on the left-side against a Wellington outfit who are entrenched in a battle to keep their hopes of playing Finals football alive.
“Wellington is always a strange game for us. We’ve won there 5-1, we’ve lost there 5-1 – it’s always very difficult up there,” van’t Schip said. “We know they didn’t have a lot of home games in their stadium but now they have five in the last seven, so they will try to make something of their season.”
“They’re always dangerous, they can play in a different way – they can go both sides and play very free and good, but maybe if they cop a goal they can be mentally weak.”
The Dutchman also highlighted the threat posed by Phoenix midfielder – and countryman – Roly Bonevacia.
“He is important. I think last year he had a great first year, a big impact on Wellington’s game. This year is the same, the only big difference is that they don’t have Nathan Burns," he said. "I think that was a big strength of them, having someone up front with the qualities of Roly and Michael McGlinchey behind that really started to click.”
This year they’ve been struggling to find that but in the last few games they did find their scoring players with [Blake] Powell and [Hamish] Watson. He is still a very important player for their game.”
Knowing that a win will propel his side to the top of the Hyundai A-League table, van’t Schip acknowledged the importance of returning to Melbourne with all three points.
“It helps and it puts pressure on other teams if you win again, and the same counts for other teams when they win when they play before us,” he said. “You have to make sure that in this league, where everybody is very close, you don’t have too many mistakes anymore if you want to finish in the top positions.”