It feels like a case of déjà vu for Milos Ninkovic.
For the second time in four years, the Sydney FC dynamo has not only won the Johnny Warren Medal but is again in a race against time to be fit for the A-League Grand Final against Melbourne City on Sunday.
Ninkovic is in a battle to overcome a troublesome calf problem which sidelined him for the Sky Blues’ semi-final triumph over Adelaide United last-week.
Having become only the sixth player to win the league’s top honour twice, Sydney will indeed look to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ in order to get the former Serbian international ready.
After a mad dash across the border due to Sydney’s evolving COVID-19 outbreak, Ninkovic and the rest of his Sydney team-mates were back on deck on Thursday afternoon at Lakeside Stadium.
Ninkovic trained separately from the group, putting his calf to the test at the same ground fellow two-time winner and South Melbourne legend Paul Trimboli called home.
The attacking midfielder cut an optimistic figure before training believing he will be good to go come Sunday.
“I feel alright,” Ninkovic said.
“Yesterday I did some running and I have three more days until the game so hopefully I will be fine.”
Despite coming to the tail-end of his career, Ninkovic’s importance to the Sydney FC team as a creative fulcrum has helped them get to the promised land once again.
The 36-year-old’s tremendous campaign saw him along with Wellington’s Ulises Davila be recognised as the league’s most valuable player.
Ninkovic said he didn’t anticipate winning the award and was solely focused on his recovery and winning a fourth A-League crown.
“It’s an amazing achievement,” Ninkovic said.
“It’s the second time obviously I didn’t expect it to be honest because I was more focused on my injury and obviously the Grand Final,
“I had a goal before the season to win a Grand Final and that was my goal now, we have a chance to do that for the first time in history.”
The last time Ninkovic won the award, he was facing a similar situation in order to play a role in Sydney’s Championship tilt back in 2017.
A nasty ankle injury in their final game of the season against Newcastle almost saw Ninkovic miss the Grand Final against Melbourne Victory.
However, he made an astonishing return, playing the full 120 minutes and scoring the winning penalty to secure their first Championship in seven years.
Since then, Sydney have reigned supreme over the competition with Ninkovic playing a major part in each of their three titles.
On Sunday, he will be hoping to help complete what would be an unprecedented “three-peat” and secure a fourth Championship in five seasons.
“It’s going to be really special,” Ninkovic said.
“We are so close but we know that it’s not going to be easy because City are a good team and we know it’s going to be hard – but I still believe in our squad.”
Not only will winning the Championship cap off an unprecedented dominant run but will perhaps come in the most unprecedented of circumstances.
Sydney's COVID outbreak forced the side to make a dash for the border and arrived in Melbourne two-days earlier than anticipated.
In the days leading up, some players and staff including Ninkovic were relocated from their homes to temporary accommodation after their suburbs were deemed red zones by the Victorian Government.
Despite the "crazy" circumstances, Ninkovic said arriving in Melbourne earlier has helped them to better prepare than what it would have should they have stuck to their initial travel schedule.
“It’s been crazy,” Ninkovic said.
“The most important thing for us is that we are here and we have three-four days to prepare and I think now we are going to have more time to prepare better than being at home.”
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