Victory short of strikers

Melbourne Victory faces the possibility of being without a single senior striker for the second leg of its major Hyundai A-League semi-final against Sydney FC on Sunday night.

Melbourne Victory faces the possibility of being without a single senior striker for the second leg of its major Hyundai A-League semi-final against Sydney FC on Sunday night.

Not only is star recruit Nik Mrdja suspended - following his send-off during Melbourne's 2-1 win in the first leg on February 18 - but Archie Thompson (foot) and Robbie Kruse (ankle) are batting to be fit ahead of a clash which will decide which team will host this year's grand final.

While Melbourne will appeal Mrdja's two match ban for elbowing Sydney defender Shannon Cole on Wednesday night, at best the reigning champions are hoping the ban will be reduced to just one match meaning the recent signing from the Central Coast Mariners is certain to be absent on Sunday night.

And Thompson and Kruse only just started running again on Tuesday as Victory trained at Olympic Park and at this stage have a better chance of returning for the Victory's next Asian Champions' League clash next Tuesday against Korean side Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma than being ready to face the Sky Blues 48 hours earlier.

Certainly Victory football manager Gary Cole was far from upbeat about the chances of Thompson - who has been sidelined since Australia Day - and Kruse, who was injured as a result of a controversial tackle by Sydney's Terry McFlynn in the last round of the regular season, being fit to play on Sunday night.

"You would have seen Archie, Robbie and (defender) Evan Berger (who injured his ankle in the ACL loss in Beijing last week) hobbling around this morning," Cole said after training.

"The good news is they are back running but the bad news is it just the early days (of their recovery) and they have not yet returned to full training."

"We are not going to rule them out of contention for the weekend but to say they are definitely in contention at this stage is wishful thinking."

Cole admitted the trio were more likely to play in the ACL clash two days after the Sydney clash.

"I would have thought every day helps them right now," he said.

"Their recovery has been terrific but the fact is they have hit the track (only) this week and they are running, which is great, so every couple of days (extra recovery) is certainly going to help them."

The Victory also have concerns over experienced defender Surat Sukha, who has made the long journey to Tehran where he will play for Thailand against Iran in the final round of qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup on Wednesday night.

Cole conceded that if Sukha, who was battling illness during the ACL loss in Beijing, was forced to play for the full 90 minutes against Iran on Wednesday then he would be unlikely to be able to play more than a half for the Victory on Sunday.

If Mrdja, Thompson and Kruse are all unavailable that would leave the little-used Nathan Elasi as the club's only recognised striker although Johnny Warren Medalist Carlos Hernandez is likely to play a more attacking role in that scenario.

Hernandez was scheduled to travel with Costa Rica for a midweek friendly against Chile but that game was called off following the recent earthquake meaning Melbourne's best player is at least a certain starter on Sunday night.

After winning the first leg 2-1, Melbourne only needs a draw in Sydney to host the A-League grand final for the third time in five seasons and for the second season in a row as it bids to become the first club in the competition's short history to win back-to-back championships as well as the first to win three titles.