SYDNEY FC came a step closer to a return to competitive football for many of its major stars with a solid hit-out in a practice match against Western Sydney Wanderers today.
Playing in his first match since injuring his knee at the Asian Cup in January 2011, Jason Culina made it through half a game for the Sky Blues as they defeated the Wanderers 1-0 at Macquarie Park.
Culina played in the holding midfield role alongside club skipper Terry McFlynn and showed some promising signs with his ball use and defensive organisation.
The 32-year-old is hopeful of getting a spot on the bench for Saturday night's crunch game with Melbourne Victory at Allianz Stadium.
Much will depend on how Culina pulls up on Wednesday but Sky Blues physiotherapist Stan Ivancic said initial signs were positive.
"He's worked really hard to get to this point; today is a real stepping stone towards getting him back on the park," Ivancic said afterwards. "The fact he's got through, we're all happy with it.
"All credit to him, he got through quite comfortably. He said he feels really good ... now we want to freshen him up. But he was very pleased with his effort."
Asked if Culina would be in contention for the Victory clash, Ivancic said: "It's hard to pick an actual date because of the nature of his injury.
"But if he keeps going like this, it's not too far off.
Culina wasn't the only high-profile Sydney star to use the game for some match fitness, with defenders Pascal Bosschaart and Adam Griffiths also getting a valuable 45 minutes under their belts.
Bosschaart (Achilles) and Griffiths (hamstring) are both considered strong chances of a return this weekend and their inclusion couldn't come at a better time after Sydney's embarrassing 7-2 thrashing against Central Coast last Saturday night.
"It felt good to be back on the pitch," Bosschaart said.
"It was always the plan to play 45 minutes. I played 30 minutes in a youth team game a couple of weeks ago and now this, which was a step up.
"It's up to the coaches when I can play. Hopefully that will be soon."
Sky Blues coach Ian Crook said of the match: "It was an important hit out for a few of the boys, especially Jason (Culina), Pascal (Bosschaart) and Adam Griffiths and it was great for them to get through the match unscathed.
"Playing against A-League opposition is a good step in their rehab and with that under their belts we'll assess how they recover and then make some decisions on when they’ll be ready to get back on the pitch.
"It's nice to have so many bodies getting closer to returning, especially with the game against Melbourne Victory coming up on Saturday."