SINCE the day he signed amid great fanfare, Sydney FC striker Mark Bridge has virtually been a walk-up starter for the Sky Blues. Now he faces a serious battle to keep his spot.
Bridge has missed the past three matches with a back complaint, and while he's ready to resume for tonight's clash against Adelaide United at Sydney Football Stadium, he'd be no certainty to start in usual circumstances.
Fate is on his side, however. Nicky Carle is missing with a hamstring strain, and as Dimi Petratos struggled to make an impact against Newcastle as Bruno Cazarine's partner, the door is open for Bridge to play as a striker or attacking midfielder.
''I'm up for selection but I don't know if I'll be playing or not,'' Bridge said. ''The team has taken seven from nine points, so it's clear they've done extremely well without me. No player doesn't want to play but I've got no right to say the coaches must put me back in because the team has been doing excellent, especially the attackers.
''Even the substitutes who came on against Newcastle were, in my opinion, terrific. They changed the game. But that's football. Sometimes you're in, sometimes you're out. Sometimes you're scoring goals, sometimes you're not.''
Bridge admitted making his comeback at Carle's expense wasn't ideal but he had to make do. ''You don't ever want any of your teammates getting injured, that's not how you ever want to earn your place in the team,'' he said. ''I'd like to play but I just don't know. If I'm not, I've got to figure out a way to get myself back into the team, and once I'm in there, I've got to figure out a way to stay there.''
Of course, as a striker, there is a probably a simple solution that Bridge himself is all too aware of. Since the beginning of last season, he has scored just two goals. He knows that's not nearly enough and is, primarily, the reason his position is in question. The sight of Cazarine - who has found form of late - and Juho Makela both scoring last weekend hasn't aided his cause, either.
Plagued by injury last campaign, the dreaded medical room is where Bridge has had to spend much of the past month. While he's worked out how to manage the foot issues of last year, this time it's been his back.
''I was getting more and more pain in my lower back, and I honestly thought the problem was to do with the amount of time I spent in the car stuck in Sydney traffic,'' he said. ''I've got a fairly long drive in from the western suburbs, so I started leaving earlier and earlier to try and avoid the traffic, but I eventually realised that it had nothing to do with it.
''The week after the Central Coast game, it got really bad. I was getting acupuncture, massage, and it was fine in training but then in the Wellington game, it seized right up at half-time, and it got to the point where a sharp pain was going in my back when I trained.''
As it turned out, he was suffering arthritis of the facet joint, and had to receive injections to restore mobility. ''It was a bit sore in the days after the injection, and I had some pain in my hamstrings, but I went straight into some water running and gradually worked myself up into fitness, and I could've probably played against Newcastle,'' he said. ''Thankfully there's no pain in there now … which is a big relief.''