McGlinchey's date with destiny

Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey’s chances of a starting eleven place for arguably the biggest game of his career appears to be firming, after training in the centre of midfield in a New Zealand squad practice match in Wellington.

Central Coast Mariners midfielder Michael McGlinchey-s chances of a starting eleven place for arguably the biggest game of his career appears to be firming, after training in the centre of midfield in a New Zealand squad practice match in Wellington.

The signs indicate McGlinchey could start alongside the Wellington Phoenix-s Tim Brown in the centre of midfield for the second leg of New Zealand-s FIFA World Cup playoff against Bahrain in Wellington on Saturday.

McGlinchey came on as a second half substitute in the first leg in Manama, which finished nil-all, meaning the All Whites have to get a result to book a spot at South Africa 2010, or at the very least, a scoreless draw would send the tie into extra time, and potentially a penalty shootout.

The 22-year-old Celtic product-s only other experience for the country of his birth was in the starting eleven in a friendly against Jordan, and after impressing in an eleven vs. eleven practice match in Wellington could be rewarded with a place in Ricki Herbert-s team for New Zealand-s biggest match since qualifying for the 1982 showpiece in Spain.

McGlinchey would come in at the expense of veteran All Whites midfielder Simon Elliott, after he missed a third successive training session.

The 35-year-old former English Premier League player sat out an intra-squad practice match at Whitby's Endeavour Park to rest a troublesome hip injury. It was the third successive training session Elliott had missed. The All Whites have one more full workout tomorrow. Some international coaches would insist on their players completing the last session to confirm their place in the starting lineup.

But, given Elliott's experience - he made his international debut in 1994 - and his importance in the holding midfield role, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert could be tempted to give the Wellington-born linkman more time and late fitness test to prove his readiness to face Bahrain at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.

If Elliott is unable to start, head coach Ricki Herbert is likely to be tempted to retain the 3-4-3 formation he adopted for the 0-0 first leg draw in Bahrain last month.

With Elliott sidelined, McGlinchey, the Wellington-born, Glasgow-raised Central Coast Mariners A-League midfielder, has been training in central midfield alongside Tim Brown.

McGlinchey made an impact as a second-half substitute in Bahrain and he would have been pressing for a starting place even if Elliott was fully fit. He made his All Whites debut on the right side of midfield in Jordan in September but looks more at home in as the creative fulcrum in the centre of the pitch. That would then allow Brown to play a holding midfield role - one the Wellington Phoenix vice-captain is more suited to at international level.

The All Whites practiced with three strikers up front, with Rory Fallon looking sharp in an advanced role, supported by Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen, who completed two training sessions yesterday after his arrival late Tuesday from Glasgow Celtic.

Both Fallon and Smeltz scored a couple of sharp goals in a practice outing against All Whites reserves and some Wellington Phoenix fringe players. But 17-year-old Chris Wood also looked sharp on the opposition team and will press the more experienced trio hard for a starting place.

The team's last training session will be behind closed doors tomorrow, allowing Herbert time, if he wants, to tinker with his lineup.