Newcastle Jets star recruit Wes Hoolahan has taken another step towards finally making his long awaited A-League debut for the competition's cellar dwellers.
The Republic of Ireland international midfielder hasn't played since suffering a serious ankle injury in an FFA Cup quarter-final back in mid-September.
The Jets have struggled badly without him, winning just two games and scoring a league-low 12 goals, with coach Ernie Merrick sacked earlier this month.
Caretaker coach Craig Deans revealed on Tuesday 37-year-old Hoolahan had made progress.
"Wes came back into the session today for the first time all season, which is a bonus," Deans said.
"He's obviously still a couple of weeks away (from playing) but just having him in the session and his quality as a footballer and his contribution to the session is more than just football."
In further good news, captain and central defender Nigel Boogaard is set to return for Friday's away game against Wellington, following an adductor injury which had kept him out since mid-December.
"Nigel was back the whole week last week and could have been involved on Saturday if we wanted to push it, but decided it wasn't worth the risk at that point," Deans said.
"He'll do the whole week this week and put his hand up for selection.
"There's a good chance he'll come back in."
Deans wasn't sure if his New Zealand international midfielder Matt Ridenton will travel to face the Phoenix, after returning from a trial with an English club.
Newcastle looked competitive in their two matches under Deans, but still lost to league heavyweights Sydney FC and Melbourne City.
"It's about making sure we're ruthless and clinical when we need to be,'" Deans said.
"From the tactical point of view, we need to be more aggressive from the start."
While he has aspirations to be a full-time A-League coach, Deans understands why Newcastle aren't rushing to fill the post.
"Obviously it would be nice to get it clarified as quick as it can," Deans said.
"I'm sure the club will be working hard to make that happen but it's also a decision that probably can't be rushed.
"Its a big decision when you're appointing a head coach and you need to make sure you get that right, so in the meantime I'll do the best I can do to get us moving up the ladder."
Australian Associated Press