Bruno Fornaroli's much-awaited A-League comeback has been put back a week, with the Melbourne City captain to watch Saturday night's clash with Sydney FC from the stands.
The Uruguayan hasn't been sighted this season after injuring his ankle in an FFA Cup fixture last August.
Expectations around a return for the golden boot winner grew this week when he played for 70 minutes - and scored - in a pre-season friendly with visiting Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F.
The 30-year-old told News Corp he could have played for longer but didn't want to rush his recovery, saying he felt ready for an A-League return but it was up to coach Warren Joyce.
On Thursday, Joyce delivered his verdict on Fornaroli's fitness by leaving him out of City's squad for the round 20 match.
The club has confirmed that means he won't be playing.
Midfielder Luke Brattan, set to continue in midfield alongside Osama Malik, has called the game "the most important of our season".
City haven't beaten the reigning champions since the FFA Cup final in November 2016, twice falling short this season.
In November, Luke Wilkshire's first goal for the Sky Blues got them a 1-0 win at AAMI Park.
The following month, Brattan put Joyce's men ahead at Allianz Stadium before a pair of uncharacteristic Bert Schenkeveld blunders and Manny Muscat's dismissal resulted in a 3-1 loss.
Fornaroli's lack of fitness is a setback for City, made worse for the absence of his injury replacement.
Ross McCormack's return to parent club Aston Villa at the end of January means City will tackle Sydney FC without a senior striker.
At least City aren't wanting for goals - they've scored nine in their last three games, with Dario Vidosic, Marcin Budzinski, Stefan Mauk and Daniel Arzani all finding the net.