|By VINCE RUGARI
Brisbane Roar's mission to get their A-League title defence back on track has been rocked after Besart Berisha was sidelined indefinitely with a mystery abdominal problem.
The competition's reigning golden boot has grappled with the injury for the last few weeks but the exact nature of it has Roar coaching staff baffled.
Ultrasounds and MRI scans have failed to shed any light on the reasons for the sharp pains in Berisha's stomach, with fears it could be a hernia that would rule the 27-year-old out for weeks.
The Albanian will not travel to Melbourne for Friday's bottom-of-the-table clash with the Heart, and will instead consult with doctors in Brisbane to get to the cause of his ailment.
Coach Rado Vidosic said the usually-bubbly and excitable Berisha felt like he is letting the team down because of the injury.
"It's not all the time but when he does certain movements then he gets a sharp pain going through his stomach and abdomen," he said.
"That's definitely having an influence on his game and attitude when he's training. You can see he's very down.
"Nothing came up on any ultrasounds, or MRIs - all the medical research we've done came negative.
"There was no problem with soft tissue, so we don't really know what the problem is unfortunately."
The 27-year-old has received cortisone injections, which Vidosic is hopeful will clear the problems up in time for the November 16 visit of Sydney FC and Alessandro Del Piero - a player Berisha idolized growing up.
Initial scans had ruled out the possibility that it could be a hernia that has struck the striker down, but Vidosic admitted it could yet be the "worst case scenario".
"Nothing came up on the scans so we have ruled that out but unfortunately the problem is constantly here and even after two or three days off, [at his] first training back he can still feel the pain and there is no point flogging him anymore," he said.
"Now we need to make sure that he gets over it, and once he gets back he won't have any problems."
Playing under clear duress, Berisha had next to no influence in Brisbane's 1-0 loss on Sunday to table-topping Adelaide United.
The trouble for Vidosic will be replacing him. Berisha missed just one game last season, which gave the Roar little opportunity to suitably blood an understudy.
The coach was keeping his cards close to his chest, but there are another of options for the central striking role.
Brazilian attacker Henrique made his first start of the season against Adelaide, while off-season winger Ben Halloran has overcome illness and could be shifted inside.
Thomas Broich, who has been used either in his customary left wing position or a little deeper in midfield this term, is another possibility.
Mitch Nichols is another - before he was converted into an all-action attacking midfielder, the Palm Beach junior came through the ranks as a striker.
"Hopefully whoever comes in can replicate his workload, defensively and offensively," Vidosic said.