The Republic of Ireland striking crisis for next month's crunch play-off with Estonia has intensified with Shane Long facing a serious uphill battle to have any chance of featuring.
Long suffered a knee injury in Saturday's Premier League clash with Aston Villa after a horror tackle from defender Alan Hutton, and a scan suggested that he will be out for up to six weeks.
But it does leave open the possibility of recovering in a quicker timeframe, and the player is understood to believe he has a chance of returning before the first leg with Estonia in Tallinn on November 11.
However, the scan showed that the 24-year-old has chipped a small bone in his knee in addition to serious bruising.
The positive news was the absence of ligament damage that was initially suspected.
Nevertheless, the worrying prognosis is another huge setback for boss Giovanni Trapattoni who is already without Kevin Doyle for the first leg and is unsure about the availability of Robbie Keane.
While the Republic skipper is believed to be back running and is in line to feature for LA Galaxy in a play-off game next week, Trapattoni has always warned against rushing players back from muscular problems.
The squad for the Estonian encounters will be named on Friday and it is anticipated that Keane and Long will be included.
Yet with the all the question marks, the Italian will have to decide whether to include additional striking cover.
Simon Cox, Jonathan Walters and Andy Keogh are the three fit members of his existing panel.
Meanwhile, Andrew Little’s loan spell at Port Vale has been cut short by a knee injury.
The Rangers man’s nightmare has struck again, after he spent more than half of last season on the sidelines and had to undergo surgery on both hips.
This time he has suffered knee ligament damage, which was sustained in Saturday’s 4-0 defeat to Morecambe.
“Andy Little is out for the foreseeable future,” said Port Vale manager Mickey Adams.
There are now major doubts over whether Little — who started in Northern Ireland’s 3-0 defeat against Italy — will appear in a Port Vale shirt again, with his loan due to expire in January.