Dwight Yorke, whose goals in Europe have helped to keep Aston Villa's anticlimactic season alive, may miss the second leg of their Uefa Cup third-round tie against Steaua Bucharest at Villa Park tonight because of an injury which has mystified the club's medical staff.
The Trinidad and Tobagan international followed up his winner against Athletic Bilbao with a potentially precious away goal in the Romanian capital after Villa had conceded twice in quick succession. However, he limped out of Saturday's victory over Coventry and was unable to join an otherwise fully fit squad in training yesterday.
Brian Little, the Villa manager, said Yorke's problem had defeated diagnosis. "It started out as a sharp pain in his heel, then moved to the back of the foot. It could be a calf, or a tendon connected with the Achilles, or it might just disappear.
"Dwight's very important to us - his availability will settle the team and the formation - but I wouldn't gamble on anyone if it could mean a long-term injury."
Little will probably restore Fernando Nelson and Ian Taylor to midfield, where Yorke has been operating as a deep-lying attacker while Savo Milosevic and Stan Collymore hold the main striking roles. Lee Hendrie, 20, who scored against Coventry after replacing Yorke, could be used as a straight replacement but is more likely to start on the bench.
Villa, striving for a place in the Uefa Cup quarter-finals for the first time since their manager partnered Andy Gray up front 20 years ago, have won their last three home matches. But Little said: "We're kidding ourselves if we think we've got the advantage. They start one up and knowing they have gone through on away goals before [against Bastia]."
Steaua would enjoy playing on the Villa Park pitch, he added in a veiled aside about the poor surface in Bucharest. "Their counter-attacking ability is their major strength," he cautioned.
Mihai Stoichita, the Steaua coach, later echoed Little's sentiments. "I'm very confident we'll go through," he said. "It'll be tough but it'll suit us playing on a decent surface. Villa have to push forward, so we can exploit the space behind their wing-backs. We always score away from home."
Since the first leg, England and Romania have been paired in next year's World Cup finals. Despite the fact that only two Steaua players, Marius Lacatus and Iosif Rotariu, are in their national squad, Little felt the draw had given the game "added edge".
Stoichita, an admirer of Glenn Hoddle's attempt to marry traditional English virtues to greater technique, went further: "This game will be like the opening night of the World Cup. Whoever wins will see it as a good omen."
Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, would view victory in rather more practical terms. He has calculated that the club could make pounds 5m by reaching the final.