Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has been dealt a major blow by the news skipper Fabricio Coloccini could be out of action for up to seven weeks.
The 31-year-old central defender broke two bones in his back after landing awkwardly as he made a spectacular overhead clearance during his side's 4-2 Barclays Premier League victory over Southampton on February 24.
Coloccini has been allowed to return to his native Argentina for a week to work with his national association's medical team, but Pardew is expecting him to be sidelined for some time.
The manager said: "Colo has gone back to Argentina. There's no treatment he can have - he's broken two of the bones in his back.
"We think it's going to be anything between three and seven weeks. He's gone back for a week."
Should Coloccini's absence extend to the upper limit of the prognosis, he would miss most of the remainder of the season, and with his future still up in the air - his desire to return to South America in January because of personal problems was much-publicised - the Toon Army may not see very much more of him in a black and white shirt.
Just a few weeks ago, his loss would have been catastrophic for the Magpies, whose need to retain his services was all too apparent during the winter transfer window.
However, the recruitment of Montpellier's Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa has provided Pardew with a ready-made replacement, although should either he or Steven Taylor break down during the remaining weeks of the campaign, the 51-year-old's defensive resources would be stretched once again.
The pair are likely to start tonight's Europa League clash with Anzhi Makhachkala at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, although their manager will keep everything crossed that they emerge unscathed with Stoke heading for St James' Park on Sunday.