Cole faces new blow in season of frustration

Chelsea fear ligament damage and long-term absence for midfielder

Chelsea were last night fearful that Joe Cole's injury to his right knee may rule him out for the long term and he is certain to miss tomorrow's game against Stoke City. The club's medical department were unable to make a clear diagnosis because the swelling on his knee was so bad but they have not ruled out ligament damage which would have serious repercussions for his season.

Cole, 27, will undergo another scan today when the swelling has subsided and a fuller assessment can be made of the damage. He suffered the injury against Southend United in the FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night when he landed awkwardly, his bodyweight at an angle to his planted foot and his knee twisting. Cole carried on for a few minutes but broke down again and could barely hobble off.

Cole's season has already been undermined by injury. He suffered from a thigh strain early in the campaign which meant that he only played two games in October. He has not scored since 5 October against Aston Villa, the game in which he was also injured. He has drifted out of Fabio Capello's England reckoning, having missed the last two squads through injury.

Scolari is already missing Florent Malouda with a thigh strain. He has promoted 17-year-old Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma to train with the first team. Michael Essien on the sidelines until potentially the last month of the season as he recovers from a cruciate knee ligament injury. That is the one prognosis Cole will be praying that he is not given – recovery from a cruciate injury generally costs a player one year of his career.

Frank Lampard has warned his Chelsea team-mates that they cannot "cry" because they have been criticised by Luiz Felipe Scolari for their lacklustre defeat to Manchester United as Didier Drogba waits to learn whether he has been reinstated for Stoke. In a post-match analysis that pulled no punches after the 4-1 victory over Southend, Lampard said that Chelsea deserved the trenchant criticism they received from Scolari after the defeat on Sunday. "It's not a problem, we are all men," Lampard said. "When you are a professional footballer for a team like Chelsea, if you make a mistake or you have a bad game you have to accept that.

"Once you accept that yourself you will be all right. If you want to cry just because the manager says you are playing below par, then you have to look at yourself. That is what we are doing. The response was fantastic."

Scolari had said that some of his players had only been operating at "35-40 per cent" of their potential before he left Drogba out of the squad to face Southend the following day. The striker trained with Chelsea's academy players on Wednesday and was back at Cobham yesterday to train with the first-team players who did not play against Southend. He is expected to be back with the main squad today.

On Drogba's exclusion, Lampard said that the player, who is virtually certain to leave the club in the summer, would have to re-establish himself. "It's the manager's prerogative," Lampard said. "Any manager who wants success, and I have played for some top managers, have a right to drop someone, put them on the bench, rest them or whatever.

"Didier Drogba is a good personality and he will take it in the right way. Hopefully, he will come back like before because when he is at his best he is one of the best, if not the best striker in the world. You always want those sort of people around."

Scolari may wish to bring Drogba back but there does not seem to be much argument for him starting ahead of Nicolas Anelka, who scored his 17th goal of the season on Wednesday. Lampard said: "The perception is that [the two cannot play together] but I don't know how many times they played together. Drogba has been injured, don't forget. I've had it in my career [when he has been regarded as incompatible with another player] with [Steven] Gerrard and England and [Michael] Ballack at Chelsea. I know many teams will not want to play those two when they are firing."

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