Manchester City defender Ben Thatcher has been ruled out for three months following complications arising from his recent ankle operation.
The City manager, Kevin Keegan, had anticipated Thatcher would only be sidelined for a month but has now revealed the news that the Welsh full-back will not be available until well into the New Year.
"Ben Thatcher will be out for three months," Keegan said. "When they operated on the ankle, they found another problem in there. They have cleaned it up but it means he won't be back until after Christmas."
It is a bitter blow for the 28-year-old summer arrival from Leicester, who had played a major role in reinforcing City's previously weak defence, and leaves Keegan's wafer-thin squad stretched to breaking point.
Sun Jihai and Trevor Sinclair have already been ruled out for the season, so Keegan is left with just two left-sided players in his squad, skipper Sylvain Distin and 22-year-old rookie Stephen Jordan, both of whom are defenders.
"We have not got a left winger or a left-sided midfielder," said Keegan."Now we are mixing and matching, so we don't always have a great shape.
"But as long as the spirit is good and players do the job they are asked to do, we can keep getting away with it and maybe even surprise a few people too."
With Jordan set for an extended run at left-back, starting with Saturday's encounter with Blackburn, and 19-year-old Willo Flood set to continue on the right flank after impressing in his first two Premiership starts, the City academy is now starting to rival that of United in developing first-team stars of the future.
Aside from Flood and Jordan, Jonathan D'Laryea, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha have all burst on to the first-team scene over the last few weeks and young defender Paddy McCarthy is not expected to be too far behind them.
The emergence of such talent could offer a financial lifeline to cash-strapped City, yet Keegan insists their development would not have been quite as swift had it not been for Shaun Wright-Phillips, discarded by Nottingham Forest five years ago but now an England international.
"Shaun has been a great standard bearer for our academy," said Keegan. "He was turned down elsewhere but he came here and did everything right. You never have to ask him to do anything twice and on the field he has started to build a fantastic reputation.
"As he has done well, the other lads have been encouraged to follow. They think 'If Shaun can do it, why not me?'
"These lads might save us millions of pounds in the transfer market - money we would otherwise struggle to find."Reuse content