Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has been dealt a double blow by the news that he will be without central defenders Titus Bramble and Michael Turner until the new year.
Bramble was due to undergo surgery to repair a damaged knee cartilage today, but Bruce's dismay increased when it emerged that Turner damaged knee ligaments when he collided with a post during Monday night's 2-2 Barclays Premier League draw with Everton and could be sidelined for months.
The manager told the club's official website, www.safc.com: "It's horrible news. Michael whacked his knee against the post on Monday and damaged knee ligaments.
"He will see a specialist today. I believe it could be months rather than weeks, and that's a big blow to us."
Turner was hurt as he slid in to clear Tim Cahill's second-half lob off the line and ploughed into the woodwork.
He was able to finish the game, but investigations since have revealed the full extent of the injury and the 27-year-old former Hull player is facing a lengthy spell in the treatment room.
That news could hardly have come at a worse time for the Black Cats with Bramble heading for hospital this morning for an operation which, in Bruce's estimation, will keep him out for "at least six weeks".
Turner and summer-signing Bramble, 29, have established a formidable partnership since the former's return from an ankle problem at the end of September.
The Black Cats have lost only two league games all season and only one - the 5-1 derby defeat at Newcastle - with the pair in harness.
Bruce said: "[Strikers] Danny [Welbeck], Darren [Bent] and Asamoah [Gyan] take the plaudits, but in Michael and Titus, we have lost a big partnership who have done very, very well for us.
"I hope the ones who come in can do the job which they have been doing. They will be a big act to follow, I have to tell you."
Anton Ferdinand proved an able deputy for Bramble on Monday evening, but with Ghana international John Mensah also struggling to shake off a shoulder injury, Paraguayan Paulo da Silva is the club's only other specialist centre-half.
However, loan signing Nedum Onuoha, who has been playing at right-back, can play in the middle with Phil Bardsley, who was been lining up on the left, a specialist on the opposite flank.
Kieran Richardson started the season as first-choice left-back, and he could return to that position after operating in midfield more recently.
Meanwhile, midfielder Andy Reid's loan spell at Sheffield United has been extended until January 3.
The 28-year-old Republic of Ireland international initially joined the npower Championship club on a month-long emergency loan deal.
But having impressed during his three starts to date for the Blades, he will remain at Bramall Lane until the new year.