Manchester City's FA Cup hopes are in danger of being bulldozed by an 'unbelievable' run of injuries which has claimed Andy Cole as its latest victim.
Stuart Pearce's already wafer-thin squad has been ravaged by fitness problems over the past three months but just as the Blues boss was starting to throw down the welcome mat for his missing stars, more have been sidelined.
Cole is the major victim, ruled out for a month after being forced to undergo surgery on a knee ligament problem he picked up during Sunday's win over Charlton.
The veteran striker joins midfielder Claudio Reyna and defender Nedum Onuoha as definite absentees from Sunday's fifth-round tussle with Aston Villa while, after almost two months on the sidelines, Ben Thatcher may lack the all-round fitness to play against David O'Leary's men despite making his comeback from a chest infection in City's reserve side tonight.
In addition, Pearce is also waiting for the results of a scan on the knee injury which ruled Sun Jihai out of the Charlton match and to see how Trevor Sinclair comes through a blood-curdling 'cheekbone-straightening' procedure which will determine whether the former England winger can play against Villa wearing a protective mask.
'It seems to be the nature of how it has gone this season,' Pearce told the club's website.
'We have a lot of names on the 'injured' board, then they clear off, then a new bus load arrive. It is unbelievable really.'
Cole will sit out not only the Villa cup tie, but Premiership games with Liverpool, Sunderland and Portsmouth as City continue their two-pronged assault on a European slot.
The loss of his top scorer means Pearce will be forced to hand extra responsibility to £6million new-boy Georgios Samaras, who scored his first Blues goal against Charlton, the highlight of a performance which emphasised the raw edges in his game.
There is some good news for Pearce though, with Danny Mills joining Thatcher on reserve-team duty after missing almost three months of the season with a fractured shin.
City have missed the full-back's combative streak during an inconsistent spell around the Christmas period and providing he suffers no ill-effects from his return, Mills is optimistic about his chances of making the trip to Villa Park.
'Hopefully, I will be fit for selection,' said the 28-year-old. 'Two-and-a-half months is a long time to not be involved and be doing the training day to day.'
Meanwhile, talks over a new contract for skipper Sylvain Distin are due to resume later this week, while negotiations with Joey Barton will begin again in around a fortnight once his advisor Willie McKay has returned from a short holiday.