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Balotelli on compassionate leave

Liverpool
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Hammers dealt Noble injury blow

West Ham midfielder Mark Noble has been ruled out "for at least three weeks" with a hernia injury, dealing the relegation-threatened club a massive blow in their fight against the drop.

Noble, 23, will miss crunch games against Manchester City, Blackburn and Wigan, though it is hoped he may be fit to return for home clash with Sunderland on the final day of the season - a game that may be decisive in the Hammers' battle to avoid demotion to the Championship.

Noble left the field on a stretcher an hour into Saturday's 3-0 defeat at Chelsea after going down with pains in his lower stomach. He had already missed six weeks this term with appendicitis and has had groin problems in the past.

A West Ham source told ESPNsoccernet: "Its a torn hernia. He had an operation a few years ago and the mesh he had inserted has broken. He is out for at least three weeks."

Noble's injury gives Hammers boss Avram Grant a selection headache for this Sunday's visit to Champions League-chasing Manchester City as influential midfielder Scott Parker is also doubtful.

With Gary O'Neil a long-term casualty, the team is now struggling in midfield. O'Neil's season is over because of a serious ankle injury, while Parker has already missed the last two matches with an Achilles problem.

But the England international, recently crowned Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year, is expected to return for next week's game against Blackburn at Upton Park.

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