The Wellington Phoenix had their worst fears confirmed today as in-form striker Roy Krishna was ruled out for the next three months with an ankle injury.
Krishna, who has carried the club's attack this season scoring six of their 17 goals, was injured in the first half of the Phoenix's 3-1 loss to the Central Coast last weekend and the initial diagnosis was that he would be out for a month.
But Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick confirmed the injury was a lot more serious.
"It looks like the ligament that connects the two bones in his lower leg has split and the ligament has torn," said Merrick, who is without as many as six first-choice players tomorrow against Brisbane through injury and suspension. "It's a pretty bad injury. It usually takes at least 10 weeks."
After losing A-League Player of the Year Nathan Burns in the off-season, Krishna was given the responsibility of leading the Phoenix's attack this year and excelled in the role. He terrorised opposition defence with his speed, but also added a layer of composure in the attacking third, picking creative passes and linking up cleverly with team-mates to evolve into one of the best, and most exciting, players in the league.
Goals have been a problem for Wellington recently - they netted only six in their last seven games, three to Krishna - and they have also leaked the second-most goals behind the last-placed Mariners.
Merrick has previously said he would look to go to the market in the January window to find a striker but tempered talk of that yesterday.
"With Jeffery [Sarpong] coming back in, with Blake Powell and some of the youngsters like Joel Stevens, who will tomorrow be promoted to the bench, I think we have enough to cover for the rest of the season," he said. "And remember, when more and more players come back, we have attacking midfielders who are effectively strikers as well. I feel we have a good squad."
If Merrick's eye glances the ASB Premiership this weekend, he could find a ready-made replacement in Auckland City's speed merchant Micah Lea'alafa. The Solomon Island striker has been the standout performer in New Zealand's domestic competition and looks ready, and available, to make the step up.
The onus will instead go on Dutch import Sarpong, who has underwhelmed so far in a wide attacking midfield role but will likely be deployed as the central striker as the Phoenix take on top-of-the-table Roar today.
Matt Ridenton and Blake Powell could also feature up front.
Manny Muscat and Roly Bonevacia are both out suspended while Louis Fenton, Ben Sigmund, Alex Rufer and Krishna are all on the injured list. It means Michael McGlinchey could play a deeper midfield role while Dylan Fox will make his A-League debut at centre-back alongside Andrew Durante, Justin Gulley and Troy Danaskos.
"Dylan's been training with us for a good nine months now and has come off a very successful season in the New South Wales Premier League, so I think he'll do a good job for us and, at 21, I think he will have a big future," Merrick said.
Despite going winless in their last four games that has seen them drop to sixth on the table, Merrick remained optimistic about the Phoenix's chances playing at home.
"We've played five games in New Zealand and only lost one, and that was the first one against Newcastle. That's a pretty good home record."