Hearts striker Kevin Kyle has been ruled out for the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery, manager Jim Jefferies confirmed.
Kyle has not played since going off injured in the Scottish Cup loss to St Johnstone on January 11. The Scotland international had a series of injections to treat a problem in the groin and stomach region and had double hernia surgery last month, but was still struggling to regain fitness.
And now Kyle faces a summer of rehabilitation in a bid to return to fitness in time for the start of the 2011/12 Clydesdale Bank Premier League season on July 23. Jefferies told Hearts TV: "Kevin has had an operation to clean his hip out and we will wait and see when it settles down how long it's going to take."
He added: "We tried everything and looked at everything. Fingers crossed he makes a full recovery. Pre-season is the target for him now, whether he makes it or not I don't know as it's such a short break.
"He may miss the early part of it, I don't know."
Meanwhile, Jefferies reiterated his preference for a split in the SPL over a 10-team league suggested by Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster.
He added: "I'm not against the split; playing against each other four times is more of a problem.
"It (the split) is a lot better than what's been proposed, in terms of a 10-team league.
"I'm glad to see that's not getting a lot of encouragement because I don't think that would have been the best way forward - maybe financially, but football-wise I don't think so.
"I'd rather it stayed as it was than what's been proposed."