West Ham United's hopes of escaping relegation to the Championship after two years in the top-flight have been rocked by the news that Dean Ashton will not return to action this season.
The 24-year-old former Crewe Alexandra and Norwich City forward has not featured for the Hammers since last season's FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool after injuring his ankle while training with England over seven months ago.
His recuperation has not been straight forward and he has been forced to undergo further minor surgery on his injured ankle.
It is anticipated that Ashton will now require six weeks to recover from his most recent operation.
Head physiotherapist Steve Allen told the club's official website: "Dean underwent a successful diagnostic arthroscopy operation on his left ankle to remove a significant amount of scar tissue - a problem directly linked to the original injury he sustained.
"We have left no stone unturned in our attempt to get Dean back out on the football field as soon as possible, but it was clear that he had gone as far as he could with the methods that had been used, and the only option was to have another look at the injury site.
"We sought the opinions of the leading ankle specialists in the country and, following their advice, the decision was made to operate.
"It will be six weeks before he is back running, and we felt that the timing was right in order for Dean to make a fresh start with the rest of his team-mates when the squad returns for pre-season training in the summer.
"We look forward to seeing him back to full fitness then."
Alan Curbishley's side are eight points away from safety with eight games of the Premiership season remaining despite winning their last match 2-1 at Blackburn Rovers.