Aston Villa will have to do without injured captain Martin Laursen for the rest of the season, manager Martin O'Neill predicted on Wednesday.
Laursen has not played since injuring his knee in January and hopes of a return were dashed when he suffered a setback at the club's training break in Dubai last month.
O'Neill said: "Martin is struggling. There's not much more to say. He'll be struggling to play again before the end of the season." Villa have sorely missed the presence of Laursen at the back, conceding 24 goals in their last ten matches.
Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor is improving after suffering a hamstring injury against Everton last weekend although he remains doubtful for Saturday's home meeting with West Ham. Villa are still awaiting the results of a scan on the England player.
O'Neill said: "Gabby came off the pitch on Sunday with a hamstring niggle. It seems to be getting better. But we are awaiting the results of a scan. At the back of the doctor's mind is a concern that he may have strained it. That would make him doubtful for this weekend's game.
"He certainly seems to be responding - no doubt about that - but he still remains a doubt for the West Ham match."
Agbonlahor's absence could be offset by the return of Emile Heskey who suffered a hamstring injury during England's recent friendly international with Slovakia at Wembley. O'Neill said: "Emile has trained for the last couple of days and that is encouraging for us. It would be good if he could make it for the weekend.
"We will see how he is later in the week because we have a few days yet. But at least he has been out training and he is certainly making progress."