Hearts manager Gary Locke has been left without half of his team for Saturday’s clash away to Inverness after David Smith was ruled out with a hairline knee fracture.
The fresh setback for the administration-hit club has ensured that they will make the journey north without five recognised first-team players.
Smith was forced off at half-time with a knee injury during the recent League Cup semi-final defeat to Caley and was sent for a scan earlier this week after the problem flared up in training.
The 20-year-old is facing up to six weeks out and joins fellow midfielders Jamie Walker and Jason Holt, who are both yet to return from foot breaks, on the sidelines.
Defender Kevin McHattie and striker Callum Paterson are also unavailable due to their respective one-game bans.
Locke, whose side are 17 points adrift at the Premiership basement, said: “The problem flared up after some gym work and we sent him for a scan on Tuesday. He doesn’t require any surgery and just has to rest, then things should settle down.
“We are looking at around four to six weeks, though, which is a big blow at this stage of the season.”
Locke, however, reported good news on Holt’s comeback bid, with the talented midfielder returning to training on
Monday. The 20-year-old has not featured since the 20 November victory over Aberdeen after breaking his metatarsal during training, but Saturday’s clash will come too soon for him.
“He started back training on Monday, he has been out for a long period of time and we’re hoping he does not react to the training,” Locke said.
“Hopefully, we can get him a run in the under-20s next week.”
Winger Sam Nicholson is expected to feature in the Highlands after recovering from the bruised ribs that forced him off during the League Cup defeat.