Mark Hughes is facing a selection headache ahead of Stoke City's Premier League meeting with Chelsea on 5 March. Seventh-place Potters, who are now just five points adrift of the top four after Xherdan Shaqiri's late goal secured a third consecutive win over struggling Newcastle United in midweek, are worryingly short on fit defenders for the trip to west London.
Already without the likes of Glen Johnson, Marc Wilson and captain Ryan Shawcross, Stoke were forced to hook Phil Bardsley after just 26 minutes at the Britannia Stadium, with the versatile defender suffering from a calf injury. Geoff Cameron completed his second full match in four days following an ankle problem, while Marc Muniesa was called into action earlier than planned after limping out of the victory at Bournemouth due to a hamstring complaint.
Providing a latest update on that defensive shortage, manager Mark Hughes told reporters at his pre-match press conference: "Phil is unfortunately unavailable. He's pulled his calf and is going to be out for a number of weeks. Geoff Cameron's really, really sore once again, but we expected that would be the case after two games in a short space of time.
"We felt that if he had have been able to keep in the centre-back position maybe it would have been better for him, but obviously once Phil got injured and had to come off then he had to get down that right-hand side for us and look to put crosses in. That was always going to compromise his injury because that's when he feels the pain, when he opens up and tries to drive balls across his body.
"That's the one movement that he gets a little bit compromised with. He came through, once again he's got 90 minutes under his belt. But like he was at the weekend, he's very sore this morning. Twenty-four hours is a long time in football and we're hoping he's going to be OK."
He added: "At the moment, we've got five fit defenders and some of them aren't 100% fit if you get my gist. We're a little bit stretched it's fair to say but the guys are putting their hand up and getting out there so that's good."
Shawcross remains a pivotal player for Stoke, but the physical centre-back has struggled to shake off back issues that forced him to miss the final six weeks of last season. He eventually returned to action in late October after undergoing surgery, but sustained further complications during a comprehensive defeat to leaders Leicester City in January and has been sidelined ever since.
Hughes has since insisted that the two back injuries are unrelated, putting the second down to playing a number of high-intensity games in quick succession. And while Shawcross is unlikely to be fit in time for Chelsea, there is hope that a visit to an overseas specialist could put him in contention for the visit of Southampton seven days later.
"Ryan, as we speak, is actually in Germany seeing someone over there. So we don't think he's available at the weekend. But certainly if he's not involved this weekend, then we think he's got a good chance next week."