Luke Varney has lost his race to be fit for tomorrow’s south coast derby with Southampton.
The Blues’ top goalscorer picked up a knee injury in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Burnley and has been battling to recover in time for tomorrow’s 1pm showdown at Fratton Park.
But Blues boss Michael Appleton yesterday ruled the former Derby man out of his team plans and is now looking to get Varney back in time for the Boxing Day clash at Millwall.
Appleton said: ‘Luke is struggling for the weekend.
‘Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we might have him back for the Millwall game.
‘He had a bit of a grade-one injury on his medial knee ligament, so I would rather have him for 20 games by missing one game than have him miss the next 10.
‘He is going to be a massive loss.’
While Appleton admits it’s a blow to lose his leading marksman, the Blues boss admits he now understands Varney’s threat after his impressive early burst at Burnley.
Appleton said: ‘We need to look after him.
‘It wasn’t until last Saturday that I realised what a real threat he is to the opposition.
‘He proved to me in 10 minutes or so at Burnley what had been missing a bit from our play.
‘I spoke to him and he’s never really had an injury but it tends to happen that you get one and then you get two or three very quickly.’
But while it’s bad news for Varney, the return of Liam Lawrence is a welcome boost.
Appleton said: ‘Liam is positive news.
‘He has trained all week and has had no reaction to the ankle injury.’