NEWCASTLE United are set to be without Tim Krul for more than a month after scans revealed the goalkeeper suffered significant damage to his ankle in Thursday's Europa League win over Metalist Kharkiv.
Krul is due to see an ankle specialist later today to ascertain the full extent of the problem, but an initial prognosis suggests he could be sidelined for up to five weeks.
He will definitely not be involved in tomorrow's Premier League home game with Southampton, and with Steve Harper suffering from tendonitis, Rob Elliot and Jak Alnwick are the only goalkeepers available to Alan Pardew.
Elliot will make his first Premier League appearance as Newcastle take on a Southampton side currently one place above them in the table, with Alnwick promoted to the substitutes' bench despite not having made a single senior outing.
Confirmation of Krul's injury has taken some of the gloss off Thursday's European success in the Metalist Stadium, with the Holland international's ankle having been damaged in an 88th-minute incident involving Metalist striker Jonathan Cristaldo.
Cristaldo was booked for what appeared to be a stamp on Krul, and while Pardew did not make too much of the incident in the immediate aftermath of his side's win, the Newcastle boss is understood to be furious at the sequence of events that has culminated in the loss of arguably his side's most important player.
Krul left the Metalist Stadium on crutches, and while it was initially hoped his injury would look less serious once the swelling around his ankle subsided, the problem now appears to be much more severe.
His absence tomorrow will be keenly felt, although Pardew will still be challenging his players to end a memorable week on a high by securing a much-needed league win over the Saints.
Recent victories over Aston Villa and Chelsea have provided the Magpies with some much needed breathing space, but Pardew is taking nothing for granted with the relegation zone still too close for comfort.
“It'll be a great end to a very good week if we can beat Southampton, but that's easier said than done,” said the Newcastle boss. “Southampton have definitely picked up and they play a high pressing game which we're going to have to combat.
“We'll put Europe to one side because we have two very important Premier League games coming up (against Southampton and Swansea). If we could get three or four points out of those two games, I'd take that now. That would give us a good platform to go into the next phase of the Europa League.”
This will be the ninth time this season that Newcastle have played a league fixture straight off the back of a European game, and five of the previous eight occasions have resulted in a defeat.
In the first half of the season, the Europa League was a major burden, placing a considerable strain on the Magpies' threadbare resources.
The arrival of five players in last month's transfer window addressed some of the concerns about a lack of squad depth, and Europe is now regarded as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.
Thursday night's victory in Ukraine was a feather in Newcastle's cap, and Pardew is hoping the feel-good factor spills over into tomorrow's domestic encounter.
“The lads are going to have so much confidence and goodwill to take into the weekend,” he said. “The European competition has been a negative in the early part of the season because we've picked up injuries in it and it's stretched us. But now we're suddenly seeing the flip side of it.
“I was with (Tottenham boss) Andre Villas-Boas on Monday and said to him, 'I'm really not sure about this competition'. But he said, 'Trust me – you'll love it if you win it'. He obviously has so he knows what he's talking about.
“We're getting to grips with it a bit. It caught Premier League teams out before, but Thursday night felt different. It's given us a great boost to take into Southampton.”
Mathieu Debuchy, Steven Taylor and Davide Santon are expected to return to the back four tomorrow, although Pardew admits the performances of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara two days ago have given him food for thought.
“Debuchy has trained and Davide feels a little bit stronger so I'm hoping they'll both be available,” he said. “But having said that, I have no problem picking Massadio now after his performance on Thursday. I can freshen things up with senior players, and I've never really had that luxury.
“I've now got the luxury of having four centre-halves, three of who are really playing well. The other guy (Mike Williamson) isn't really going to get a chance now because the other three are playing so well.”
Tomorrow's game pits Pardew against his most recent employers prior to moving to Newcastle. The Magpies manager spent 13 months at St Mary's before he was dismissed to make way for Nigel Adkins.
Newcastle were comprehensively beaten when they travelled to the south coast in November, and Pardew admits there is a strong personal incentive to ensure his side produce a much more accomplished display tomorrow.
“It's going to be very dear to my heart to win this game, and I won't be pulling any punches in my dressing room that's for sure,” he said. “There are some players I love there who I'm looking forward to seeing. They got a result over us last time and thoroughly deserved it, so we need to perform a lot better than we did when we played at their place.”