Saints centre-half Jose Fonte is facing weeks on the sidelines, the Daily Echo can reveal today.
The 29-year-old, who has been an ever present for Saints in the Premier League this season, was stretchered off during the FA Cup defeat to Chelsea.
Now it can be revealed he would be out for up six weeks.
Though it is still early days and Saints will hope for a quicker return, the initial prognosis is for more than a month out for the Portuguese.
It will only intensify the pressure on Saints to bring in central defensive reinforcements as soon as possible.
Nigel Adkins looks like having to partner Maya Yoshida with Jos Hooiveld at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Beyond that the cupboard is rather bare with only Aaron Martin, who has returned from a loan spell at Crystal Palace where he has struggled to get games, and Dan Seaborne, who has been on a week to week loan at Charlton and therefore can easily be drafted back in, as recognised senior central defenders.
Fonte’s absence is a major blow for Adkins who has seen his side tighten up considerably since naming a more settled back four.
Saints shipped 28 goals in their first ten games back in the top flight but have turned that form around dramatically to let in just ten in their last ten league games – and that includes three at Stoke when Hooiveld partnered Fonte rather than the regular pairing this season.
It could though open the door for Hooiveld to try and prove he has what it takes to make it in the Premier League.
The former Celtic man was such a huge presence as Saints won promotion from the Championship but has found himself down the pecking order after playing in some of the heavy defeats earlier in the season.
He made his first league start since the 4-1 defeat at West Ham in October as Saints drew 3-3 at Stoke.