DONCASTER Rovers’ on-loan goalkeeper Carl Ikeme has been ruled out for the next nine weeks with a thumb injury.
The news is a major blow for Rovers, who are four points adrift of safety going into today’s home game against Leicester City.
Ikeme had played five games since arriving on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers and was due to stay at the Keepmoat Stadium until January 4.
With former Scottish international Neil Sullivan also sidelined by a thumb injury, manager Dean Saunders will turn to third-choice goalkeeper Gary Woods this afternoon.
Woods, 21, joined Rovers after spending two years at Manchester United and played 25 games under former manager Sean O’Driscoll.
“We have not had the best of luck with goalkeepers this season but Gary now has an opportunity that he needs to grab with both hands,” said Saunders.
He’s still young and a goalkeeper for the future but it’s down to him to take his chance.”
Ikeme had been the second Premier League goalkeeper to join Rovers on loan this season after former England international Chris Kirkland made one appearance on loan from Wigan Athletic.
Commenting on his injury, Saunders said: “It happened in training. James Coppinger was going around him and Carl dug his thumb into the floor and took the ligament off the bone. It’s a real blow to lose his services because he had done brilliant so far.”
Rovers could be boosted in attack by the return of Senegalese international El Hadji-Diouf who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury.
The former Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers striker is on a short-term deal with Rovers but looks set to leave once the transfer window re-opens on January 1.
Mega-rich Russian club Anzhi, who already employ former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, and the American side Los Angeles Galaxy are both chasing his signature
“Playing alongside Eto’o will be great,” he said. “I’m keen but I’ve got to discuss it with my family.
“My kids are schooling here (in England) and moving out will be another big arrangement.”
Saunders insists that Rovers are ready to start climbing the table, pointing to the recent victory over leaders Southampton and the encouraging performance last weekend against Birmingham City to back up his claims.
“The league is tight and it’s not that difficult to get four wins on the trot,” he said. “You only have to look what Barnsley have done.
“We have got 16 points in the bag since I took over two months ago and there are still 26 games to play. If we get points in the next two months, we won’t be far off.”
Leicester are currently five points adrift of the play-off zone and have picked up eight points from five games since the return of former manager Nigel Pearson.