Richie Smallwood: Grant McCann hopeful that Hull City skipper may yet play again this season despite 'severe injury'
The Tigers suffered a huge blow when their influential skipper picked up a serious medial knee ligament injury following a collision with team-mate George Long during last weekend's defeat to Burton Albion.
The experienced former Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers midfielder has played a big part in the East Yorkshiremen's title challenge this term, starting 23 of the 24 League One fixtures that he has been available for since joining the club last summer.
It is inevitable that Smallwood will now spend an extended period on the sidelines, but dependant on the outcome of a consultation with a knee specialist on Thursday, it is possible that he could return to action before City's final scheduled game of the regular League One season on May 8.
"Richie we know we are probably gonna lose for the best part of the season. It's a bit of a kick in the teeth for us because he is so important," McCann said.
"Richie has got a follow-up appointment with a specialist today to see if he needs a little tidy up in there but we're keeping our fingers crossed that he doesn't and that we can manage it remotely.
"It all depends on what the specialist says. It's a medial knee ligament injury. There's also a little bit attached to the bottom of his knee that he's done some damage to as well, so it's a bit of a complicated one.
"But, someone like Richie Smallwood, I wouldn't put it past him to be back for the end of the season because of the mindset and mentality that he's got. But, it is a severe injury."
Alfie Jones has deputised for Smallwood in the holding midfield role on occasion this term, but with the former Southampton man also currently injured, McCann was forced to shuffle his pack for Tuesday evening's top-of-the-table showdown with leaders Lincoln.
Dan Crowley dropped back into a three-man midfield alongside engine-room regulars George Honeyman and Greg Docherty, leaving the Tigers' chief encouraged both by what he saw on the night and the options at his disposal.
"We played with Honeyman, Docherty and Crowley as three midfielders and I thought it did work. I thought those three were excellent in the game," the Northern Irishman added.
"We've also got Jordan Flores and Regan Slater, and Alfie and Callum Jones coming back. We've got Max Clark who can play as a midfielder.
"We've got options in midfield. It's disappointing to lose Richie because of the importance he brings to the team, but this is the reason why we've got a good squad. It's an opportunity for someone else."
McCann confirmed that Hull came through their goalless draw with Lincoln unscathed, and thus he has no fresh injury concerns heading into Saturday's meeting with MK Dons at the KCOM Stadium.
"We're fortunate that we haven't picked up any injuries from it. A couple of little bumps and bruises, but nothing that is gonna keep anybody out of any games," he said.
"Alfie Jones is close to returning, he's been out on the grass the last three or four days with the fitness coaches and building up his fitness levels.
"Callum Jones is very close as well. Tom Eaves and Gavin Whyte are probably a couple of weeks away."