Leeds United striker Davide Somma is in danger of missing the start of pre-season after a fresh bout of surgery.
The South African international has undergone another knee operation and faces a battle to be fully fit for the opening day of the 2012-13 term.
Somma suffered cruciate ligament damage during the early stages of last year’s pre-season schedule and has not been available since.
United manager Neil Warnock admitted recently that he did not expect Somma to play any part in the closing weeks of the term, and the forward’s latest setback has consigned him to a second spell of rehabilitation.
Leeds say there is no fixed timescale for Somma’s comeback, with pre-season training likely to begin in early July.
The 26-year-old was expected to play a prominent role in the current Championship term having scored 12 times and earned a new three-year contract at Elland Road last season.
The campaign also saw him emerge at international level, making his debut for South Africa in November 2010 during a friendly against the USA.
But he was injured in a behind-closed-doors friendly staged at Thorp Arch in July and has been working his way towards fitness for the past eight months.
At the time of his original operation, former manager Simon Grayson warned of a long road ahead, saying Somma was “looking at a timescale of months”.
The extended absence of a proven goalscorer has weakened the strength of a squad which Warnock described this week as “thin on the ground”, but the United boss hopes to see his defensive options increase in the final weeks of the season.
Alex Bruce and Leigh Bromby – both of whom have been nursing muscle strains for the past month – could resume full training at Thorp Arch next week, and Andy O’Brien is also close to a comeback having featured in a behind-closed-doors game against Bradford City on Wednesday afternoon.
O’Brien is waiting for his career with Leeds to begin in earnest again following a spell of treatment for depression.
He has not be named in a matchday squad since his unexpected appearance as a substitute at Coventry City on February 14, and Warnock is waiting for the centre-back to step up his fitness before giving him an opportunity.
Without him, Bruce and Bromby, United’s manager has employed a centre-back pairing of Darren O’Dea and Tom Lees, but Warnock plans to experiment with his line-up before the end of the season if Leeds are finally ruled out of contention for the Championship play-offs.
The club sat six points adrift of the play-off zone ahead of today’s meeting with Millwall.
Warnock said: “Bruce and Bromby to some extent will join in next week.
“Andy O’Brien had half a game too, so those three will continue to come into the reckoning over the next two or three weeks.”