Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed John O'Shea is facing a possible two more months on the sidelines with a thigh injury.
The versatile Manchester United man has been kicking his heels since suffering the problem last month in Republic of Ireland's World Cup play-off defeat to France in Paris.
O'Shea's injury was initially diagnosed as a dead leg but he has not played since and Ferguson concedes his delayed return looks no closer.
Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans are inching towards their comebacks and Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown have already made it back into United's first team, but O'Shea's frustration lingers on.
"There is no sign at all of recovery for John," said Ferguson.
"It is his first injury at the club and he is a big loss because he is such a versatile player.
"We just want to get him back but it could be a couple of months yet."
Ferguson revealed that when O'Shea got back from France, blood congealed in his muscle, raising the possibility of further problems.
The joint return of Vidic and Brown has coincided with a two-match winning run over Christmas that yielded eight goals, five of them coming against Wigan at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Vidic and Brown will continue to shoulder the burden for now but Ferguson is optimistic Evans will return to duty in the next 10 days, with Ferdinand not too far behind after United finally got to the root of a back problem that has plagued the England defender for 18 months.
"Jonny has been involved in the football side for a few days," added Ferguson, who is celebrating his 68th birthday on Thursday.
"He is doing well and should be back quicker, within the next 10 days or so.
"Rio is nowhere near that but the main thing is there is no recurrence of the back problem.
"That is what we have been waiting for.
"We wanted him to come through the test of running and turning. He is doing his programme in the gymnasium, which is good and at the moment it is looking very healthy."