Hull City manager Phil Brown has played down fears about the long-term fitness of captain Ian Ashbee.
The midfielder has not played since suffering knee ligament damage last May, while he is also battling against a degenerative bone condition.
He has yet to fully recover from surgery in America and there has been speculation that, at the age of 33, he may have to retire.
However, Brown has been pleased with the progress Ashbee has made and believes he could return to action to help the Tigers in their fight against relegation.
"The good news is he doesn't need a further operation," Brown said in the News of the World.
"Now it's all about rehabilitation and he'll play when he's ready.
"I'm an optimist and think Ash will play again before the end of the season. That has to be the challenge."