West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola will be without Dean Ashton until the New Year as the striker undergoes ankle surgery.
It was thought that Ashton would be missing for a month after picking up the ankle injury earlier this month.
But according to the club's official website he will now face surgery next week to assess the full extent of the problem and may be on crutches for up to six weeks.
But Zola may have both Craig Bellamy and Carlton Cole available for their trip to Fulham on Saturday after the strikers both trained on Friday.
The setback for Ashton adds to Zola's challenges at the Hammers helm after enduring an uncomfortable second week in charge.
A fine for striker Carlton Cole for a breach of club discipline was followed by defeat in the Carling Cup to Championship side Watford midweek.
Zola admits he has taken on a 'big job' and concedes that the task in hand is more challenging than he expected.
"When you walk in as a manager you think you will be working on the pitch," said Zola.
"There were many things I was not aware of and you realise you have so many other duties to attend to.
"It is something that is keeping me very busy. I was working very hard. My brain is very hot!
"This is a big job but that is why I like it."