BURNLEY could be boosted by the earlier-than-expected return of Wayne Thomas. The commanding defender, who moved on a free from Stoke in the summer, was ruled out for the rest of the season after sustaining serious damage to his knee in an innocuous challenge with former Claret Glen Little in the 2-1 defeat at Reading at the end of August.
The 26-year-old snapped his anterior cruciate knee ligament, his medial knee ligament, and also nicked the cartilage at the back of his knee.
Steve Cotterill said at the time: "All in all, Wayne won't play again this season."
But, just under three months down the line, Thomas has made a remarkable recovery, although Cotterill is at pains not to pencil in a return date.
It is a softly, softly approach, and he will certainly not be rushed, but Thomas is expected to be back in a Burnley shirt well in advance of the end of the campaign, and Cotterill said: "We could, and I say could, have a big boost with Wayne Thomas, in the fact that his anterior cruciate ligament has reattached to his posterior cruciate ligament all the time he has been in a brace to repair his medial ligament.
"He has been back to see two surgeons, who have said he needs to go away and try it out.
"At the moment, he is rehabilitating with Andy Mitchell, and we are waiting to see how it goes.
"But we are not putting any deadlines or pressure on Wayne."
Thomas was only seven games into his Burnley career, and coming to the fore alongside John McGreal, and Cotterill added: "He is running, but not jumping, twisting or turning yet, and that will come into the equation, so I'm hopeful, but sceptical at the moment.
"We're hoping that that will be enough and he will be okay, but we will have to wait and see, but he will be back before the end of the season."
And Cotterill is thrilled at the unexpected bonus, after making an epic 4,500-mile journey to Florida to ward off rivals for Thomas' signature in the close season.
He feels he was starting to show just why he was so eager to land the former Torquay man, and said: "It would be an unbelievable boost to the club, myself and Wayne Thomas if we get him back.
"Without a shadow of a doubt, he was started to look settled, and he has been missed.
"That's not to say that the other lads have not done well since, but it would be excellent news if we get Wayne back."
With Danny Karbassiyoon showing no signs of a reaction to the hip problem that kept him out until the last five games, where he has been on the bench, Thomas' return would leave only Danny Coyne, who suffered a similar injury to the strapping centre back, on the long-term casualty list.
Karbassiyoon was due to step up his fitness in the reserve game against Shrewsbury at Accrington Stanley on Wednesday, only for the game to fall foul to the inclement weather, but Cotterill is pleased with the young American's progress: "Danny was going to take part on Wednesday.
"Over the last few days, Danny had started to look better in training.
"When you are out of the team, you do tend to lose concentration sometimes, and if you want to get back in, you have to try and be one of the best players in training.
"That is one of the biggest mistakes footballers make, but Danny is getting there and is coming along nicely now."
However, Cotterill will have to look to add to his squad, albeit briefly, to fill the void left by Brian Jensen's dismissal at Luton.
Jensen will be suspended for next Saturday's visit of Leicester, and, with Coyne out of action, Cotterill has no senior cover, and he said: "I have spoken to a few people, but can't get anyone to commit at this moment in time, so we will have to be prudent, and look to sort something early next week."