Brighton boss Graham Potter is hopeful influential captain Lewis Dunk will return to Premier League action next week.
Defender Dunk has been absent for six weeks due to a knee injury and remains sidelined ahead of Friday evening’s clash with rivals Crystal Palace.
The once-capped England international, who has not played since Albion’s 1-1 draw at West Ham on December 1, is set to undergo further assessment over the weekend.
He could be in contention for Tuesday’s visit of Chelsea but is more likely to be back for the trip to Leicester next weekend.
“He won’t be involved in the (Palace) game, it’s come around a little bit too soon for him, but we’re hopeful he will start training with the team, probably Sunday,” said Potter.
“We still need to see how he reacts.
“You’re looking at sort of six weeks he’s been away, but we just need to make sure he’s taking the right steps.
“(He is) not (ready) for Palace, possibly for Chelsea, but more possibly Leicester.”
Midfielders Enock Mwepu and Yves Bissouma are also unavailable for the visit of Patrick Vieira’s Eagles.
Mwepu will be out for around four weeks with a hamstring injury sustained in last weekend’s FA Cup third-round win at West Brom, while Bissouma is at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mali international Bissouma has 18 months remaining on his Brighton contract and continues to be linked with other clubs, including reported interest from Premier League rivals Aston Villa.
Potter is confident the player will still be on the south coast come February.
“Players at this level, and Yves is the same, know that at this time of year there’s speculation, things in newspapers, it’s part of what they have to deal with,” said Potter.
“They also know that they have to focus on the football and let all of the other stuff take care of itself.
“I’m confident (he will stay in January). I think Yves is enjoying his football here but, with the transfer window, you never know.
“We have to adapt to anything, which we do. You always plan for something you can’t necessarily foresee, so we’re in a good place, but we’ll see.”
The enforced absences of Mwepu and Bissouma have opened the door for 20-year-old Ecuador international Moises Caicedo to launch his Albion career.
Caicedo, who signed for the Seagulls just under 12 months ago, was this week recalled from a loan spell at Belgian club Beerschot and will be in Potter’s squad for the Palace game as he awaits a Premier League debut.
“He’s played games for Beerschot and his country, important World Cup qualification games there, so he’s had some good experiences,” said Potter.
“That six months will be invaluable to him and he adds to us.
“He can play quite a few positions in the midfield, he’s still young, still learning, but we’re excited about him.”
Ninth-placed Brighton sit four points and three places above the Eagles, having played one game fewer.
Potter has never tasted victory against Palace as Albion head coach, registering three draws – including earlier in the season when Neal Maupay’s late equaliser snatched a point at Selhurst Park – and losing twice.
Both defeats came in behind-closed-door affairs at the Amex Stadium and Potter hopes his record will be more positive following Friday’s sold-out encounter.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s exciting,” he said. “It will be a great Friday night at the Amex.
“Two good footballing teams, so I think it’s going to be a good game.
“Hopefully we can come out on top but looking forward to the atmosphere, especially. The one at Selhurst Park was good, I’m sure the one on Friday night will be the same.”
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