Talented young Melbourne Heart winger Mate Dugandzic will miss the rest of the A-League season with a severe foot injury.
The 23-year-old was initially expected to be sidelined for 12 weeks after breaking his right foot during the Heart's clash with Adelaide United on November 17.
But additional scans and surgery on Thursday showed the damage to both bone and ligament was worse than initially believed, meaning his rehabilitation time has now been extended to six months.
It's a major blow for the Heart, who sat ninth on the table ahead of Saturday night's clash with Perth Glory at AAMI Park.
"It's never great to lose such an important player so early in the season," coach John Aloisi said.
"Mate was a critical player for us last season.
"Now the challenge is for another emerging player, like Golgol (Mebrahtu) or Ben (Garuccio), to step-up when they get an opportunity and prove that they can be an elite player, which Mate did last season."
Garuccio last weekend sustained an ankle injury which was expected to keep him out for at least a month.
Aloisi said the Heart would not recruit an injury replacement player as he was confident they had the depth and talent to cover Dugandzic.