Manchester United's rollercoaster season is in danger of being thrown off the rails completely by an acute midfield injury crisis which has decimated Sir Alex Ferguson's squad.
Within the space of four hours, Old Trafford officials confirmed the loss of Paul Scholes for the remainder of the season with an eye problem and John O'Shea for up to six weeks with fractured ribs.
As Alan Smith is unlikely to be fit to face Blackburn in tomorrow's Carling Cup semi-final decider either, Sir Alex Ferguson is now facing the unhappy prospect of being forced to gamble on Ryan Giggs as his midfield general, as he did in the win over Liverpool on Sunday.
Providing Smith does not recover from an ankle injury, Ferguson has only three plausible selection possibilities; play Louis Saha in attack and drop Wayne Rooney back, hand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a starting berth despite his clear lack of match fitness, or hand £7million defender Nemanja Vidic his debut and press Rio Ferdinand into midfield.
The former option appears the most likely, but the latter cannot be entirely ruled out given Ferdinand ended up alongside Giggs in the United midfield during the latter stages of their recent FA Cup replay win over Burton.
Yet such a situation appears unsustainable over the remainder of the season, leaving Ferguson little option other than to bring in some cover, despite the weekend protestations of chief executive David Gill that the Red Devils' spending during this transfer window was over following the £12million outlay on Vidic and Patrice Evra.
Even prior to this latest double blow, Gill had already identified major weaknesses in midfield, which is now also lacking departed skipper Roy Keane, but stated the situation would be addressed in the summer.
However it seems highly unlikely Ferguson would be content to let the transfer window close in a week's time without bringing in at least one more body.
Whether that would be a long-term signing such as Thomas Gravesen or a loan deal - what price an Old Trafford return for Nicky Butt? - is open to debate.
But even though his side are out of Europe and trailing Chelsea by 14 points in the Premiership, Ferguson has a lot to lose by failing to secure at least one more signing to cover for the extended absences of O'Shea and Scholes.
While fears over the rib damage O'Shea picked up against Burton and aggravated in the first half against Liverpool have been confirmed by an X-ray which showed two fractures, it is the loss of Scholes which will worry Ferguson the most.
A key member of the United squad for a decade, Scholes has been sorely missed over the last month since he first started suffering blurred vision in the wake of a Premiership draw at Birmingham.
At the time, Ferguson was told the problem would cure itself within a fortnight, hence his extreme irritation at reports the 31-year-old former England man was suffering from partial blindness and a cyst.
But last Friday, the Red Devils chief was forced to admit Scholes was being sent for a second opinion.
And, although the former England man seemed happy enough at Old Trafford on Sunday as he watched United's 1-0 alongside his son, the results of the tests were sufficiently serious to warrant an extended rest period.
'Paul Scholes has a medical condition affecting the vision in his right eye,' said a United statement.
'It is not a football-related injury.
'This has been confirmed by a number of specialists who have all agreed that he needs to rest for a period of three months.
'Obviously, it is a disappointment for Paul and Manchester United that he will miss the rest of the season.'
The club are confident Scholes will return for pre-season training, but that will not help them defeat a Blackburn side unbeaten in their last five games against the Red Devils tomorrow and book a place at the Millennium Stadium on February 26.
Mark Hughes' men have already beaten United once at Old Trafford this term and grabbed a draw from the first-leg encounter at Ewood Park a fortnight ago.
Rovers' Norwegian midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen has proved a particular thorn in Ferguson's side, scoring both goals in Blackburn's Premiership win as well as levelling Louis Saha's first-leg opener a fortnight ago.
'Pedersen seems to be making his reputation against us,' admitted Ferguson, who revealed he had the 24-year-old watched a couple of seasons ago.
'We saw him play and had some good reports on him. We just didn't think he was what we wanted at the time because we had just signed Cristiano Ronaldo, we already had Ryan Giggs and Kieran Richardson was coming through as well.
'It happens. A lot of times you see players who take your eye but you are maybe overloaded in that particular position. You don't do anything about it.'