West Ham striker Dean Ashton has started jogging as he recovers from a broken ankle - but it could take five more weeks to return to action even after he eventually starts full training.
The 23-year-old was injured at the start of the campaign while on England duty and was initially ruled out until January, but boss Alan Curbishley expects the player to effectively need another pre-season.
Curbishley does not plan to use Ashton until at least February, and seeing action before March could depend on him training with the rest of the squad by the end of next month.
'He's only just started light jogging. I'm under the impression that it's very early in these tentative stages,' said Curbishley.
'He's going according to plan - but at this moment in time he's not out there with us.
'He's been out for such a long time - five or six months - and has missed half the season. Even if he could get going now he would take a good four or five weeks, and he's not in a position to join in yet.'
Ashton arrived in the last January transfer window from Norwich and made an instant impact, helping West Ham reach the FA Cup final and finish in the top half of the Premiership.
His absence at the start of this season played a part in a wretched start to the campaign for the Hammers, with Alan Pardew eventually departing Upton Park and Curbishley taking over.
Showing the same form of the second half of last season could help Curbishley's side pull themselves away from relegation trouble.
'Everyone's guided by surgeons, and they are quite happy with the progress,' Curbishley added with regard to Ashton.
'I've inherited the situation, so I'm in everyone else's hands - but I'm not looking for him being available for January.'
The Hammers boss is hoping no one expects Ashton to return immediately to his best form.
'He's been out for so long that he's got to pack some training in before he can even think about it,' he said.
'Everyone's assuming Dean will get fit and start off where he left off - so it's a difficult situation.'
Meanwhile, Curbishley will be without Paul Konchesky for Saturday's match against Manchester City - after the Football Association rejected an appeal against the red card the defender received against Fulham.
Konchesky was dismissed by referee Chris Foy for a foul on Wayne Routledge but appeared to get the ball.
'I'm very disappointed, because Routledge had lost control in my eyes - and it wasn't a goalscoring opportunity,' said Curbishley.
'How many of these get overturned? I was advised on that at the weekend.
'The assistant didn't help one way or another, so perhaps they've closed ranks a little bit. We asked Chris to look at it, and he's obviously not.
'George McCartney could come in. He's been waiting for his chance, and we'll see how we go. He hasn't let us down so far.'
West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker is also suspended for this weekend's fixture at Upton Park.