Tom Walsh and Coll Donaldson will miss more than a month of action in a huge blow for promotion-chasing Inverness Caley Thistle.
The double hammer blow comes at the worst possible time for the Highlanders who face three crunch Championship tests in a week against Falkirk, Ayr United and Partick Thistle.
Ex-Rangers and Dumbarton winger Walsh, 22, has emerged as one of Caley Thistle’s most influential performers this season and has hit seven goals in his last 10 matches.
Donaldson, 23, the former Livingston and Dundee United central defender, has also been a key figure in John Robertson’s plans.
Losing both with a huge Scottish Cup fifth round trip to Ross County also in the horizon is a sickener for the Inverness manager who is already short on experienced numbers.
Robertson admitted: “It’s a blow – these are two big players for us.
“We’ve lost Coll now for at least four weeks for a hernia release (operation) and we’ve lost Tom Walsh for six weeks with a fractured foot.
“But we showed at the weekend in our cup victory over East Kilbride there are enough who are more than capable of coming in and doing the business for us.
“Brad Mckay, who made his 100th club appearance at the weekend, will be a very important player for us going forward.”
Robertson still wants to add at least two new faces to his playing squad but has suffered several knock-backs, but rounded on time-wasting agents – saying some withdrew their offers – as he continued to scour the market for the right additions.
He stressed: “Again, we’ve been frustrated. We thought we had two players from down south and had agreed terms, but then their agents have told us they don’t want to come to Scotland, which is strange.
“Why offer them in the first place?
“We’ve asked a couple of clubs about loans and they’ve said, ‘no, the player isn’t available’.
“We’ll just keep knocking on doors and try to get players in.
“We need to bolster squad numbers, but we have to do it with quality, rather than quantity. We’re still hopeful of getting a couple in before the January window closes because we’re keen to build forwards.
“We’re two or three quality players away from being a really good side, but we also need competition for places.
“It was great against East Kilbride with nice cameo appearances for young Daniel Mckay and Roddy MacGregor, but we need to ensure we are adding the right kind of player to improve the squad.”