West Bromwich Albion ' s recent resurgence will be tested to the limit this month as they must cope without influential midfielder Jonathan Greening for three matches in six days.
Greening's appeal against his red card from Sunday's Premiership derby at Aston Villa, for a clash of heads with Liam Ridgewell, was rejected by the FA's disciplinary commission yesterday.
The 26-year-old left-sided midfielder will be suspended for Albion's next three league matches - all within a week - against Tottenham Hotspur, Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers.
Bryan Robson, the Albion manager, is likely to switch Kieran Richardson from central midfield to the left to cover for Greening, with Riccardo Scimeca earning a recall in the middle.
But the disruption to Albion's engine room could yet stall a highly-impressive run of only one defeat in six Premiership matches - a 1-0 reverse at league leaders Chelsea - which has lifted Robson's side a point clear of the relegation zone.
Nigel Pearson, Albion's assistant manager, said: "It is disappointing to lose Jonathan for three games given that his performances in possession have been excellent.
"But, more than that, he plays a part in the team and understands what is required from a team point of view.
"He's a team player, he cares, and sometimes that emotion spills over. It surprised us when he was sent off but we'll just have to deal with it."
Richardson has always said he is most comfortable playing on the left so Albion may yet cope without Greening.
However, the ex-Manchester United midfielder, who joined Albion for £1.25 million last summer from Middlesbrough, has started all but three of their 32 league matches this term.
Aside from providing several assists, Greening has also been one of the team's most consistent performers but will now be available for only the final three league games - against Arsenal, Manchester United and Portsmouth.
Consequently, Pearson says Greening's red card was "regrettable" and Albion, who drew 1-1 at Villa courtesy of Paul Robinson's late equaliser, must hope Greening's indiscretion does not hamper their survival prospects.
Referee Rob Styles gave the midfielder and Ridgewell red cards after the rivals squared up to each other in the 61st minute of Sunday's match.
The pair pressed their foreheads together during a heated exchanged and the FA panel upheld Style's decision to order the duo off for violent conduct after viewing video evidence - even though Albion argued otherwise.
Given the circumstances of the equaliser Villa conceded and Southampton's capitulation at Blackburn-last weekend, Saturday'smeeting between Villa and Saints offers both sides a swift chance to make amends.
The clubs need the points for contrasting reasons with David O'Leary's side still hoping to qualify for Europe via the Premiership and Harry Redknapp's team in the relegation zone.
But the two sides have already signalled their intent to overcome their respective setbacks at the St Mary's Stadium.
Southampton were particularly poor against Blackburn, losing 3-0, and skipper Claus Lundekvam says there can be no repeat if they are to meet Redknapp's ten-point survival target from their final six matches.
Lundekvam said: "There can never be another performance like that in our situation. I don't know where it came from because we were playing well and we've had a long chat about it."
Villa remain tenth, only four points off seventh place - a position which could yet secure a Uefa Cup spot if Manchester United and Arsenal reach the FA Cup final.
Striker Juan Pablo Angel has illustrated the determination in the Villa ranks to produce a decent finish this season by declaring his willingness to defy a recent ankle injury. The Colombian said: "I'm still having problems with my ankle. My ankle is going to be like that for the next few games but I hope to be fit and play a part in getting us into Europe." n Villa are reportedly one of a clutch of Premiership sides monitoring Sporting Lisbon's 18-year-old defensive midfielder Joao Moutinho, who has impressed in the Portuguese club's run to the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup.
Tottenham, Middlesbrough and Newcastle United are all interested and the latter are thought to be favourites as they have loaned Sporting Hugo Viana and could negotiate a player-plus-cash deal.