HAMILTON head coach Brian Rice fears captain Brian Easton will be out for the rest of their campaign after dislocating his shoulder.
Rice revealed the experienced defender will be sidelined for up to 12 weeks after sustaining the injury in their 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen on Tuesday evening.
Easton was rushed to hospital during the game and will now visit a specialist to determine whether he requires an operation but Rice does not expect him to feature again as Hamilton strive to upset the odds and preserve their Premiership status.
Hamilton have been dogged by injury problems all season and Rice admits it is a hammer blow to lose his on-field leader for an extended period at such a crucial period in the campaign.
Rice said: “Brian has dislocated his shoulder so he will be out for eight to 12 weeks and that is another massive blow for us. It looks like he could be out for the rest of the season and I am gutted for him.
“I made him captain and he has been a leader on and off the pitch for us. It wasn’t a bad tackle or anything and I can’t blame Curtis Main, it was just an accident. It was the way Brian landed and sod’s law it is another experienced player it has happened to.
“He will see a specialist and then we will see whether he needs an operation or not. Brian will still be involved with the lads as we need to keep his spirits up. He is so disappointed as he has had a lot of injuries in his career. We got him back playing and he was our captain.
“I was looking at the team who played against Edinburgh City in the Cup in our first game after the break, we have lost Easton, Markus Fjortoft, Andy Dales, Mickel Miller and George Oakley. That is five first team players for us.
“We have been decimated by injuries but I can’t make that an excuse, we just have to focus on the boys who are fit. I have never seen anything like this in my time in football – especially long term injuries.
“It hasn’t been one or two out, it is five and six. We have to be positive though and it gives boys an opportunity who haven’t played a lot, they have to step up to the plate.”
Easton’s injury could not have happened at a worse time with Hamilton facing the side immediately below them in the league, Hearts, tomorrow.
And Rice knows his young side will have to stand up and be counted at Tynecastle.
He said: “It is a very important game for both teams, it is the bottom two against each other with 12 games to go. We know we will play them again before the end of the season. It is always difficult going to Tynecastle with your strongest team, never mind having so many key players missing.
“They beat Rangers there recently and I know it is a venue where they always get vocal backing from their fans.
“We will be massive underdogs due to the injuries and us as a club compared to them, we are a million miles apart. The thing is when you look at the league table we aren’t.
“I want to take the pressure off my boys. It’s going to be a young team. It’s what I have left through no fault of the boys because injuries are injuries.
“Just go and play with a freedom, energy and enthusiasm. And a bit of pride about the jersey they are wearing.”
Hamilton will open a four point lead over Hearts with a win but Rice does not believe it is just those two sides involved in the relegation battle.
He said: “It would be nice but there would still be 11 games to go and we still have to play them again.
“There’s not just two of us involved in this. There’s at least another two clubs, possibly three, so I don’t want to get carried away and say it’s just us and Hearts.”