Florian Lejeune is facing up to another long spell on the sidelines at Newcastle United – just four months after making his comeback.
The defender suffered what Rafa Benitez has described as a “serious” knee injury in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.
Lejeune’s left leg gave away as he challenged Andros Townsend.
The 27-year-old – who ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right leg last summer – left the field on a stretcher with his leg strapped.
It is feared that Lejeune has suffered another cruciate ligament injury in the game, which was decided by a late penalty from visiting captain Luka Milivojevic.
“For now, he’s very down,” said manager Benitez.
“We have to wait and see if he’s a little bit lucky, but it looks serious.”
Lejeune had surgery in Rome last August and returned for the club’s Under-23s late last year before making his first-team comeback in January’s third-round FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers at St James’s Park.
The centre-half, signed from Eibar in the summer of 2017, quickly settled back into Benitez’s starting XI.
Asked about his reaction to the injury, Benitez said: “He has to be (distressed).
“It was a moment in the game when we were playing with a really high tempo, and that stopped everything.
“Now we have an important player who was working so hard to be fit, now he has to start again.
“He’s a very important player for us in that position, playing out from the back, it’s a pity for us.
“Hopefully, it won’t be too serious. I think he’s a strong character. He was working so hard to get fit, and he will have that same determination this time.”
Lejeune is being assessed by the club’s medical team, and the club is expected to give an update early this week.
“He seems bad,” said Benitez, whose side is 15th in the Premier League ahead of Friday night’s game against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
“It’s the other knee, but it seems bad, so we’ll have to wait and see what the doctor says.
“He was here after the game, and I was talking with him.
“Obviously, he was disappointed, and afterwards the doctor said we need to assess him, but it seems bad.
“He says he felt a click in his knee, and that is bad news normally. It’s his left knee.”
Lejeune’s team-mates quickly realised the potential severity of the injury.
DeAndre Yedlin said: “Any time something like that happens, it’s kind of hard to play on after that, as you know what he’s gone through coming back and doing well to come back.
“That put a little halt in the game. Both teams had to deal with it. It’s not an excuse.
“He’s been great since he’s come back. It’s hard to see him go down like that again.”
Palace manager Roy Hodgson spoke of his pride after his team’s win at St James’s Park.
Luka Milivojevic scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot after DeAndre Yedlin brought down Wilfried Zaha.
“It was a very important game – hard fought,” said Hodgson.
“I can be very, very proud of the team’s performance. We dealt with the attacking threat that Newcastle most certainly have.
“They’re very good at crossing the ball, getting bodies in the box and competing for those crosses.
“I thought it was a sterling effort from our back four and our goalkeeper, and the midfield players helping us out as well, to make certain we kept a clean sheet.
“On the counter-attack, or even at the start of the game not on the counter-attack, we looked quite dangerous.
“We were constantly threatening and looking like we might score the goal.”
Palace moved up to 12th place after the win.
“I think 39 points, with our goal-difference, will see us over the line,” said Hodgson.
“It was a very hard-fought game, and I’m pleased with the way we handled it. I’m very, very proud of the team’s performance.
“Luckily for us, once again, Wilf Zaha came to the fore and did what he does so well – dribbling past people in the penalty area and provoking the foul which gives Milivojevic – who’s been quite exceptional at taking penalties and scoring them – to give us the goal and the victory.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s Under-23s take on Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium tonight in a Premier League 2 fixture (7pm kick-off).
Ben Dawson’s side are pushing for automatic promotion.