JON WORTHINGTON has been ruled out of tonight’s key League I game at Carlisle by a hamstring injury.
But Town boss Andy Ritchie hopes his tough-tackling captain will be back for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round glamour tie at Chelsea.
The 24-year-old, who missed the Stamford Bridge trip two seasons ago through suspension, limped off late on in Saturday’s 1-0 home League I win over Swindon.
The problem is in the same right hamstring which was strained during the 2-1 New Year’s Day defeat at Nottingham Forest.
That injury kept the club academy product out for just one game – the 2-1 FA Cup third-round victory over Premier League Birmingham.
And Ritchie, who has hailed Worthington’s contribution to a winning run which could be stretched to five tonight, is hopeful his latest absence will be similarly short.
“Worthy has been getting sharper with every game since coming back from his groin surgery, and has been linking well with Andy Holdsworth, so this is a setback,” admitted the manager, who is optimistic that Michael Collins, an obvious replacement for Worthington in central midfield, will recover from the ankle knock suffered against Swindon, when he played on the right side.
“The one plus was that Worthy isn’t in quite as much pain as he was after the Forest match, so we’re hopeful a bit of rest and treatment will do the trick.”
Ritchie has also added James Berrett to the travelling squad.
He has recovered from the illness which hit him on his return from Republic of Ireland Under 19 duty last week.
Town’s first priority tonight is keeping a fifth successive clean sheet for the first time since 1982-83.
That would foil Carlisle’s bid to set a new club record of 10 straight home league wins.
While Town moved up to 13th by beating Swindon thanks to Phil Jevons’ 43-second goal, Carlisle fell to fourth after bring held 1-1 at Port Vale, who levelled with a late penalty after Joe Garner had scored his 14th goal of the season for the Cumbrians.
The former Blackburn player was also on target when Carlisle won 2-0 at the Galpharm in August, a result which still rankles with Ritchie.
“I hold my hands up – they were the better team in the first half, when we were hit by two set-plays,” he said.
“But we produced a string of chances in the second half, and we could, and should, have won the game.
“That shows we have the ability to open them up, and it should give us heart tonight.
“We’re under no illusions as to how tough it will be – just look at their home record – but if we can defend like we have been doing, we have every chance of taking all three points.”