CLARETS boss Eddie Howe admits he fears Jay Rodriguez could have played his last game for Burnley.
The 21-goal top-scorer could be out for the rest of the season with a groin problem - and Howe accepts it will be a challenge to hold onto the homegrown hero in the summer.
Rodriguez has missed three of the last four games with the injury, and with seven games remaining, time is running out for him to feature again and try and add to his goal tally.
Howe is realistic enough to know there will be Premier League interest in the close season, and he faces a battle to keep the 22-year-old at Turf Moor.
Ahead of tonight’s visit of Birmingham City: “Potentially Jay could be out for the season, but we’d like to think we can get him back for the last couple of games.
“But we won’t take any risks with him, if he doesn’t make it, he doesn’t make it.
“It’s nothing serious, it’s just one of those injuries, he’s played a lot of games and it’s probably just taken it’s toll.
“Jay will be back, hopefully before the end of the season, but we don’t weant to rush him back.”
Asked whether he will have to fight hard to hold onto him, he added: “I would think so, I would think many Premier League teams watch games and will see the season he’s had, look at his age, the goals he’s scored, the attributes he’s got.
“I’m sure clubs have been looking at him, but we’ll wait and see on that one.
“We’d love to hold onto him, but it will be difficult.”
While Rodriguez will miss tonight’s game, Howe is also likely to be without another striker in Martin Paterson, who aggravated a hamstring problem in the 5-1 win at Portsmouth on Saturday.
He said: “Pato’s got a slight problem with his hamsting, we still don’t know how serious it is until he gets it scanned, hopefully today (Monday) and we’ll find out the extent of the damage.
“We don’t think it’s a serious one, and hopefully it will just be a week, or a couple of weeks.”
Burnley also have a doubt over Ben Mee (back) after the game at Fratton Park, and with Danny Lafferty also struggling with a hamstring injury, the squad is thin on the ground tonight: “We’ll give Ben every chance, we’ll leave it as late as we can.
“Danny has a tight hamstring as well. He isn’t far away, he’s been working with the physios and doing all the right things, so we’ll wait and see.
“But we’re running out of options there, so Ross will come into our thinking.
“We’ve got Luke (Conlan) as well, who’s done very well in the youth team, the difficulty is one of Birmingham’s biggest strengths is their widemen.”
Talking of widemen, loanee Josh McQuoid has six more games to leave his mark at Turf Moor, and Howe will assess things before pondering a summer move: “Josh is that versatile performer, the reason we brought him in is he can play wide, up front, he has pace, he’s athletic and he’s got a good attitude.
“Whether there’s anything to happen there, we’ll have to wait and see.”