EDDIE Howe is hoping Cherries can get to the bottom of Richard Hughes’s mysterious hamstring injury.

Hughes could be a pivotal figure over the busy festive period after fellow midfielder Shaun MacDonald was ruled out for around eight weeks with an ankle injury.

The 33-year-old Scot has been sidelined since sustaining the initial problem against Leyton Orient in October and was substituted early during a reserve match last month.

Boss Howe told the Echo: “He has had a couple of hamstring tweaks. He has been feeling pains in his hamstring and then realising he hasn’t pulled it. It is all to do with nerves and quite complex but we are hopeful we can keep him fit.

“He has had differing forms of treatment to try to find a different outcome so this week is going to be a big week for him.

“He is going to get a full week’s training and we will see how he is.”

As well as Hughes, Howe’s central midfield options in MacDonald’s absence include Harry Arter, Eunan O’Kane, Joe Partington, Lorenzo Davids |and Steven Gregory, whose loan deal at AFC Wimbledon expired at the weekend.

Arter, now fully recovered from a groin injury, said: “I owed a lot to Macca when I was in the team. He is an unsung hero and he enabled me to get forward.

“Not only is he good defensively, but, technically, he is probably the best player in the squad. We have got players who can come in but it is a shame he is going to be out for a couple of months.”

Asked whether he felt he could fill in, Arter replied: “I feel I can play the sitting role. It is not a position I feel is my best but I could certainly do it if the gaffer felt it was the role he wanted me to play.

“We have a squad where the most important thing is just playing for the team and I want to play my part. If you get a chance, you have got to take it.

“You only had to look at the bench on Saturday. I was warming up with one of their lads and he commented about the quality on our bench. Every player that comes in has to make sure they are ready and nobody plays unless they deserve to.”

Cherries will host Reading in a friendly at Dean Court tomorrow (12pm).

Frank Demouge, Lorenzo Davids, Joe Partington and Stephane Zubar are all likely to feature with Eddie Howe keen to give his squad players some game time.