LUCKLESS Cherries star Elliott Ward could be set for another spell on the sidelines after being struck down by a freak injury.

Ward damaged his right knee when he collided with an advertising hoarding during Cherries’ 1-0 defeat by Leicester seven days ago.

And although the linchpin defender managed to complete 90 minutes against the Foxes, his knee swelled up over the weekend and he reported for treatment on Monday.

Ward, replaced in the Cherries starting line-up by Steve Cook for today’s Championship clash at Bolton, now faces an anxious wait to discover the full extent of the injury.

He travelled to London to see a specialist on Thursday and is due to fly to Italy to have a further consultation at the Villa Stuart Sport Clinic in Rome early next week.

The 29-year-old, who has turned in a series of solid displays since joining Cherries in the summer, was sidelined for six weeks after pulling his calf muscle at Burnley in November.

Cherries boss Eddie Howe had been keen to keep news of Ward’s absence under wraps until after the team-sheets had been exchanged for today’s showdown at the Reebok.

Speaking to the Daily Echo, Howe said: “It was an injury we hadn’t expected because Elliott came through fine against Leicester. But he felt his knee on Monday morning and knew something wasn’t right because he had a bit of swelling in the joint.

“As a precaution, we had him scanned and it showed some damage to a part of his knee. We need to find out more information before we can really give it a proper assessment. He will fly to Italy to be seen by the people there and, hopefully, we will know more in the next few days.”

Ward returned from his calf injury and replaced Cook for Cherries’ 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday in December after his defensive colleague had suffered a torn hamstring.

Should Ward be ruled out for a considerable period of time, Howe may be forced to explore the loan market for some emergency cover.

Ward, Cook and skipper Tommy Elphick are Cherries’ three recognised central defenders, while Simon Francis has deputised there in the past. Teenager Baily Cargill, who recently returned from a fruitful loan spell with Conference outfit Welling, is unlikely to be sent out again until after Ward has returned to action.

Discussing Cook’s return, Howe said: “It is not an area we are blessed with a lot of strength in depth but Steve Cook, who was excellent for us before his injury, now has an opportunity to come back into the team and stake his claim.”