BOSS Eddie Howe predicted at least two months on the sidelines for Shaun MacDonald before admitting the influential midfielder was a “massive player to lose”.

Cherries were rocked by news that the Welshman was facing an extended spell in the treatment room after he had sustained suspected ligament damage to his right ankle this afternoon.

MacDonald was carried off on a stretcher after suffering the injury just before half-time in the 1-0 victory over Colchester at Dean Court.

Howe revealed that he had initially feared a fracture but reported that it was now believed MacDonald had badly sprained the ankle.

The early prognosis comes as a big blow to Cherries’ promotion hopes as MacDonald had played every match since Howe’s appointment, firmly establishing himself as one of the Dorset club’s most consistent performers.

Howe said: “We have said before how pivotal he is to us and what a great job he has done since I have come in.

“I know we say it a lot about him but he is an unsung hero, he makes us tick and he is a vital cog in our team.

“He is a massive player to lose and someone who is not only a great player but a great character as well.

“He is a really calming influence in our midfield and someone all the lads respect. In his own way, he leads the team in a different way to a vocal talker.

“But we will have to cope without him and we will have to cope with injuries and suspensions – that is what the squad is for.

“Hopefully, we can get Richard Hughes back on the pitch soon. He will be a big player for us.

“We do have other people we can use so that is going to be the case for the time being.”

Explaining MacDonald’s injury, Howe added: “They played a short corner and he went to block a cross. It looks nothing on the TV but there has been some damage to his ankle and he went over on it.

“The initial news that I heard was that he had broken it but we are hopeful now it is just a really bad sprain. But he will definitely have a scan and X-ray just to make sure.”

Harry Arter replaced MacDonald alongside the impressive Eunan O’Kane in central midfield against Colchester, while Howe’s other options in the engine room include Hughes, Joe Partington and Lorenzo Davids. Steven Gregory will also return to Dean Court next week following the end of his loan spell at AFC Wimbledon.

MacDonald’s injury took the gloss off another victory for Cherries after Lewis Grabban’s 41st-minute strike proved enough to see off struggling Colchester, sealing a home win over the U’s for the first time since 1999.

Howe added: “All in all, protecting a 1-0 lead against a team we had not done very well against in recent years, it was certainly a very good result.”