BOSS Eddie Howe is backing defensive duo Tommy Elphick and Steve Cook to maintain their impressive partnership after Miles Addison was all but ruled out of Cherries’ hectic festive programme.

Skipper Addison, who has missed just two games this season, is expected to be sidelined for three to four weeks due to a foot injury. The 24-year-old has been wearing an air-cast boot after a scan revealed the extent of the damage.

Addison’s absence could leave Cherries thin on the ground for central defensive cover during the busy Christmas and New Year period with Stephane Zubar also struggling with an injury.

Midfielder Joe Partington and right-back Simon Francis have both previously filled in at the heart of defence, while another option for Howe would be to recall left-back Jon Meades from a loan spell at AFC Wimbledon.

Cook, who deputised at right-back for Francis during the 1-0 win at Doncaster last month, replaced Addison for Cherries’ FA Cup wins over Dagenham and Carlisle.

The 21-year-old, who was one of the few shining lights during last season’s disappointing campaign, has turned in three assured displays under Howe and has forged a solid pairing with former Brighton team-mate Elphick.

Howe told the Daily Echo: “Cookie has only played three games for us but has done well in all of them, while Tommy has been a very consistent performer so, providing we can keep those two fit, we will be okay.

“With Miles and Stephane out, the dilemma would be beyond that. Joe Partington has played there in reserve games and has done well so is probably next in line. We have also got Simon Francis but that would give us another problem in terms of the full-back positions as we are not blessed with a lot of cover there. Defensively, we are a little stretched at the moment.”

Addison’s injury is not related to the one he suffered at Derby when he required a career-saving operation to have a surgical fixation of the navicular in his right foot, which kept him out for almost two years.

Meanwhile, Howe is also sweating on the fitness of Shaun MacDonald and striker Lewis Grabban ahead of Cherries’ trip to League One rivals Scunthorpe.

Midfielder MacDonald was forced off in the second half at Carlisle suffering from a dead leg, while Grabban has been having intensive treatment to a hamstring problem. Neither player has trained so far this week and both could be doubtful for the visit to Glanford Park.

Howe added: “We have got a couple of injury problems at the moment but these things tend to happen.

“Although we are a little thin on the ground in certain positions, that is what the squad is there for and we know we have players who can come in and do a job if needed. Also, we have got a couple of versatile players who can cover different positions and that is a really good thing to have within the squad.”