EDDIE Howe admits the recent injury pile-up has left his squad “stretched” – but hopes the versatility of his charges will be invaluable.

Cherries in the past eight days lost both their senior left-backs with Charlie Daniels suffering a kneecap problem in training before Diego Rico rolled his ankle in the defeat against Burnley. Neither will return this season.

They joined Lewis Cook and Simon Francis (both knee) as long-term absentees while Andrew Surman (calf) and Steve Cook (groin) are both battling back from their own setbacks.

Asked if he recalled a worse spell of injuries during the club's time in the top flight, Howe said: “What’s different with this injury list we have at the moment is the seriousness of the injuries.

“Yes, we have probably had five or six players missing before through injury at different stages but not necessarily all with serious long-term injuries.

"That is the difficulty and that has left us stretched in terms of our resources, stretched in terms of the ability to change things and refresh the team.

“Then you place more load on other players. It has had a knock-on effect throughout the season.

“It has been a big challenge for us. Hopefully it is something we can get away from next season.”

One option available to Howe is to drop winger Ryan Fraser into a more defensive role, something the Scot has been tasked with earlier this season.

Howe said: “We have done it before in an emergency. We will wait and see what we do and try to pick the best option for the team.

“We have got the players who are versatile and can play in different positions, which is really important at this stage of the season.”

A key figure who is closing in on a return to fitness is centre-back Cook.

The Hasting-born star has been absent for the past seven matches following a complicated groin injury, which left him struggling to walk after a routine injection became infected.

And the Cherries boss says the chances of the 27-year-old returning to face former club Brighton tomorrow (3pm) are slim.

Howe said: “He’s working and he’s improving.

“It was a really difficult injury to diagnose and to find the problem and then for him to recover.

“He was given a period where he had to do absolutely nothing.

“He’s one of those guys with a great mentality and leadership qualities we’re desperate to get back in the fold.

“I think this weekend maybe too early for him. I don’t know, I’ll have to sit down and discuss with Cookie.”