Manchester United are hopeful that Phil Jones can make a rapid return to their pursuit of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League despite sending him for an x-ray amid concerns he broke a cheekbone in their 5-0 win at Fulham.
Jones's early departure at Craven Cottage, after taking an elbow in the face in an aerial challenge with Clint Dempsey, had led to fears he might face a six-week lay-off but the club's initial diagnosis is that he suffered only bruising and minor concussion. That position remained the same on Thursday morning and unless the scan shows it is more serious the England international will be free to resume training once United's medical staff are satisfied he has overcome the effects of concussion.
Ryan Giggs described his team-mate as "groggy" and United have already shown with Javier Hernández earlier in the season that they are aware of the dangers of rushing back players after blows to the head. At the very least, it makes Jones a doubt for the home game against Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day but United will gladly accept that if the concerns about a fracture are unfounded. Sir Alex Ferguson's anxiety was obvious when he admitted directly after the match that "it doesn't look good" and United's injury list is already extensive without losing one of their more impressive players this season.
Ferguson will give an update at his weekly press conference on Friday and, while there remains an element of caution in case the scan reveals a nasty surprise, it would represent a major boost for the champions if Jones's condition was not as bad as first feared. The 19-year-old has fitted in seamlessly since his £16m summer transfer from Blackburn Rovers, playing at right-back, centre-half and, more recently, adapting to a new midfield role because of the absence of Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Anderson.
Ashley Young was also injured in the victory that keeps Ferguson's team within two points of City and has been sent for a scan to determine the extent of ankle ligament damage. Rio Ferdinand is expected to be available against Wigan despite missing the Fulham game with a foot problem but, adding Michael Owen and Fábio da Silva into the equation, United now have nine players either unavailable or having treatment. Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic have been ruled out for the season while, top of the league at Christmas for the first time since 1929, City have had only moderate injury problems so far this term.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Andrea Sartorati