Rafa Benitez admits it could be next month before Islam Slimani makes his Newcastle United debut.
Slimani has been sidelined with a thigh injury since joining on loan from Leicester City in January.
The striker suffered a setback last month, and the earliest he could feature is against Huddersfield Town on March 31.
United manager Benitez, however, is reluctant to put a date on the Algerian’s comeback.
“I was talking with him,” said Benitez, whose relegation-threatened side take on Southampton at St James’s Park this afternoon.
“It’s a pity. We thought we were bringing in a player with his experience in the Premier League, his power, he could help.
“But he had a little problem and now we have the same situation and we have to be careful. He’s getting closer.”
Benitez may not take Slimani to next week’s behind-closed-doors friendly, arranged to fill a 21-day hole in the club’s Premier League fixture list, in Spain.
“We will have to decide if he comes with us to Spain,” said Benitez. “We can say Huddersfield is the idea, but maybe he’ll be feeling something.
“Now, he’s on the pitch with the fitness coach, but it depends on him.”
Jonjo Shelvey missed last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield with the knee problem he suffered against Bournemouth late last month.
The midfielder has trained this week, but Benitez is reluctant to risk him.
Otherwise, goalkeeper Rob Elliot (back) and Jesus Gamez (ankle) remain sidelined.
“We’re fine,” said Benitez. “Shelvey – who was a doubt – has been training.
“But we have to be careful with him and decide for (for Southampton). Elliot isn’t available and Gamez (also). The other players are fine.”