|By JAMES RANSON
Melbourne Heart will be without Mate Dugandzic for the rest of the A-League season after surgery revealed damage to his broken foot is far greater than first thought.
Dugandzic has been sidelined since colliding with Adelaide United goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic at Hindmarsh Stadium on November 17 and underwent surgery this week.
Scans revealed the extent of the damage to his fractured metatarsal with the winger now expected to miss up to six months rather than the initial prognosis of 12 weeks due to ligament and bone damage.
"It's never great to lose such an important player so early in the season," head coach John Aloisi said.
"Mate was a critical player for us last season and now the challenge is for another emerging player, like Golgol (Mebrahtu) or Ben (Garuccio), to step up when they get an opportunity and prove that they can be an elite player, which Mate did last season."
The Heart also have Socceroo Richard Garcia in the squad to fill the void and Aloisi said he did not expect to cover Dugandzic's loss with a new player.
"We have enough attacking depth in the squad to cover the loss," he said.
"We saw last week that players from our youth league team were able to step up and help us get a result, so that's the path we will go down if we need to."