Hearts boss Gary Locke has admitted he has just 12 senior outfield players for Saturday’s clash with Inverness.
The Jambos are rooted to the bottom of the Premiership following their 15-point deduction and will be barred from adding to their squad for as long as administrators BDO remains in charge at Tynecastle.
That has left Locke with what he describes as a “paper-thin squad”.
This situation grew even darker on Wednesday when it was confirmed Ryan Stevenson would be out of action for up to six weeks with a hamstring tear.
Locke is already without injured back-up keeper Mark Ridgers and wide man Jason Holt, while skipper Danny Wilson has been wrapped up in cotton wool as he battles painful shin splints.
But the boss says he does not expect any sympathy from Hampden bosses when it comes to easing the punitive SPFL sanctions.
Locke said: “We asked the league for a bit of support at the start of the season [before they handed the club its transfer ban], so I don’t think anything is going to happen five months down the line.
“We’re under a transfer embargo and in administration, so we will just have to go with what we have - a paper-thin squad.”
He added: “At the start of the season, we had 14 professionals and then the ground-staff lads which consists of Sam Nicholson, Gary Oliver, Adam King, Angus Beith and they have been part of the squad all season.
“But with Ryan, Holty and Ridgers out, we have just 12 outfield professional players with the ground-staff boys making up the rest.
“It’s not easy but we’re not making any excuses. We knew this sort of thing might happen and that it would be a big ask for us.”
The impact of those penalties means that four and a half months into the season, the club have yet to reach zero points.
A win against Caley Thistle will at least take them out of the red but successive hammerings by Celtic and then Dundee United have stripped a fragile squad of confidence.
And the loss of experienced campaigner Stevenson has only made the situation worse.
Locke, however, admits there is no hope of an early comeback for the 29-year-old.
“It’s a huge blow,” said the Gorgie boss. “We’d already lost Ryan earlier in the season to a bad knee injury.
“He’s the type of boy that wants to soldier on with things. He made a quick recovery from his first injury and came back a lot quicker than we thought he would.
“He’s been feeling his hamstring though for the last few weeks but told me last week he was fit to play at Tannadice.
“However, during the second half we could see he was struggling and that’s why we took him off. When we got it checked out the scan showed he had a tear.
“But we have to be careful. If we bring him back too soon it could go altogether, so we can’t rush him back.”