With their Premier League title slipping away, Manchester City's Yaya Toure cannot return quickly enough from the African Cup of Nations to lift the stumbling champions.
City haven't won any of their last five matches in all competitions, the club's worst run since the final days of Mark Hughes' reign in 2009.
Surely, it's no coincidence that this latest winless streak has coincided with Toure's recent absence. The team's driving force in midfield, he has been sorely missed while away on international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup.
Mercifully, for City, Toure (below) is on his way back from the tournament - he captained the Ivorians to a first continental title in 23 years on Sunday - but probably too late to be involved in tomorrow's league game at Stoke, which second-placed City start seven points adrift of leader Chelsea.
"We can't really afford too many more slip-ups, if any," said midfielder James Milner, who scored with an injury-time free kick to earn City a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Hull on Saturday.
"We know, more than anyone, you have to keep going to the death and anything can happen, but I think we have got to be pretty faultless between now and the end of the season to get close."
Mark Hughes, meanwhile, is wary that Stoke are coming up against a "wounded animal" when they host City tomorrow.
"We're looking forward to it and it's important that we keep our impressive run going," he said. "We are playing really well at the moment and I am pleased with the form we are showing so we need to keep it going.
"It won't be easy, Man City are a little bit of a wounded animal at the moment and have got a little bit of criticism for their home form. We need to be ready for them, but we're playing very well at the moment so bring it on."