Sutton United keeper Alan Julian is facing a race against time to be fit for the start of the Skrill South season in three weeks’ time.
The former Stevenage and Gillingham custodian, signed over the summer after the departure of Jason Brown, picked up a knee injury in training after just one pre-season appearance.
He has subsequently missed the high-profile games against Chelsea, AFC Wimbledon (1-2) and West Ham United (0-1).
In his place, Tom Lovelock has been excelling, meaning Julian could face a test to get his number one shirt back even when he is fit.
Julian said: “It is just one of those things, it could be a lot worse, I could have a broken leg, but I am hoping to be back next weekend.
“It is hard to predict when you’re going to be back from injury, but it is a case of building up slowly.
“I was on the pitch on Tuesday striking balls, and there was a slight reaction to that, but nothing too serious.
“It is all a case of seeing how things react, test it in the evening and see how it is the following day – fingers crossed it’s alright and there are no step backs.”
Julian, 30, brings to the Lane a wealth of experience having made 286 first team appearances in a career that began with Brentford in 2000.
His trophy cabinet boasts the FA Trophy won with Stevenage in 2007 – but there was disappointment last season following relegation to the Skrill South with Dartford, who were subsequently reinstated after Hereford’s expulsion.
Now Julian is looking for an immediate return to the non-League top flight with United.
He said: “This is an ambitious club. It was very similar at Stevenage and they went on to great things.
“It helps that it is 20 minutes from where I live.”
He added: “But first things first, I want to win football matches, and that is why I am here.”
Head coach Peter Beadle, himself a summer arrival, said: “Alan may get some game time on Saturday at Maidstone, but with it being a 3G pitch we’re going to have to be careful, so we may wait until Aldershot on Tuesday.
“It’s not ideal for him to be missing games right now at this important stage, and it is tough for him to watch because Tom is doing well.
“It’s important that Alan is back as soon as possible, but he has to be 100 per cent.”
He added: “The competition is good for Tom, and for the whole squad really, that’s what we’re about.”