Roy Hodgson hopes Christian Benteke will be back in action for Crystal Palace early in the new year.
The Belgium striker, who has made just four appearances this season, underwent knee surgery in October.
The 28-year-old is making encouraging progress and, while a Christmas return has been ruled out, a January return is on the cards.
Manager Hodgson said: "I think the medical and sports science people always told me I wouldn't be able to count on him until the end of December, beginning of January. That's where he is.
"He was a week ahead of schedule and we were hoping we would be back in training with the team next week, but that's been put back.
"I think it will probably now be after the FA Cup tie but the good thing is he is working hard and he is absolutely determined to get back on that field of play and score the goals that he was brought to the club to score.
"His attitude has been excellent in his recovery and we're looking forward to seeing him again. We don't think it will be too long."
Palace have three games before facing Sky Bet League Two club Grimsby in the FA Cup third round on January 5, starting with a Boxing Day clash against Cardiff at Selhurst Park.
They will go into that game high on confidence after a surprise win at champions Manchester City and Hodgson wants to see the same attitude that succeeded at the Etihad Stadium being maintained.
The former England boss said: "We know it is going to be a difficult game. If we are really going to take advantage of these three – you could call them bonus points (at City) because not many people expected us to get them – we have to get a result against Cardiff.
"If we were to lose that game at home all we've done really is swap the games around. I've made that clear to the players and I fully trust them to take that message on board."
Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate are expected to be available for Palace after injury.