RICHIE Wellens will be forced to dip into the free agent market after club captain Dion Conroy sustained an apparent long-term knee injury on Saturday, minutes into Swindon Town’s 2-0 defeat at home to Newport County.

Conroy, 23, collapsed to the floor in tears immediately after colliding with Newport skipper Joss Labadie in the centre of the pitch when lunging for the ball in a 50-50 challenge just five minutes into Town’s latest League Two test.

The Swindon skipper was then aided off the field by two members of the club’s backroom staff, prompting Adam May to come on in his place while midfielder Anthony Grant dropped into the unfamiliar centre back role.

Unsatisfied by Tom Broadbent’s confidence levels and keen not to throw promising youngster Taylor Curran into the deep end, Wellens revealed he will be pursuing the signature of a centre back immediately.

Mathieu Baudry – Conroy’s regular centre-back partner – will return on Saturday for Town’s trip to Bradford City and partner Zeki Fryers.

But Wellens requires capable back-up within his squad.

“It’s obvious now that we need a centre back, and we’ll try to do something,” said Wellens.

“It’s about the free agents market, but they’re not always easy to deal with.

“They think they’re in a strong position because they can demand more money. But they’re not really in a strong position because they’ve got no club and aren’t fit.

“People think we’re alright, and we were alright. But, all of a sudden, it takes one injury to one of our best players – that’s what can happen in football.

“If Liverpool lost Virgil Van Dijk, would they go on and win the league? And that’s at the top level.

“At our level, if we lose our best players, it will have a massive impact on us.”

Conroy’s injury blow understandably had a knock-on effect on Town’s performance in the first half as Newport established a 1-0 lead courtesy of Mark O’Brien at half-time before Jamille Matt poked home the visitors’ second late in the second half.

With regards to the long-term, Wellens doesn’t expect Conroy’s absence to impact his squad’s efficiency levels ahead of three key games against in-form Bradford, Plymouth Argyle and Crewe Alexandra.

“When something like that happens, it can affect you short term,” said Wellens.

“You’ve just seen your team-mate on the floor, and it can affect you.

“We recovered OK in the second half, so I don’t expect Dion’s injury to have any hangover in terms of our performance in the next game.”