Leeds United coach Christiansen forced to redirect his central characters

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Thomas Christiansen is hopeful that Liam Cooper and Matthew Pennington will be available for Leeds United’s next league game against Ipswich Town after an injury to Pontus Jansson put further strain on the club’s defensive ranks.

Jansson was withdrawn during the closing stages of Leeds’ 1-0 defeat to Millwall on Saturday with a suspected hamstring strain, the latest in a series of injuries which have affected Christiansen’s group of central defenders this season.

Pontus Jansson in action against Millwall. PIC: James Hardisty

Pontus Jansson in action against Millwall. PIC: James Hardisty

Club captain Cooper was an unexpected absentee at the New Den, succumbing to a back injury suffered last week, despite Christiansen’s predicting beforehand that he would be fit to line-up against Millwall.

The United head coach expects Cooper to miss tomorrow’s Carabao Cup third-round tie away at Premier League side Burnley but is confident that the defender will return for the visit of Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich to Elland Road this weekend.

Pennington, meanwhile, is back in training after an ankle ligament problem sustained by him during his debut on the opening weekend of the season.

The on-loan Everton youngster, who was hurt in a 3-2 win at Bolton Wanderers, is also likely to sit out of the trip to Burnley but could make a timely return on Saturday with doubt surrounding the fitness of Jansson.

Leeds United centre-back and captain Liam Cooper.

Leeds United centre-back and captain Liam Cooper.

The Sweden international pulled up 10 minutes before the end of normal time at the New Den and was taken down the tunnel in visible pain having first attempted to return to the field.

Christiansen had already used all three of his substitutions at that stage and the loss of Jansson forced United to finish the game with 10 players.

Asked about Jansson’s fitness, Christiansen said he was still to learn the nature or the extent of the injury but said United’s medical team had “tried to prevent it being worse.”

The United boss, however, described Pennington as “very close” to a comeback and predicted that “for Saturday (Cooper) will be okay.”

Back in training, Matthew Pennington. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Back in training, Matthew Pennington. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Cooper’s absence saw 20-year-old youngster Conor Shaughnessy partner Jansson in the centre of defence, his second start of the season after a strong debut in a 0-0 draw with Fulham last month.

United were besieged by a dominant Millwall side and saw their unbeaten start to the season end after Aiden O’Brien struck from close range on 73 minutes. O’Brien’s strike ended Leeds’ run of six consecutive clean sheets in the Championship as goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald conceded for the first time in 636 minutes.

Christiansen admitted that an in-form Cooper had been missed, saying: “Liam is our captain and an important player in the defensive line. For sure he would have helped the team but when you don’t have him, you have to bring other players. That was okay.”

Christiansen has juggled a spate of defensive absences impressively in the first month and a half of the term but Jansson’s injury is set to leave him without all three of his senior centre-backs at Burnley. Luke Ayling finished the defeat to Millwall in that position and could start there tomorrow.

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