Players are returning from injury as Leeds United wait to make a move in the January transfer window in a bid to mount a sustained Championship promotion challenge this season. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United are reaching the stage where the January transfer window begins to loom large and planning for that month will have started at Thorp Arch before the leaves fell but support in the second half of this season should also come from within those walls.
Leeds intend to look for another striker, the one target they failed to land before the end of August, and the club will seek to make certain loans deals permanent but Garry Monk’s options will increase naturally in the interim, courtesy of the return of players from injury.
The club have not suffered unduly from enforced absences this season but their head coach has not had the luxury of a full-fit squad at any stage. Liam Cooper suffered a calf strain in the second week of pre-season and Gaetano Berardi pulled a hamstring on the very first day, ruling him out until October. Monk’s captain, Liam Bridcutt, who has played only four times since joining Leeds from Sunderland three months ago, fractured a foot bone in September and was still waiting to resume training at the start of this week.
Stuart Dallas, too, saw a slow start to the season compounded by a torn calf muscle sustained during the term’s second international break and the Northern Ireland winger has not featured in a first-team game since a 2-1 victory over Barnsley on October 1. He was passed fit last week and made the bench for Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Newcastle United but Monk put him through 67 minutes of an Under-23 game at Huddersfield Town on Monday afternoon in an effort to raise his match fitness.
Leeds have managed well without the likes of Bridcutt and Dallas but with playmaker Pablo Hernandez absent with a hamstring problem on Sunday, the loss to Newcastle made Monk’s resources look slightly thin. Reinforcements in the transfer window will be essential for him but no more useful than the resources which are waiting on the sidelines. Dallas, who was injured in a World Cup qualifier against San Marino, did not expect to be looking at a prolonged spell of rehabilitation when Northern Ireland sent him home.
The 25-year-old flew back to England for treatment at Thorp Arch ahead of a clash with Germany on October 11. He initially hoped to be fit to face Derby County later that week. “I pulled my calf in two different places in the San Marino game,” Dallas said. “I didn’t feel it during the game. It was the next day when I was flying to Germany that I felt something.
“I got scanned in Germany and it showed something. I came back, got scanned again and I had two tears at the junction of two different muscles. At the time, I didn’t think it was anything major. I thought when I came back that I was coming home with the intention of getting a few days rest and going again at the weekend. It didn’t quite work out like that.
“It’s frustrating but the team’s been on a good run. Now I’m back and Liam (Bridcutt) is knocking on the door, too, coming back in the next few weeks. There’s a lot of competition in the squad and that can only be a good thing.”
Leeds’ development-squad line-up at Huddersfield on Monday was, despite Monk’s injury concerns, as strong as they have fielded in the Under-23 league.
Striker Marcus Antonsson started and scored a hat-trick, sealing a 3-2 win with his third goal on 90 minutes.
Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri and midfielder Alex Mowatt were also included, the latter after failing to make Monk’s 18 for the visit of Newcastle to Elland Road. Matt Grimes played in midfield, in front of the out of favour Toumani Diagouraga.
Monk managed Dallas carefully in August, holding him back amid concerns about burning out a player who spent part of the summer at Euro 2016 and missed much of pre-season after taking time off to recuperate, get married and travel on honeymoon.
Dallas was more influential in September, contributing to an important upturn in results at Leeds, but he admitted that his calf strain had left him in need of an Under-23 outing.
“It was good to get a run-out,” he said. “I knew I was coming off around the 60-mark so I just wanted to get through it and not do anything silly.
“I feel ready to go and I definitely needed the run out. Being out for five weeks and not playing a game, barely training, it’s not easy to go full steam ahead into a match.”
Dallas looked on from the bench as Leeds succumbed to two goals from Newcastle striker Dwight Gayle on Sunday, a first home defeat in eight games.
United are seventh in the Championship table and the result was tempered by the feeling that Newcastle are destined for the title but Dallas refused to think of the fixture as a match Leeds could afford to lose.
“It wasn’t a free hit,” he said. “It hasn’t done us any damage but it was disappointing.
“We set out to win the game and obviously we didn’t do that so we’ll go again and we’ll regroup. We’ve got a real belief in our squad that if we do things right and do what we’re good at we can match anybody. There’s no better game to put it right that the one this week (away at Rotherham United).
“There’s a real togetherness here and I feel something special about the squad we have. You can’t win every game but if we keep playing the way we have been, we’ll give it a right good go.”