Neil Redfearn described as “freakish” the loss of six players to injury ahead of Saturday’s defeat at Charlton Athletic and admitted the flurry of withdrawals was unlike anything he had witnessed in his career.
Leeds United’s head coach stopped short of accusing any of the six of feigning injury but said the emergence of problems affecting them on Friday morning, shortly before the trip to Charlton, had come as a surprise to him.
United travelled to London without goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, defenders Giuseppe Bellusci and Dario Del Fabro and strikers Mirco Antenucci, Edgar Cani and Souleyman Doukara.
The group declared themselves unfit as Redfearn and his squad were completing a last training session before leaving Thorp Arch.
Redfearn said he was aware that Silvestri was nursing a minor back injury after Leeds’ midweek game against Norwich City and he revealed that Antenucci complained of a hip problem after training on Thursday.
The United boss, however, expected all six players to be available to feature at Charlton.
The absentees came in for a barrage of criticism over the weekend amid accusations that they were attempting to undermine Redfearn’s position as doubts grow about whether the 49-year-old will be kept on as head coach when his contract at Leeds expires this summer.
“It seems like a freakish set of events,” Redfearn said.
“Marco got a knock in the Norwich game. We thought he’d be available but he came in Friday and said he was struggling so he couldn’t travel.
“Mirco Antenucci and Edgar Cani declared themselves not fit after coming in Friday morning. The other three trained and dropped out at various times through the morning session.
“It was only a light session because we were planning for the game but two or three of them dropped down injured. If lads come in and say they’re injured, you’ve got to take them at face value. They’re professional people and you expect them to do the right thing.”
Asked if he had ever encountered a similar situation, Redfearn said: “To be totally honest, no.”
A club spokesman described the period as a “disastrous week for injuries” and said Del Fabro and Cani both had knee injuries. Doukara was suffering from a groin strain, the spokesman said, while Bellusci’s injured was described as a “quad and hamstring” problem.
The remaining players taken south by Redfearn were beaten 2-1 by Charlton, condemned to a fifth straight defeat by two goals in the final 15 minutes at The Valley. Redfearn, who received another strong show of support from an away crowd of 3,000, has seen his record as head coach deteriorate during a month of turmoil and a period which saw the suspension of his assistant, Steve Thompson.
“Since the Blackpool game, since we had the international break, events definitely haven’t helped us,” Redfearn said. “It’s disappointing that the season’s fizzled out but a lot of things have happened. It hasn’t helped and it’s apparent.
“The Championship’s a difficult division to be successful in anyway, and that’s if you’ve got all your staff in place and the players upbeat, playing with confidence. If you start eroding away at that then you’ve got a problem.
“It’s obviously knocked the squad, you can see that. It’s definitely had an effect and that’s disappointing because we’d got into a good place. It’s been a right struggle all season. We looked like we were in relegation trouble at one point but we’ve kept ourselves in the division and when you get to 52 points with seven games to go, you look to go on and get a bit of momentum. We were looking at top 10, top half, but things happen and it takes the wind out of your sails.”