The intended target was Cameron Jerome but Neil Warnock does not need telling that nothing at Elland Road is ever simple.
Leeds United thought the signing of Jerome was a formality last Thursday after finalising the terms of a temporary move from Stoke City.
But having seen that deal go up in smoke and their list of requirements increase dramatically, the club can hardly dare to allow the final week of the Football League’s emergency loan window to slip away quietly.
The governing body will draw a line in the sand at 5pm next Thursday, denying Football League clubs the opportunity to make further signings before FIFA’s transfer window opens at the beginning of January.
A striker was Warnock’s priority last week and Jerome very nearly joined United but the carnage of Saturday’s defeat to Watford – a match in which the forward was scheduled to make his Leeds debut – created other pressing concerns.
With Jason Pearce and Michael Brown suspended and Rodolph Austin injured, the holes in Warnock’s defence and midfield are now as obvious as the lack of variation up front. Brown will return to contention after Sunday’s match at Millwall but the three-game ban imposed on Pearce will sideline the centre-back until the start of next month. Austin’s comeback is scheduled for January.
Pearce was the only ever-present player among the 23 used by Warnock this season until a loose tackle on Matej Vydra earned him a red card on Saturday. United’s failed appeal against the dismissal – rejected by the Football Association on Tuesday – left a glaring gap in the middle of United’s defence ahead of a run of games which Warnock’s squad seems ill-prepared for.
Sunday’s fixture at the New Den – a ground where Leeds won for the first time in five visits last season – precedes home matches against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, the Championship’s leaders and fifth-placed club respectively.
Pearce is due to return on December 1 for a Yorkshire derby at Huddersfield Town, another club inside the division’s play-off positions.
The defender will reappear under the threat of another one-match ban having amassed four bookings this season.
Prior to last weekend, United’s group of absentees already included Ross McCormack, Adam Drury and Davide Somma. It was a bonus for Warnock that having initially ruled Tom Lees out for three weeks with damage to the retina in one eye, he was able to recall him after eight days of treatment. Lees appeared as a substitute against Watford and was fit enough to start for England’s Under-21s in a friendly against Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
But with Austin nursing a cracked ankle bone, the strain on the squad at Elland Road is such that the wish-list held by United’s manager ahead of the emergency loan deadline passes might now include a central defender and a central midfielder alongside a new forward. As the proposed takeover of Leeds threatens to spill into yet another week, it remains to be seen whether help arrives in what is left of the window.
Leeds gathered the money needed to sign Jerome on loan last week but found Stoke unwilling to release him when the deal came to be signed on Thursday evening.
The Premier League club were a long way down their division and suffering from a shortage of goals and a shortage of wins. Their manager, Tony Pulis, opted to retain Jerome at the last minute due to concerns about the fitness of Michael Owen.
The former England international is beset by hamstring problems and has played in less than an hour of Stoke’s season. He appeared a substitute in their 0-0 draw at Sunderland on October 27 but missed a 1-0 defeat at Norwich City and was ruled out of last weekend’s game against Queens Park Rangers while Leeds and Stoke were negotiating the terms of Jerome’s transfer.
Jerome, who sat as an unused substitute throughout a 1-0 victory over QPR, is keen to depart the Britannia Stadium after an inactive spell under Pulis but despite United’s expectation that a deal might materialise before their visit to Millwall, Stoke are expected to keep hold of the 26-year-old as cover in the run-up to Christmas.
Another of Warnock’s possible options, Reading forward Simon Church, joined Huddersfield on a one-month deal seven days ago but other alternatives are likely to be considered as Leeds approach a pivotal run of games with threadbare resources. Since the loan window opened in September, Warnock has shown an interest in Bristol City’s Jon Stead and Leicester’s Neil Danns. Danns moved to Bristol City yesterday.
GFH Capital, the Dubai-based firm bidding to buy Leeds, has promised Warnock transfer funds upon completion of their takeover, a deal which the firm had hoped to seal this week. But that optimistic projection looks increasingly likely to prove unfounded following indications that the protracted process is likely to run beyond United’s match at Millwall.
The threat to Warnock is that Thursday’s loan deadline passes without new arrivals, leaving his squad as it is. While Brown’s ban runs for one game and Pearce’s for three, the injury suffered by Austin during the second half of United’s defeat to Watford will rule out another fixture in the club’s line-up until at least the end of December.
Leeds initially feared that Austin had suffered a double leg fracture and would miss up to six months of the season but the implications of losing a player described by Warnock as “our best midfielder” have not taken long to sink in.
Warnock said: “I’m still gutted for him and gutted to be losing him for any length of time.
“He’s been our best midfielder and players like that are hard to replace. It’s the same with Pearce. You really feel it when you lose lads like them.”
Warnock named youngster Chris Dawson in his 18-man squad against Watford, a positive story which was lost in the chaos of a 6-1 defeat.
Dawson - an academy product who signed a three-year deal in October - was given squad number 32 last Friday after training with Warnock’s squad, and he sat on the bench during the loss to Watford. He might be called upon again at Millwall with numbers increasingly short.
Warnock said: “I have to give the lads credit for the way they stuck in against Watford.
“It’s their honesty that pleases me most and we’re going to need it. It’s all hands to the pump now.”