Blackpool v Leeds United: Murphy out and Zaliukas is a doubt

BANNED: United midfielder Luke Murphy, right, misses the Boxing Day trip to Blackpool, after collecting his fifth booking of the season in the 0-0 draw with Barnsley at Elland Road.
BANNED: United midfielder Luke Murphy, right, misses the Boxing Day trip to Blackpool, after collecting his fifth booking of the season in the 0-0 draw with Barnsley at Elland Road.
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Marius Zaliukas is an early doubt for Leeds United’s Boxing Day game at Blackpool with manager Brian McDermott bracing himself for the loss of key players.

The Lithuanian centre-back is nursing an ankle injury after a heavy tackle on him earned Marcus Tudgay a straight red card during Saturday’s 0-0 draw between Leeds and Barnsley.

Tudgay caught Zaliukas as the pair dived for a loose ball in the 85th minute and was immediately dismissed by referee Keith Stroud.

Zaliukas played out the last five minutes and a lengthy period of injury-time with three Leeds substitutes already on the field, and McDermott is not yet certain if he will be passed fit to play at Bloomfield Road on Thursday.

McDermott said: “It was a red card. It’s not a good tackle. Danny (Barnsley manager Danny Wilson) will be disappointed when he sees it again and so will the player. He’s gone over the ball.”

Wilson, who was in charge of Barnsley for the first time on Saturday attempted to play down the nature of Tudgay’s foul, saying: “He does pull away from the challenge.

“His body shape is side-on so it looks a lot worse but it’s not malicious or anything like that. He’s just a striker and they can’t tackle to save their lives.

“He’s not that type of guy but I’ve no qualms with the referee. He was right on top of the incident.”

Zaliukas – signed by Leeds as a free agent in October – has been an impressive fixture in McDermott’s line-up for five games running and United are at risk of losing him ahead of the flurry of matches after Christmas.

The club have Scott Wootton available, however, following his stint on the sidelines with a twisted ankle suffered against Charlton Athletic last month.

Wootton was not involved in Saturday’s derby but he was put through a training session with United’s youngsters earlier in the day and could earn a recall against Blackpool if Zaliukas fails to recover.

Midfielder Luke Murphy, meanwhile, will definitely miss the Boxing Day trip to Lancashire after a first-half booking took him over the threshold of five yellow cards. He was cautioned for a first-half foul on Jacob Mellis, one of seven bookings issued by Stroud.

The midfielder is the first of United’s players to reach the five-booking limit this season – a limit which will be applied by the Football Association until the end of this month – but youngster Alex Mowatt has reached four after a caution at the weekend. McDermott chose to substitute Mowatt at half-time.

“We’ve done well with our discipline,” McDermott said. “It’s been really good. But Luke’s suspended so I’ll have to see what team we put out now.”

Leeds’ draw with Barnsley extended their unbeaten home record to seven matches but they were frustrated by a team who are bottom of the table and raised themselves for Wilson’s first game as manager.

Matt Smith had the best of United’s chances – the clearest an early volley which Jack Butland saved from point-blank range – but Barnsley threatened on occasions and Tudgay missed a glorious opportunity to open the scoring shortly before half-time. The result was still enough to lift United up to fifth in the Championship, their highest ranking under McDermott. The club are eight points short of the automatic promotion places but behind only Burnley, QPR, Leicester City and Derby County.

McDermott said: “It was new manager syndrome for us again. I said to my players beforehand ‘play like you’ve got a new manager.’ They didn’t but that’s life.

“The first half wasn’t good but having said that, we did have a really good chance to make it 1-0 through Matt Smith.

“They’ve had a good chance too and could have gone in at half-time 1-0 up so give them credit. We take the point and move up to fifth.”