KEVIN BLACKWELL today threw the gauntlet down to young defender Matthew Kilgallon, challenging him to keep his place in the Leeds United side. By PAUL DEWS
Defensive regular Clarke Carlisle could be out for up to six weeks after tearing his ankle ligaments at Rotherham on Monday and Kilgallon will be handed the chance to establish himself at the back.
Kilgallon, who started at left-back in place of the rested Danny Pugh against Rotherham, immediately moved alongside Paul Butler at the heart of the defence when Carlisle suffered his injury blow, and the 20-year-old is set to be handed an extended run in his favoured slot.
Said Blackwell: "I thought Killa did very well at Rotherham and he showed what he is capable of.
"With Clarke set to miss out for a few weeks, he will get a chance there now and it's up to him to try and establish himself.
"He did superbly against Wigan, when he came up against the best strike force in the division, but that was only one game.
"I'm looking for him to do that on a consistent basis now.
"It's the same for all the players. I want to see them make the jersey their own when the chance comes along and that's the challenge facing Killa."
Carlisle's absence is a huge blow ahead of a demanding Christmas programme.
Michael Duberry is out on loan at Stoke and Kilgallon is the only natural replacement, although teenager Simon Walton is a central-defender by trade and filled the void successfully at Portsmouth earlier this season.
Sean Gregan also has centre-back experience.
But Carlisle is unlikely to return before the Boxing Day trip to Sunderland at the earliest and, with left-back Pugh walking a yellow card tightrope ahead of Saturday's clash with Leicester, the defender's absence could be costly.
"Clarke could be out for anywhere between three and six weeks," explained Blackwell. "It's very unlikely he will be back before Christmas and it's disappointing because he's done a good job. It is a real blow.
"He had a remarkable 15 minutes at Rotherham the other night because he hit the woodwork three times and then picked up his injury.
"Obviously he's bitterly disappointed, but we have to deal with it.
"We moved things around – Killa did well central and Frazer Richardson had a good game when he came on at left-back."
Richardson made a welcome return to the United side against his hometown club when he replaced Carlisle and put in a solid stint on the left side of defence.
"I was pleased with Frazer," said Blackwell.
"He did fantastically well for me at the start of the season when I was asking him to play out of position on the right side of midfield.
"I couldn't have asked for any more – but I felt the time came when he needed a rest.
"I don't want to see the young players burnt out."
Blackwell could also change his forward line for the visit of Leicester on Saturday.
Michael Ricketts replaced the injured Brian Deane at Millmoor earlier this week and Blackwell again looks set to explore his options.
Julian Joachim or David Healy could be offered a central striking role against Craig Levien's side.