Leeds United: Academy players on standby to plug holes at the back

Matthew Pennington in recent action against Bolton Wanderers.  PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Matthew Pennington in recent action against Bolton Wanderers. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Leeds United could be left with one fit centre-back for Saturday’s clash with Sunderland after losing Matthew Pennington to a calf strain.

Pennington pulled up in the closing minutes of Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Fulham, joining Liam Cooper and Conor Shaughnessy on the sidelines and leaving Pontus Jansson as the only senior central defender available to head coach Paul Heckingbottom.

Nursing an injury, 'Conor Shaughnessy. PIC: Tony Johnson

Nursing an injury, 'Conor Shaughnessy. PIC: Tony Johnson

Heckingbottom took development-squad player, Paudie O’Connor, to Craven Cottage with injuries severely restricting his options defensively and the 20-year-old Irishman looks set to feature in United’s plans for the visit of Sunderland to Elland Road with Cooper, Pennington and Shaughnessy all expected to miss out. The club were already without seven players before Tuesday’s trip to London and midfielder Eunan O’Kane was lost to a groin strain before half-time.

Pennington then limped off the field with seconds of the game to go.

“When it rains it pours,” Heckingbottom said.

“That’s how it is. It’s a real kick in the b***s. You come here, get beat and feel frustrated with the result and to pick up a couple of injuries as well is frustrating.

Leeds United captain Liam Cooper.

Leeds United captain Liam Cooper.

“Paudie’s been training with us because of the injuries and the players we’ve got missing at centre-back.

“It’s important that if he’s needed he knows what we want from him and he feels comfortable.

“Then we’re not just throwing him in last minute.”

Heckingbottom has taken a close look at Leeds’ academy contingent since taking charge of Leeds and teenage striker Sam Dalby – a January signing from Leyton Orient – also travelled to Fulham with United’s squad.

Like O’Connor, Dalby failed to make the final 18.

Leeds have been beset by injuries through the season and a host of players, including Cooper, Luke Ayling, Adam Forshaw and Tyler Roberts, look likely to miss the closing weeks of the Championship term.

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