Leeds United: Heckingbottom putting no negatives into Diaz or O'Connor ahead of probable baptism of fire

IN AT THE DEEP END: Hugo Diaz, right, pictured with fellow youngsters Callum Nicell, centre, and Tom Pearce, left, at Preston.
IN AT THE DEEP END: Hugo Diaz, right, pictured with fellow youngsters Callum Nicell, centre, and Tom Pearce, left, at Preston.
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LEEDS UNITED head coach Paul Heckingbottom said it was pointless filling young centre-backs Paudie O'Connor and Hugo Diaz with negatives ahead of a possible baptism of fire at Aston Villa.

Heckingbottom has ten players either injured or suspended for Friday night's Championship clash at Villa Park and six of those players in Pontus Jansson, Liam Cooper, Conor Shaughnessy, Luke Ayling, Gaetano Berardi and Adam Forshaw can play at centre-back.

The mass spate of absentees has already provided an opportunity for 20-year-old Irish defender O'Connor to be promoted to the first team from the under-23s and fellow under-23s player Diaz was then handed an opportunity off the bench in Tuesday night's clash at Preston when Jansson had to be substituted with a head injury.

Protocol over concussion has now ruled Jansson out of Friday's trip to Villa, leaving O'Connor and Diaz as the obvious axis at centre-back despite having played just 213 minutes of first team football between them.

O'Connor only made his Whites debut in last Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland but the young Irishman is now facing the prospect of being United's most experienced centre-back for a daunting clash at a fourth-placed Villa side who are still chasing automatic promotion.

Fellow under-23s centre-backs Pascal Struijk and Aapo Halme are among other options for Heckingbottom who cannot turn to Harrogate Town loanee Liam Kitching who is injured.

Diaz appears in pole position to partner O'Connor and while Heckingbottom admits the Spaniard would be in for a seriously challenging full league debut, the Whites head coach says there is no point focusing on the negatives.

"It would be a huge test," said Heckingbottom, asked about the prospect of Diaz lining up at Villa.

"You could go with your strongest team at Villa Park and it's a hard place to go and get a result.

"But why put negatives into people?

"We know the situation we find ourselves in and I've said before it's pointless moaning about it - the injured players will be back when they are back.

"My focus is on the players who are fit and available and preparing them the best I can and making sure they get the most out of the experience.

"Because regardless or not if they are going to be in the first XI next season, in the first team squad, back up or out on loan, we will only get a fair assessment if we are giving them as much chance to succeed as possible and then seeing where they are."

Heckingbottom also revealed that Diaz had been thrown into the United first team on the back of just one training session against Preston and without the benefits of a more prolonged spell of training with the first team as experienced by O'Connor.

Heckingbottom revealed: "Hugo was literally thrown in at the deep end because when we were getting a little bit short, as you have seen with lots of younger players, we have tried to have them training with us a bit before to have a look at them, see how they fit in and just get that transition as easy as possible for them if they are thrown in.

"So when we were short in that position we brought Paudie up but then all of a sudden with more injuries Hugo didn't really have time and he was just thrown straight into training one day, brought in the squad, and on the bench because I wanted cover at centre-back.

"It's sod's law that the one position you don't want to get an injury in you then get one and that's how it was.

"But let's hope that if he gets another opportunity that he steps in and takes it like Paudie has done."