Leeds United lose two players for Middlesbrough clash as loanee waits in wings to face former club
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Joe Gelhardt, who had recently returned to training after a hand fracture kept him out of action, has a fresh problem that will rule him out of Daniel Farke’s options for the Boro game. And left-back Junior Firpo, who missed the start of the season through a knee injury and a subsequent hip issue, has sustained a fresh problem and will be out for a number of weeks.
“The team news is similar but not equal,” said Farke at Thorp Arch on Friday. “Sadly two players are not available, Joffy Gelhardt has a little hip problem. He will not be in contention and also Junior Firpo reported some problems with his hamstring, we've scanned him and it's a strain, he'll be out for three weeks. It's not a major problem for Joffy, it's just a light problem, he'll just miss this game I think.”
Firpo’s time at Leeds has been severely disrupted by injury problems. This season he has played just three games under Farke, his return to action dovetailing with a hamstring problem for Sam Byram that opened up an opportunity at left-back. Last season Firpo started just 14 Premier League games, a knee injury keeping him out of a substantial amount of action at the start of the campaign, while his first year at Elland Road was also beset with illness and injuries, including a hamstring strain and knee ligament damage. To date he has played 54 times for the Whites since a move from Barcelona in 2021.
The loss of Firpo is ameliorated by the presence and form of veteran Byram, who signed on a free transfer in the summer after an exploratory period that allowed him to prove his fitness at Thorp Arch. Byram’s performance in midweek in the win over Swansea City left Farke purring over his left-back’s form. “I was 100 per cent sure what Sam would offer when we decided to sign him on a free transfer,” said the German. “It must be one of the best free transfers in the history of Leeds United. He's playing fantastic, an outstanding season so far. His value he's proved today with his overall performance.”
Saturday’s meeting with Middlesbrough could give Djed Spence an opportunity to make a long-awaited second appearance for his loan club, against his former club. Spence has made just one 10-minute cameo since arriving from Spurs, a knee problem keeping him out for two months, but he returned to the matchday squad in midweek, albeit as an unused substitute.
"He’s a pretty attacking minded full-back and once we were 2-1 and 3-1 in the lead, Archie [Gray] had everything under control, a really good game in full-back, he kept Lowe pretty quiet, a decent winger,” said Farke. “He was crucial in our possession game, almost assisted with a perfect cross for Anthony. Djed, because of his ability and potential, I was thinking a lot about him but in the final stages of the game Pascal had a few cramps and I was forced to have a chance at centre-back. The other changes and substitutes were more like in the offensive positions to split the game time a little bit. It was not the day to bring him in but that day will come very soon.”
As for Stuart Dallas, Leeds’ long-term injury absentee, Farke says the Northern Ireland international is once again in individual training and not yet approaching a comeback from his April 2022 femoral fracture. Farke said: "No, at the moment he’s just in individual training. He joined us a few weeks ago but at the moment there are still a few problems, his body reacted a bit, it’s quite normal after such a long time. He’s just edging closer to when he can rejoin us again. I don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders, he should just concentrate on his work with the rehab coaches. He’s not too near to join us or to be in contention for games.”
Farke has praised Dallas for the contribution he has made, despite the difficulties he has faced and his lack of footballing action: “You can be the strongest mentally in the world and the best character and believe me Stuart is not far away from being this person. But it’s always a hard road back and there are days when you suffer. It’s important we give him a familiar surrounding, lots of support, our physios and medical department, our whole team and staff, hopefully make it a welcome place for him and give him lots of support. He’s such a great lad and although he’s sometimes there in the dressing room he’s still with his character, his sense of humour. He’s still an important part. He would be even more important, offer another option for the games if he was back in team training. I’ve encouraged him to speak with younger lads, to give his experience. I would at least suggest it’s quite difficult for him, but he definitely hides it in a perfect way. When he’s around he’s always outstanding.”