Luke Ayling has been pencilled in to resume full training before the end of this season but Tyler Roberts’ Leeds United debut could be delayed until next term following a two-month battle with a shin injury.
Head coach Paul Heckingbottom said Roberts was “touch and go” to feature in any of Leeds’ remaining seven games but revealed he was hopeful of welcoming Ayling back into the fold ahead of the start of the summer.
Ayling’s season was ended by ankle surgery carried out after a 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day and the right-back initially set the target of regaining full fitness ahead of the start of pre-season.
Heckingbottom, however, admitted he was keen to re-involve Ayling before United’s first-team squad depart on holiday after their final fixture at home to Queens Park Rangers on May 6.
Roberts, who Leeds signed in a £2.5m move from West Bromwich Albion in January, has also been given that target after a frustrating start to his career at United.
The teenage forward arrived at Elland Road on transfer deadline day but sat out of the club’s next game, a 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City which ended Thomas Christiansen’s reign as head coach, and was subsequently diagnosed with a crack in one shin midway through February.
Heckingbottom played down the chances of Roberts featuring this term, saying: “It’s pointless us rushing him. It’s probably touch and go about when he is fit with regards the end of the season but I would like for him and Luke Ayling to be back with the players before we break up for the summer, for their peace of mind and my peace of mind.
“I’ve been in their position where you’re injured towards the end of a season. You just want to be back playing before the end because if you’re not, in the back of your mind you’re still injured all the way through June.
“Forget minutes on the pitch, that’s my goal with them. It’s something I’ve spoken to them about and Luke in particular.”
Ayling had been a fixture on the right side of Leeds’ defence prior to his injury and was one of the players who the club tied to long-term contracts before Christmas. He received a new four-year deal on the back of an impressive first season at Elland Road.
Heckingbottom said a return to training in the coming weeks would help Ayling’s motivation through the rest of the summer.
“Mentally he can go away knowing how hard he worked to get back,” the United boss said.
“He’ll still be working through the summer because he’s that type of player and he wants to come back flying but just to know he’s fit and able to play again before the end of the season would be a big thing.”
Roberts, a Wales Under-21 international, was highly rated at West Brom and Leeds negotiated a deal worth up to £4m when they secured his signature at the end of the January window.
United have so far avoided the need to send him for an operation but Roberts will again be unavailable for tonight’s clash with Fulham at Craven Cottage.
“It’s horrible when you’re injured,” Heckingbottom said, “but when you’re getting progression and getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, you’re happy as a player.
“The only thing we’re hoping for is no setbacks and keeping him going in the right direction in terms of development.
“He’s a young boy, the Championship’s new to him and the demands of it are new to him so we can improve him in that aspect while he’s out.”