Leeds United v Oxford United: Warnock forced to utilise whole squad

Sam Byram.
Sam Byram.
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An experimental Leeds United team will be fielded in next week’s League Cup clash with Oxford United as manager Neil Warnock faces up to a drained transfer budget at Elland Road.

The United boss plans to use the furthest reaches of his squad on Tuesday night after reluctantly accepting that no new players are likely to join Leeds before the transfer window closes on Friday.

The English leagues will see a flurry of deals in the next six days with the deadline for permanent signings and long-term loans due to pass at midnight on Friday, but Warnock is not expecting to engage in any transfer negotiations due to a lack of available funds.

The 63-year-old has turned his attention instead to the emergency loan market which opens to Football League sides next month but he intends to give several of his fringe players a run-out against Oxford in an attempt to analyse the full capability of United’s squad.

Warnock said: “Oxford will definitely be a game where there are opportunities for people to come into my thoughts.

“I’ll have to play a couple of lads I’ve not seen much of because I really want to look at them now.”

Warnock limited himself to two substitutions in both of United’s first two Championship matches, and a number of players have been peripheral in the opening week of the league season.

Left-back Adam Drury was an unused substitute against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackpool, omitted by Warnock in favour of Aidy White and Lee Peltier, and striker Andy Gray is yet to kick a ball in competitive anger after agreeing a one-year deal last month.

Warnock has dug beneath his crop of experienced professionals during the past fortnight, giving 18-year-old right-back Sam Byram successive league starts despite admitting towards the end of pre-season that he did not plan to give the academy graduate a major role in Leeds’ Championship term.

The United boss also gave a vote of confidence to young striker Dom Poleon by taking the teenager to London Road for this afternoon’s league clash with Peterborough United.

Poleon and Byram were used regularly during Leeds’ summer friendlies but their close proximity to the first team – while in no small part a reflection of their talent is an indication of Warnock’s slender resources and his effort to make the most of whatever United can offer him.

He took in Wednesday’s Professional Development League game between United’s Under-21s and Derby County at Thorp Arch, watching Poleon and Ramon Nunez score in a 2-2 draw.

Nunez’s appearance as a permitted overage player in a youth-team fixture said much about his position at Elland Road. The forward, who was signed to a long-term contract by former manager Simon Grayson last year, has been on the transfer-list since May and is one of the few surplus professionals who have failed to find new clubs.

United sold Adam Clayton to Huddersfield Town last month and recently negotiated the release of Billy Paynter and Andy O’Brien from the final year of their contracts.

Right-back Paul Connolly joined Portsmouth on loan before the start of the season and Robbie Rogers linked up with Stevenage Borough on a temporary basis on Thursday, leaving Nunez, Paul Rachubka and Danny Pugh as the only transfer-listed players at Elland Road.

The idea of selling Pugh is less straightforward than it was, however, due to the knee injury suffered by Paul Green against Wolves last weekend. Green’s absence has been set at four to six weeks by United’s medical staff but Warnock believes he could miss the next two months of the season.

Without him, Pugh returned to United’s squad against Blackpool and appeared as a substitute amid a late fightback from Ian Holloway’s side.

He appears to have regained a place in Warnock’s short-term plans due to the size of the squad at Elland Road.

Warnock’s decision to transfer-list Pugh – signed for £500,000 from Stoke City as recently as January – was motivated by a desire to created room on his wage bill for alternative players in different positions.

Speaking at the time, Warnock said: “I’ve had a chat and in Pugh’s case he’s unlucky that in the areas I think he’s good at, I don’t think he’ll get much of a look-in. I’m not closing the door but at his stage he needs to be playing games.”

Pugh is among the players who could be fielded in Tuesday’s clash with Oxford, the second home tie that Leeds have received in this season’s Capital One Cup.

United routed Shrewsbury Town 4-0 at Elland Road two weeks ago and will go into the draw for the third round – a stage at which they have drawn Manchester United and Liverpool in the past three years – if they negotiate their way around Chris Wilder’s side.

Warnock is not renowned for an impressive managerial record in the competition but he was enthused when the draw was made, saying: “It’s a good draw, especially being at home. That’s what you want.

“It gives us a chance of getting through and picking up one of the big boys in the next round.”

In addition to Green, Leeds have two long-term injury victims on their absentee list, Davide Somma and Leigh Bromby.

Bromby suffered a serious knee injury at Cardiff City in April, the pain of which rendered him unconscious on the pitch, and he will be absent for many months after an operation carried out at the start of the summer.

Somma’s return date is scheduled far sooner, though Warnock played down the possibility of the South African international making his comeback in time to assist the immediate shortage of players at Leeds.

Two knee operations have kept Somma on the sidelines since the last day of the 2010-11 season and he is still expected to be out for another two months, frustrating a manager who seems well aware of Somma’s ability.

Warnock said: “We could do with Davide Somma fit now but I’m not optimistic that we’ll see him before the end of October. He’s running again but when people tell me four weeks, I multiply it.

“I hope it’s sooner rather than later though because even on the bench, he gives us something we haven’t got.

“If things are tight financial-wise then having a fit Davide Somma would be like having a new signing.”

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