Leeds United were sweating on the fitness of Ronaldo Vieira and Eunan O’Kane ahead of today’s clash with Nottingham Forest after the absence of both players forced a major alteration to the club’s midfield at Birmingham City.
Leeds saw Vieira and O’Kane succumb to injury before Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Birmingham City, leading to a reshuffle which brought Kalvin Phillips and Conor Shaughnessy together in the centre of midfield for the first time.
Shaughnessy, 21, had never started in that role under Thomas Christiansen previously having featured predominantly at centre-back this season, but United’s head coach turned to him ahead of Poland international Mateusz Klich after ruling out Vieira and O’Kane.
Vieira was hurt by a second-half tackle during Leeds’ 2-1 win at Burton Albion on Boxing Day while O’Kane, who recently returned from a hip problem, missed the trip to Birmingham after suffering what Christiansen called “a kick”.
United’s changed midfield struggled to cope with Birmingham’s direct tactics and pressure from a side who are bottom of the Championship eventually led to an 83rd-minute winner from Jacques Maghoma.
Leeds carried out further assessments of O’Kane and Vieira at Thorp Arch yesterday amid a 48-hour turnaround to this afternoon’s meeting with managerless Forest.
“They both had problems so I couldn’t have them available,” Christiansen said. “It was the decision I took.
“We will see if they will be back against Forest. (O’Kane) got a kick so we prevented him from playing to have him ready.”
Christiansen has managed a string of absences in the past month and a half and both striker Caleb Ekuban and winger Stuart Dallas remain on the sidelines with foot and ankle injuries respectively.
Samuel Saiz, however, returned from a calf strain at Birmingham, appearing as a second-half substitute, and is in line to start against Forest at Elland Road.
Christiansen defended his decision to name the influential Saiz on the bench.
And also insisted that he had been justified in starting Shaughnessy ahead of Klich, saying there was “not much more I could pick.”
Shaughnessy, who joined Leeds in 2016, was a central midfielder during his time with both Reading’s academy and United’s development squad but Christiansen moulded him as a centre-back ahead of the start of this season.
Leeds demonstrated their confidence in Shaughnessy by handing him a four-year contract in September but he was hard-pressed by a Birmingham side who battled to a first win in eight games and ended Leeds’ six-match unbeaten run.
Klich, meanwhile, has struggled for chances under Christiansen since signing from FC Twente in June and he was used as a late substitute at St Andrews, his first league appearance in three months.
Christiansen said: “It’s always easy to analyse after a game. When you win you have done it right. When you lose, you haven’t.
“I believe so [that it was right to start Shaughnessy].
“I had two players in that position, that was Conor and Kalvin, so there was not much more I could pick.”