Leeds United last night sanctioned two defensive departures from Elland Road as Conor Shaughnessy left to join Hearts and Lewie Coyle took up another loan deal at Fleetwood Town.
Shaughnessy put the finishing touches to a half-season loan at Tynecastle yesterday having agreed in principle to move to Edinburgh last week and Coyle is back at Fleetwood for a third time after agreeing to remain in League One.
Coyle, United’s former development squad captain, spent all of last season and the first half of this season with Fleetwood but reached the end of his latest deal after appearing in the club’s 0-0 draw with Shrewsbury Town on New Year’s Day.
Leeds were in a position to involve the full-back in the second half of their Championship campaign but United head coach Marcelo Bielsa is looking to other players on the right side of defence.
Coyle was unlikely to feature under the Argentinian with Luke Ayling fully recovered from a knee injury and Stuart Dallas almost fit after a fractured foot.
The emergence of Jamie Shackleton from Leeds academy this season has increased competition at right-back further and Shackleton started there in Sunday’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Queens Park Rangers.
Leeds said the return to Highbury Stadium would allow Coyle to “continue his development” but the defender turned 23 in October and has made just three league starts for his parent club in the past two years.
Shaughnessy, United’s Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, looked likely to be more involved under Bielsa but he missed much of the first half of this term through injury and is behind Finnish centre-back Aapo Halme in Bielsa’s selection order.
His only appearance came in a League Cup tie against Preston North End in August, a 2-0 defeat in which Shaughnessy conceded a penalty inside 60 seconds, and he has taken up the opportunity of a switch to the Scottish Premiership.
Hearts, who were in need of another centre-back after loanee Jimmy Dunne returned to Burnley, are in the middle of the SPFL’s winter break and their squad will fly to Spain for a five-day training camp today.
Shaughnessy is part of the travelling group and could feature in a friendly against Belgian side Lokeren on Friday.
Bielsa voiced concerns about United’s defending after Sunday’s loss to QPR but is relying on the imminent return from injury of club captain Liam Cooper and the experienced Gaetano Berardi to shore up a backline which has conceded 12 times in five matches.
Leeds are yet to close in on any incoming signings, despite making an approach for Newcastle United goalkeeper Karl Darlow and showing interest in Hoffenheim midfielder Steve Zuber.
Bielsa wants to secure a new keeper in the January window and is also looking for an addition to his midfield after Samuel Saiz’s surprise loan to Getafe.
Hoffenheim are open to offers for Switzerland international Zuber, who has featured sporadically in the Bundesliga this season, but Leeds would prefer a loan deal for Darlow and Newcastle’s £4m valuation of him could force United to chase other options.