Covid-19: Leeds United latest club to fall victim as festive fixtures in chaos
With “five or six” Covid-19 cases amongst players and staff in addition to Diego Llorente, who missed Saturday’s defeat at home to Arsenal with the virus, Leeds have closed their Thorp Arch training ground for two days and been given permission not to play on Sunday.
It is one of a number of games postponed yesterday, further reducing an already depleted fixture list.
Barnsley, both Sheffield clubs, Bradford City and their scheduled visitors Harrogate Town will also have Boxing Day off. Hull City are due to play on but their coach Grant McCann and an unspecified number of players will miss the visit of Blackburn Rovers because they have tested positive.
Bradford’s League Two match at Walsall on December 29 has also been postponed, as has Doncaster Rovers’ League One trip to Cambridge United the following day.
In the case of Leeds, Wednesday and Bradford, the cases are at the Yorkshire clubs rather than the opposition.
The issue is a thorny one because clubs are unable to call matches off if injuries leave their squad light, only Covid-19 cases. Leeds were forced to play without eight injured players against Arsenal, but in the Premier League’s eyes the balance has now been tipped to make their situation unreasonable. They will have to make a separate application if they want Tuesday’s game to be postponed too.
This week the Premier League and Football League decided against calling whole rounds of matches off.
Cases are dealt with on a game-by-game basis but clubs have been told to use a minimum of 14 available players, including a goalkeeper, as a guideline.
Watford called off their match at Wolverhampton Wanderers but Everton have been told to play at Burnley despite claiming only nine senior outfield players can play.
Premier League clubs can name a squad of up to 25 senior players but Leeds deliberately kept theirs to 17, the league’s smallest.
They made great play this week of the fact their entire squad and staff are fully vaccinated, but vaccinations only reduce the risk of contracting the virus and mitigate its effects, rather than eliminate it. Those who have tested positive are all asymptomatic.
Wednesday manager Darren Moore, who contracted a particularly unpleasant bout this year, told his club’s fans: “Football cannot escape the situation we are in and everyone’s health is paramount so we have to deal with it and prepare for the next time we play, which right now is Sunderland for a game that wouldn’t be out of place in the Premier League.”
McCann tested positive on Wednesday, and his assistant Cliff Byrne will take the Hull team on Sunday.
“He’s not massively under the weather but he’s got to follow the protocols,” said Byrne who, like McCann, is double-jabbed.
“The manager will be in charge and I’ll be delivering the instructions as we would any other week, it’s just he’s not going to be stood on the touchline. It will be no different to me, but hugely different for the manager sat at home.
“We’ve not quite discussed (the logistics) but I generally have an earpiece anyway because I’m connected to one of the staff members upstairs.
“We’ve not planned for this. From a coach’s point of view it sets you different challenges and tests you as a person.”
Byrne expects Hull’s game to go ahead but did warn: “We’ve had some cases across the playing and non-playing staff. It’s an ever-changing situation.”