Leeds boss Terry Venables is ready to throw his youngsters into the lion’s den with his first team squad savaged by the loss of several star names.
Venables today flew out to Florence for the second leg of the UEFA Cup second round tie against Hapoel Tel-Aviv with a threadbare squad, and a team which picks itself.
Striker Mark Viduka is out after becoming a father for the first time earlier this week, while right-back Danny Mills, who missed Sunday’s 4-3 win at West Ham, is again sidelined due to what the club have described as “family problems”.
A groin injury means centre-back Jonathan Woodgate misses a second successive game, and with utility defender Teddy Lucic ineligible after playing in the qualifying round with AIK Solna, Venables is struggling defensively.
With Dominic Matteo, Olivier Dacourt, Robbie Fowler and Seth Johnson injured, and with Paul Okon and David Batty left at home, Venables has included Frazer Richardson, Jamie McMaster, Matthew Kilgallon and Jacob Burns in the squad.
All four will be on the bench at the Artemio Franchi stadium, where Leeds defend a 1-0 lead against the Israeli side, and could yet be forced into the action if Venables suffers further problems.
But the former England boss will have no qualms about sending them into battle if required as he said: “When is there an ideal time to blood youngsters?
“If you’re playing really well and everyone is fit they don’t get a chance, and if there are injuries and there are people out, they get the chance but it’s not an ideal situation it seems.
“But if they’re good enough then they will come through it. James Milner came on (in the win at West Ham) on Sunday, which was a great fillip for him and all the other youngsters who know they will get a chance if the opportunity arises.
“Now I’ve got problems for this game. There’s no Viduka, Danny Mills is still away, while Woodgate has not made it into the party because he is still injured. Lucic is not available either, which is not helpful.
“There’s not a lot to choose from, but that’s what the other players are there for and it gives them opportunities. Maybe we can see the benefit of that, and I think we will.
“It certainly gives a chance to the young players to show they can come and do it.”
The only pleasing note for Venables is the return of Alan Smith after a two-match absence, initially with an ankle problem and then through suspension.
Venables is certainly banking on his side scoring against Hapoel for he knows they are a danger, even away from Tel Aviv, with Florence serving as a neutral venue due to safety and security concerns in Israel.
“It makes no difference this game being home or away,” added Venables.
“We’re in a situation where we’ve got to score one which means them having to score three, while at the same time we have to defend well. So there’s always the balance of trying to get it right.
“But I was impressed by Tel-Aviv in the first leg. I wasn’t surprised by the amount of problems they caused – and I’m sure they will again – not when you look at their track record.
“They beat Chelsea and Parma last season. They’ve a few scalps, but let’s hope we can take one of our own.”