Leeds United manager Simon Grayson was running his eye over a full squad for the first time in almost a fortnight today, with doubts persisting over the fitness of captain Jonathan Howson.United’s preparation for their vital Championship clash with Nottingham Forest began in earnest this morning following the return to Thorp Arch of the players released for international duty.Neil Kilkenny, Eric Lichaj and Max Gradel were due to report back today, in time to make themselves available for the visit of Forest to Elland Road on Saturday, but Leeds were continuing to assess the hamstring strain which forced Howson to drop out of England’s Under-21 squad last week.The 22-year-old was called up for games against Denmark and Iceland having initially been placed on stand-by, but an injury sustained in Leeds’ 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United prevented his inclusion.Howson is the only ever-present in Grayson’s squad having appeared in all 42 of Leeds’ competitive fixtures this season, and United’s manager is hopeful that his current skipper will be available to feature in Saturday’s televised play-off battle with Forest.
Grayson’s international contingent appear to have returned to England unscathed, with Kilkenny and Gradel sitting as unused substitutes through matches involving Australia and the Ivory Coast respectively and Lichaj completing the final half-hour of the USA’s 1-0 loss against Paraguay. But Leeds chairman Ken Bates has voiced criticism of the arrangement of a spate of friendlies so close to the end of the domestic season.
Bates said: “They’re all bloody meaningless. As we’ve seen on TV, a few players have come back injured and it’s damaged their respective clubs’ run-ins to the end of the season. Most of these friendlies are useless and for making money.”
Grayson will be without Billy Paynter on Saturday as the striker begins a three-match suspension, but Patrick Kisnorbo is the only other senior professional certain to miss the meeting with Forest.
Leeds were expecting ticket sales for the game to pass 30,000 today, the sixth time this season that the attendance at Elland Road has exceeded that figure