FRINGE players at injury-hit Leeds United may well be called upon for tonight’s Carabao Cup third round trip to Fulham.

The Whites’ centre-back woes increased in their 1-1 Premiership draw at Newcastle on Friday evening when Luke Ayling joined Diego Llorente and Robin Koch in the treatment room while Pascal Struijk will sit out the second game of his suspension at Craven Cottage.

There may also be absentees on the flanks against the London side whose Championship title aspirations took a knock with a 2-1 home defeat against Reading on Saturday.

“We have four centre-backs and Ayling is number five,” said Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa.

“If we have to resolve the absence of four of them then it is going to be complicated. The same in the position of the wingers. We count on (Dan) James, (Jack) Harrison, Raphinha and (Crysencio) Summerville. To lose two of them would also make it very difficult to resolve.

But, added the Argentine: “I always have confidence that in the end solutions appear.”

None of the injured defensive trio are expected to recover in time to face Fulham. One option would be to drop Kalvin Phillips back alongside skipper Liam Cooper but leaves a big hole in front of the defence to fill.

Another alternative would be to play Charlie Cresswell, who was recently called into the England Under-21 squad and was among a string of teenagers on the bench at St James’ Park. Cresswell, son of former York City forward Richard, made his only Leeds appearance in the Carabao Cup a year ago when the Whites were knocked out on penalties by Hull City at Elland Road.

After testing positive for Covid-19, Harrison was not able to travel to Tyneside, where the Leeds substitutes had an average age of 19.

One of those teens, Summerville, came on for his debut. The man he replaced, Raphinha, who came off with a hip injury, had given Leeds a 13th-minute lead but may not be risked at Fulham so Summerville could be in line for his full debut.

Leeds were controlling possession and had strong penalty claims rejected by referee Mike Dean after a challenge on the otherwise ineffective James, who was making his first start in a Leeds shirt. The visitors failed to take several chances before Newcastle started to get at the Leeds defence through the electrifying pace and skill of Allan Saint-Maximim.

After Matt Ritchie struck a post, the ever-dangerous Saint-Maximim scored a superb solo goal on 44 minutes. Even then Leeds should have regained the lead before the interval when Raphinha and Junior Firpo missed great opportunities.

It was a breathless spectacle with the second-half more even but both sides were unable to find a winner and find themselves still without a victory after five matches.

“It was a game we should have won, according to what happened in the game,” said Bielsa.

“We had a lot of opportunities to score and there were also a lot of options that didn’t end up in danger but it would have been easy for them to be converted into danger.

“It was true the opponent also had chances. Less than us and within a transmit that was different. We dominated the game and they counter attacked. I also would have hoped we would have reduced the amount of chances the opponent created, that would have established a bigger margin between the two teams.”

Given their limited resources, it was a reasonable point for Leeds, but returned to Yorkshire feeling they let Newcastle off the hook in the first half.

Newcastle: Darlow, Clark, Lascelles, Hayden, Manquillo (Krafth 81), Ritchie, Willock, Longstaff,  Almiron (Fraser 62), Saint-Maximin, Joelinton (Murphy 90). Subs (not used): Gillespie, Schar, Lewis, Hendrick, Fernandez, Gayle. Cautions: Ritchie, Almiron 

Leeds: Meslier, Dallas, Ayling (Shackleton 89), Cooper, Firpo, Phillips, Klich, Rodrigo, Raphinha (Summerville 67), James (Roberts 61), Bamford.  Subs (not used): Klaesson, Cresswell, McKinstry, Greenwood, McCarron, Kenneh. Cautions: Rodrigo, Firpo.

Referee: Mike Dean. Att: 50,407