Leeds United prepare to kick off the new season against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium tomorrow without three of their most influential players.

Last season's leading scorer Jimmy Flloyd-Hasselbaink and Norwegian midfield ace Gunnar Halle are both suspended while Republic of Ireland full back Gary Kelly is ruled out through injury.

Kelly has problems with his shin and manager George Graham says: "He is going to need two or three weeks rest. Hopefully that will solve the problem."

Losing Kelly is a blow but it is the absence of the flamboyant Hasselbaink which could be most keenly felt.

He brought a cutting edge to the attack last season and his power will not be easily replaced.

Kelly's fellow countryman Alan Maybury is also out with shin problems while former Rangers left back David Robertson is sidelined with knee trouble and Mark Jackson is also suspended.

But better news is that Bruno Ribeiro has recovered from a knee injury which caused him to miss last Sunday's pre-season defeat against German side Wolfsburg.

Graham, who is believed to be tracking a couple of new players to bolster his squad, is expected to give debuts to his two summer captures Clyde Wijnhard and Danny Granville.

Striker Wijnhard was signed for £1.5m from the Dutch club Willem II while left back Granville was recruited from Premiership rivals Chelsea for £1.6m.

Middlesbrough boss Bryan Robson will make a late decision on whether Paul Gascoigne can make his Premiership debut for the club after a summer of controversy that was dragged into the spotlight again in recent days by England coach Glenn Hoddle.

A muscle injury is threatening Gazza's comeback, while Marco Branca is out with a knee injury, and strike partner Alun Armstrong won't play until the New Year with Achilles trouble.

Middlesbrough will be boosted by the return of their former defender Gary Pallister from Manchester United and Dean Gordon a £900,000 buy from Crystal Palace.

Robson said: "Things are far from ideal, but my players are raring to go after their promotion. They want to prove themselves in the top flight."

Meanwhile Paul Merson, who figured in England's World Cup squad, has been boosted by the news that the threat of suspension for his sending off in a pre-season friendly has diminished.

Merson faced the prospect of a three-match ban after being dismissed in Holland last week but the Football Association have yet to receive a copy of the referee's report.

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