LEEDS United chief Marcelo Bielsa is confident his small squad have the ability to cope without star man Kalvin Phillips.

The midfielder, one of the standout performers in the Whites’ Championship promotion push, limped off in the first-half of Leeds’ 1-0 win against Reading on Saturday.

With games coming thick and fast – starting with a trip to Middlesbrough on Wednesday night – United can ill-afford to lose a player of Phillips’ quality for any great length of time.

Immediately after the game, which saw United move five points clear of the chasing pack, Bielsa was unsure about the extent of the problem which forced Phillips off in the 37th minute.

“I think it’s a kick, but I don’t know if this will turn out to be a serious injury or not,” said the Argentinian coach. Phillips managed to join his team-mates on the pitch at the final whistle to take the fans’ plaudits so the initial signs look promising.

Rather than make a straight midfielder-for-midfielder swap from the bench, Bielsa moved his men around like chess pieces. Substitute Gianni Alioski went to left-back, moving Stuart Dallas to the right in place of Luke Ayling who dropped into the back four to release Ben White into Phillips’ position.

“We had to make adjustments when Kalvin Phillips went off in the first half. We moved Ben White into a different role and he held the team together,” said Bielsa, who adopted a similar approach during Phillips’ recent three-match suspension.

“Pablo Hernandez and Mateusz Klich helped play the ball out well and that replaced the ball distribution of Phillips.”

Hernandez netted the only goal after 57 minutes with a smart finish after a rebound fell kindly to him but Leeds should have been out of sight by then. Ayling and Alioski went close before Klich, Helder Costa and Patrick Bamford all had chances as Leeds stepped up the pressure after the break.

With the expectant home crowd becoming increasingly frustrated by their side’s inability to turn possession and pressure into goal, Hernandez’s top-corner strike eased the tension.

Reading had played their part in making the atmosphere uneasy with a positive showing, French teenager Michael Olise, who was only playing because Ovie Ejaria was injured in the warm-up, particularly catching the eye.

The Royals kept themselves in the game and almost snatched a point in stoppage time. Defender Liam Moore joined the attack and forced a crucial save from under-fire goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, whose recent errors have cost Leeds.

Bielsa said: “It was a similar match to what we are used to playing. Generally we created more chances than the opponent, we had more possession than the opponent and today was this situation.

“There was a situation in the last minute for them, the number six became a striker and that created confusion that maybe we could have solved from the bench. This player had a clear chance and it was a very important save by Kiko Casilla.”

The Spaniard’s stop ensured Leeds won back-to-back games for the first time since early December. With other results also going their way, bookies odds that United and leaders West Brom will be in the Premiership next season have shortened.

Reading boss Mark Bowen is in no doubt that Leeds, who blew promotion in 2019/20 after being top for a long period, won’t miss out this time.

He said: “Leeds look strong, they have always looked strong. Leeds produce excellent possession stats each week, they have lost games by errors here and there, but I didn’t see them as a team out of form. They are a well-oiled machine and I am sure they will stay in the top two.”

Phillips, the head stoker in the Leeds engine room, may be missing for the trip to Teesside to take on a Middlesbrough side which has not won since New Year’s Day but Bielsa is confident he has a formula to keep the promotion fires burning.

Leeds United: Casilla, Ayling, White, Cooper, Dallas, Phillips (Alioski 37), Klich, Harrison, Costa, Hernandez (Shackleton 85), Bamford. Subs (not used): Meslier, Casey, Douglas, Roberts, Augustin. Caution: Ayling

Reading: Rafael, Yiadom, Moore, Morrison, Richards, Pele, Rinomhota, Swift (Adam 75), Olise, Meite, Puscas. Subs: Walker, Obita, Baldock, Araruna, Blackett, Osho. Caution: Swift, Meite

Ref: Jarred Gillett. Att: 35,483