WANDERERS were left cursing their Championship injury luck once again after losing four key players to the treatment table.

Already missing Sammy Ameobi with a knee problem and captain Darren Pratley with illness, Phil Parkinson watched David Wheater succumb to a back strain then key midfielder Josh Vela stretchered off and taken to hospital with a suspected fractured shin.

No one expected the welcome mat to be rolled out on their return to the second tier – but this was tough luck, even by their standards.

Leeds just about did enough to give themselves a winning start, even though they were left hanging on at the end.

Kalvin Phillips scored either side of a Chris Wood header to give the Elland Road men a comfortable 3-1 lead at the break.

Wanderers, who had briefly brought themselves back into it through Gary Madine, halved the deficit again with Adam Le Fondre’s penalty. But as the injuries kicked in, their chances of pulling off an unlikely point lessened.

A ball hadn’t even been kicked before Wanderers had their first two casualties of the new season.

Ameobi’s knee injury was confirmed by the club mid-morning – the winger missing six weeks of action – while the absence of Pratley on the team-sheet was put down to a virus.

That meant full debuts for West Ham loanee Josh Cullen and Stephen Darby plus first appearances for Will Buckley, Antonee Robinson, Aaron Wilbraham, Adam Armstrong and Reece Burke on the bench.

The Macron pitch visibly narrower than it was last season, it was clear Parkinson wanted to test the visitors’ aerial resolve.

A spanner was thrown in the works after just seven minutes, however, as Leeds took the lead in surreal circumstances.

A round of applause had swept around the stadium for Bradley Lowery, the young Sunderland fan who passed away recently, at which point Pablo Hernandez won a corner on the right.

Whether distracted, or just downright sloppy, the Whites failed to pick up at the set piece and Spaniard Hernandez was able to pick out Phillips to sweep home the opening goal with comparative ease.

Welcome to the Championship, indeed.

To give Wanderers due credit they did not fold after the early setback. The excellent Madine offered a reliable platform up top and won just about everything aimed in his direction. Likewise, Le Fondre buzzed around him, hoping for something to drop.

There were crowd-pleasing challenges from Mark Beevers, Vela and Jem Karacan and no shortage of passion from the home support.

This was a reminder something more will be needed if the Whites are going to avoid the season of struggle so many are predicting.

Former Swansea midfielder Hernandez proved an elusive customer, popping up in pockets of space which made him difficult to track. Wanderers’ own midfield was rather bypassed for much of the first half as the direct football continued to keep things interesting.

Beevers went close with a header, cleared on the post by Wood, and Le Fondre tested keeper Felix Wiedwald with a low effort.

Wanderers were, in fact, enjoying their best spell of prolonged pressure when Kemar Roofe went on a surging run to the byline past Andy Taylor, hooking a cross to the far post for Ezgjan Alioski to nod back and Wood to plunder home for the second.

You worried for Parkinson’s men at that point but an injury to Gaetano Beradi then took some of the wind out of Leeds sails and enabled them to get another foothold in the game.

It just had to be Madine – steamrolling Matthew Pennington on the goal-line to head home Josh Vela’s corner and halve the deficit.

The big striker grabbed the ball out of the back of the net and ran back with purpose to the half way line, cheered on by an expectant crowd. The celebrations had barely finished by the time Hernandez picked out Wood – who appeared to be in an offside position – and the New Zealander squared for Phillips to stab in his second, and Leeds’ third.

Replays showed, however, debutant Darby had strayed from the defensive line and played Wood onside.

Wanderers refused to give the game up without a fight and though their efforts were ultimately fruitless, they did emerge from the second half with a moral victory, of sorts.

Le Fondre restored some hope with a penalty, given after Conor Shaughnessy dragged down Madine at a corner. It was the striker’s fourth goal in seven appearances against Leeds and set the pulses racing for an unlikely comeback.

Hernandez very nearly made it four seconds later, rattling the crossbar from the edge of the box. It proved the only chance of note Leeds created for the rest of the half.

David Wheater limped off on the hour, replaced by Reece Burke. And when Parkinson sent on Armstrong and Buckley for their debut, there was an element of enterprise and pace which bodes well for the future.

Vela’s injury cast a dark cloud on the evening and one can only hope the young midfielder – who left the field on a stretcher with his right leg in a brace – has a better prognosis than first appeared.

No one in the Championship feels injuries quite as acutely as the embargo-afflicted Whites, and Parkinson’s look of disbelief said it all as his side fought out the remaining few minutes with 10 men.

The harsh reality of life back in the second tier, perhaps, but hopefully not a sign of what is yet to come.