ESSEX Leopards will be without their coach Robert Youngblood when they meet Leeds Carnegie in the play-off semi-final in Manchester on Saturday.

The Big Cats’ play-caller has received a one game ban after being ejected in the victory against Team Northumbria in late March.

That means assistant coach Roger Malpass will take charge of the team as they attempt to win their fifth piece of silverware in five seasons.

But Leopards are disappointed to be without Youngblood.

“It’s massively frustrating we won’t have Robert when England Basketball have basically admitted he should never have been thrown out against Northumbria,” said general manager Dave Ryan.

“Robert was moaning to Roger about our lack of defence and the ref thought he was having a go at him.

“The ejection at Leeds in January has come back to haunt us and to go into such an important game without our coach is a real blow.

“On the positive side, we did get the ban reduced from two to one game, so he’s available on Sunday if we get to the final.

“Roger’s a decent coach as well, the guys should know all the plays by now, and we go into the game with 13 wins from our last 14 games, so we’re certainly in good form.”

Leeds finished sixth in the table, which many people viewed as an underachievement, and produced the only away victory in the quarter-finals by hammering Hemel Storm 85-60.

A controversial last few seconds saw Leopards go down 64-61 when the sides met in Leeds, but they gained revenge in the return at the Brentwood Centre with a 77-70 victory.

It will be the fourth straight season the Big Cats have reached the Final Fours – winning it in 2012 – and they are the only team to be ever-present during that period.