Steve Evans has not spoken about relegation for some time, beyond reminding people that he was recruited by Leeds United with the specific aim of avoiding it, and a victory over Bolton Wanderers tomorrow would quell that threat before it gains more traction.
Leeds have the advantage of a nine-point lead over the Championship’s bottom three and a handful of results will take them beyond the threshold of guaranteed survival. What that will mean for Evans is far from certain after the events of this week, but it would avoid unwanted tension during the run-in. It would also ease the pressure on him in the wake of direct criticism from Massimo Cellino.
Evans has been silent ever since he was told by owner Cellino not to speak to the media in the aftermath of Monday’s 4-0 defeat at Brighton. The club’s usual pre-match press conference did not take place yesterday afternoon but Evans was scheduled to stage one at Thorp Arch this morning, four days after leaving The Amex without comment.
United’s head coach was given a plethora of problems by Monday’s rout, a match in which Leeds conceded four times in the space of 20 minutes before half-time. Brighton cut Evans’ defence to pieces and Giuseppe Bellusci is in line to return to the team this weekend having served a two-game suspension.
Stuart Dallas is also likely to be recalled if he recovers from the knock which ruled him out of a bad night in Sussex while Mustapha Carayol should come into contention having emerged from Brighton with as much credit as anyone after appearing as a substitute at the start of the second half.
The priority for Evans, however, is still the return of Chris Wood, a striker who has played only 55 minutes since the end of December. Injuries to a hamstring have been a problem for Wood for the past two months and he last appeared in a short, 19-minute outing during Leeds 1-1 draw at Brentford on January 26.
United went through the January transfer window without signing a new forward and have paid a price for holding back. Lewis Cook’s brilliant, 30-yard finish against Fulham is their only goal in five matches and their only goal since Souleymane Doukara and Toumani Diagouraga knocked Bolton out of the FA Cup in the fourth round on January 30.
Evans’ assertion, alongside recent claims by him that he expected to stay in his job as head coach next season, was that Leeds would throw more money at their squad and plug obvious gaps when the summer transfer window opened.
Cellino, who at stages of this season has hinted at plans to sell United, appeared to confirm yesterday that he will retain control of the club next season, saying the 2016-17 campaign would be “the one in which I will have to manage the club in my own way”.
Cellino is almost two years into his tenure as majority shareholder at Elland Road. Leeds finished 15th in the Championship in his first full season and are presently 18th with 14 games of his second remaining.
In an interview with Tribal Football, Cellino repeated previous remarks made by him about the financial state of the club he inherited, saying that in his first two years he was forced to “dedicate 90 per cent of time, energies and money to consolidate and stabilise a nightmare financial situation”.
Leeds announced last week that losses of £23m in 2013-14 had been cut to £2m during the following financial year. Cellino has faced protests from supporters against his ownership recently, but the former Cagliari president said: “The next season has to be finally the one in which I have to manage the club in my own way.
“In these first two seasons I have had to dedicate 90 per cent of time, energies and money to consolidate and stabilise a nightmare financial situation.
“If I hadn’t done this, I would have behaved in the same way as they (previous owners) did in the past – that means without commitment for the future of the club.
“Of course this attitude doesn’t pay off with the supporters with immediate impact but in my opinion it is the more reasonable and professional way (to run) the club. I have exposed myself to ungrateful and undeserved disapproval but I was fully aware of this.
“But surely the next season will be the one that people can rate my sporting job. And, good or bad, I will accept the rating without excuses.”
Bolton, meanwhile, are fighting desperately to avoid relegation, seven points from safety after failing to win a single away game this season.
The club are in the midst of an attempted takeover involving their former striker, Dean Holdsworth. A buy-out negotiated by the Sports Shield group is awaiting approval from the Football League.