STEVE EVANS is celebrating a new signing from within Thorp Arch following the completion of Gaetano Berardi’s two-match ban.
The head coach says the full-back is not guaranteed to start at Charlton tomorrow but has admitted: “The respect he has in the dressing room is huge.”
Berardi was sent off for reacting angrily to Leon Best’s crude elbow challenge in last month’s home defeat to Rotherham United with the full-back raising his hands to push his opposite number and subsequently red carded along with Best.
The Swiss star was initially handed a three-match ban, reduced to two games on appeal with Berardi forced to miss recent clashes with QPR and Hull.
United’s successful appeal means the defender is now available for Saturday’s trip to The Valley and whether he starts or otherwise, there is no hiding Evans’ satisfaction at having the 27-year-old back in the camp.
“When I first came in I got my words mixed up or people wrote them wrong when I said I didn’t think he was any good,” said Evans. “I just said I didn’t know how good the kid was to be fair. The respect he has in the dressing room is huge and that’s because he is a real competitor.
“Very often in training we do two v twos, three v threes, one v ones and no one wants to go against Berardi. He’s got that real pride about his performances and he’s very much like a new signing to the group.
“I know that sounds silly after a couple of games but it’s like a new signing when you come off the back of a win against Hull.”
Last weekend’s victory against the Tigers means United are looking to seal their fourth triumph from their last six games at Charlton with Berardi only available after Leeds’ successful appeal into his ban which was reduced from three games to two.
Evans, though, feels the defender was unlucky not to have his punishment reduced to a one-game ban. Evans reasoned: “The following day I spoke to people at the FA who guide you through these matters and I think we were even disappointed on appeal that it didn’t get reduced to one. They took one off but I think to be fair to Berra he took a long time to get off the pitch and if he’d gone straight off it might have been one game! But he seemed to hang around and contest it but we are just delighted to have him back available.
“We don’t condone him getting up and adopting an aggressive attitude but if ever there was mitigation, there was mitigation there.
“But we still want to them to conduct themselves where if they get smashed like that we need to take it and let the referee sort it out.
“I think all defenders and all players in football get an elbow from time to time but it really was a nasty challenge but the good thing is that he’s come through that and he’s had challenges but probably not as blatant as he felt that one was.
“But he’s been working very hard for two weeks and gone are the days at Thorp Arch when you have a suspension and you go out for two or three weeks and you go out of the door at lunch time.
“He’s been working so hard.”
The full-back is now pushing hard to slot straight back into United’s side – but Evans refused to confirm if Berardi would start at Charlton. Scott Wootton has completed United’s last two games at right back with a fit again Charlie Taylor excelling as normal on the opposite flank.
Evans insisted: “There’s no definites that anyone will start.
“There’s no guarantees in the dressing room, there’s probably three or four that you think did that well against Hull that they have the right to start.
“We do say if you do play the way you can play and you play at the top of your game you will start the next one but there’s certainly no guarantees.”