Whatever you think of Steve Evans, you have to see his performance in a fair light. In order to judge him as head coach you have to look at the job he’s done in a realistic context.
Put it this way – if anyone tried to tell me that this Leeds United squad could have made the play-offs, I’d tell them they’re mad. When Steve came in he inherited a very ordinary group of players who looked far more likely to get relegated than go up from the Championship. I’m sorry if that upsets anyone but it’s the truth.
When the end of the season arrives, the club will be safe. We’re not mathematically there as yet but there’s virtually no chance of us getting sucked in at the bottom. In that respect Steve has done what was expected of him. He’s achieved what most coaches would have achieved with this squad by keeping us up. Asking for more than that was pretty unrealistic.
Steve probably feels that he’s done a decent job and I wouldn’t deny that he has. I give him credit for the games we’ve won, just as he has to take criticism for some of our defeats, and in terms of the target he was set when he first arrived, he’s ticked the box.
That begs the question of what the club should do with him ahead of next season.
I’m pleased that the decision is down to the hierarchy at Elland Road, rather than me, because I’m really not sure.
That’s not to belittle what Steve has done. I simply feel that it’s a massive call. For all that he’s had purple patches and good spells of form, I’m still not sure that some of the supporters have totally accepted him. It feels as if there are some who’ve found him hard to accept from day one, whatever their reasons. That’s a bit of a concern.
Leeds United are a big club, a big club historically, and that brings with it certain expectations.
It brings expectations with regards to profile and recruitment and while Steve has done really well as a coach at a lower level, he’d probably accept himself that at Elland Road he doesn’t class as a ‘big name’.
Should we be looking for a big name or be expecting a big name? It’s an interesting debate. In the cold light of day, for all our history and all our previous successes we’re 13th in the Championship. We’ve been in that sort of position for several years and we’ve not been in the Premier League for 12. The argument about potential and so on has been made endlessly but it’s a long time since we realised it. So I think a bit of perspective is necessary. The club have to take their own view on this and that goes for the players as well as the head coach. Who is good enough and who needs to go? I’m sorry to say that when a team plays like they did against Huddersfield Town on Saturday, they’re not going to win much approval – with the owner or with the crowd.
It’s hugely frustrating to see 29,000 come through the gates and Leeds to play like that. There are two types of players – those who thrive in front of a big crowd and those who freeze. We seem to have too many who fall into the second group. It’s fine to say that Leeds were on top until Huddersfield equalised just before half-time but had Huddersfield tucked away their early penalty, I think it would have been a much longer and harder afternoon.
To me, they looked like they wanted it more. They looked like they had more about them. In my opinion, a lot of our players look like they’re doing just enough. They look like players who realise the season is basically over, that the summer could bring major changes at Elland Road and that this might not be the time to take risks.
To an extent I can understand that because they’ve all got families and commitments, they’ve all got to think about their futures, but it’s unacceptable in front of 30,000 to go out there and fail to put a show on.
You have to question whether some of these players are up to the pressure of that situation. Maybe it’s a lesson that has to be learned as we head towards the summer transfer window.
One of the big signings last summer was Joey Barton who was available on a free and went to Burnley in the end. He’s been outstanding for them and no wonder. He’s a quality, experienced, strong-willed footballer who dropped down a level by coming into the Championship. Nothing in this league was going to intimidate him. It’s meat and drink to him.
It’s a bit like when I came back to Leeds from Canada in the early 1980s. I went into the second division and, to be honest, I found it a doddle. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. That’s because I was used to playing in better leagues, against better players, and the idea of turning out at Elland Road was no problem at all.
I’m not saying we were a great Leeds side because at that time we weren’t but I did feel able to help the younger lads around me.
Who now is able to help young Lewis Cook? Or Alex Mowatt? Who is able to lift the pressure from them and keep them right when the heat’s on?
I’m tempted to say no-one and that was very apparent on a day like Saturday.
A friend of mine was down from Scotland for the game, the first time he’d seen Leeds in a while. At full-time he said to me ‘how the hell did this team win three in a row?’. The Championship can be like that and, in fairness, we’ve played much better than that recently. But the more the old problems resurface, the more you have to pay attention to them. Whether or not we need a new head coach, I’ll leave that decision to others. But we need something.