Recent recruit Toumani Diagouraga is in this business to win football matches and the former Brentford fans’ favourite believes Leeds United have the makings of a squad to do just that. Phil Hay reports.
According to Toumani Diagouraga, consistency is king in the Football League; Leeds United’s new signing would know.
In five-and-a-half years as a Brentford player he appeared twice in the play-offs and won automatic promotion with a squad that lost eight of their 46 games.
Leeds United, under Steve Evans’ management, are establishing some consistency of their own.
The club’s 1-1 draw at Brentford on Tuesday strengthened a record showing five losses from 19 matches since Evans replaced Uwe Rosler as head coach in October.
In their last 12 games, United have been beaten twice; once by an injury-time goal at Ipswich Town.
Their steady form is unlikely to open the door to the Championship’s top six with the season so advanced.
But Diagouraga, who joined Leeds from Brentford in a £575,000 transfer on Monday and made what he called a “very strange” debut at Griffin Park, is clear that the knack of averting defeat as United did with a Mustapha Carayol goal in London is the first step towards reaching the play-offs.
“Consistency is important because the Championship is a very tough league,” he said.
“And when you do get to the play-offs it gives you the best chance to win them, which is not easy.
“My aim at Leeds is for us to push on – to start winning a lot of games this season, win as many as possible, and then next year try and push to get into the top six.
“All around the pitch there is a lot of quality. This is a quality squad. I’m sure it can push on.”
Diagouraga played more than 200 times for Brentford and was under contract there until 2017, but it became clear this month that the Frenchman wanted a fresh start.
Scottish club Rangers made several attempts to sign him but failed to meet Brentford’s valuation and were unable to intervene when Leeds agreed a fee last Thursday.
Brentford’s manager, Dean Smith, expected Evans to start Diagouraga on Tuesday but Evans took the decision to name him on the bench.
The Leeds boss fielded two strikers, but conceded later that his formation had contributed to a poor first half in which Brentford’s Sam Saunders opened the scoring.
Diagouraga took the field on the hour and helped United eek out a point when Carayol found the net with a curling strike on 84 minutes.
Evans conceded afterwards that he “got our shape wrong” but Diagouraga said the decision to name him as a substitute made sense.
“I trained (on Monday) for the first time so I think it was probably wise and better for me to come off the bench,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter about me coming on as long as we get points on the board.
“A draw was probably the best result and a fair result. They edged the first half but we got back into it in the second half.
“Brentford are a good team and they’re going to be up there at the end of the season.
“I think you’ve seen that we can match them.
“I’d been here for six years so to play against Brentford was a strange feeling. It was very strange.
“I’m glad we have got a point. Now I can look forward to the next game.”
Diagouraga was given a warm ovation by the crowd at Griffin Park when he stepped off the bench, fans showing appreciation for his contribution in London.
The 28-year-old was Brentford’s player-of-the-year for 2014-15, a prize he took amid much competition after the club’s run to the play-offs last season.
Evans was impressed with his initial impact, saying: “He went in there and immediately gave us some control in the centre of the park, which isn’t to say we weren’t already dominating the second half.
“Very quickly, him and (Liam) Bridcutt were on the same wavelength, as was Lewis Cook.
“He was outstanding in the way he did the simple things.”
On the back of Tuesday’s draw, Leeds remain lodged in mid-table, 10 points behind the play-offs and below several sides with a game in hand.
They are comfortably clear of the relegation places.
And their position in the table has focused attention on Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at Bolton Wanderers. Leeds last reached round five in 2013 while Neil Warnock was manager of the club.
Evans said: “I still feel we’ve got league points to play for, a lot of points to play for.
“And there are lots of clubs who have to look after themselves when we break for the FA Cup this weekend.
“We’ve seen how this league can chop and change.
“But our focus now is on one thing. “There’s no point in me dressing it up any other way.
“The FA Cup is a magical competition that I’ve done reasonably well in. I’d love to do that here.”
Diagouraga also refused to say that United’s pursuit of sixth place was over with Leeds due to contest their 30th league game next weekend. “I don’t know,” he said. “The Championship is a very strange league.
“If you can put a string of performances together and get a few points, all of a sudden you might have an outside chance.
“You just have to concentrate on winning games and see where that takes you.”