Leeds United: Evans is hopeful Antenucci will stay

Mirco Antenucci in action.

Mirco Antenucci in action.

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Steve Evans insisted last night that he wanted to keep Mirco Antenucci at Elland Road with Serie B club Ascoli pushing to take the striker back to Italy before the end of the January window.

Evans has promised Antenucci a part to play in the second half of Leeds United’s season but the club’s head coach conceded that a dwindling contract might encourage the forward to look for opportunities elsewhere.

The 31-year-old is six months away from the end of his deal at Elland Road and Leeds’ reluctance to open talks about an extension have alerted Italian clubs to his potential availability. Ascoli are the most seriously interested and hope to land the 31-year-old in the remainder of the current window.

Antenucci, whose partner was expecting their second child this month, is understood to be keen on moving back to Italy with his future in England the subject of increasing doubt.

The former Torino player –signed on a two-year deal from Ternana in the summer of 2014 – has scored five times this season but lost his starting place last month after Evans adopted a formation with the a lone striker up front.

United have so far refused to enter contract talks on account of Antenucci’s age.

Evans said: “I like Antenucci and I can’t hide that fact. I’d like to keep him and I’ve told (Massimo) Cellino that. We need strengthening in that area. We don’t want to get weaker.

“Mirco’s a top-class professional but at the same time I do understand his personal circumstances and I know the situation with his contract. Only the president can decide if Mirco is going to get a new one.

“Because of Mirco’s age, as a club we have to ask whether the package he’d would be looking for is value for money from our point of view. We have to ask if that’s the right use of money. From my point of view, what I need to see as a coach is Mirco playing well and scoring goals.”

Antenucci will be involved in tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Wednesday and Evans has a decision to make about his attack with Chris Wood’s fitness still in doubt. Wood has missed the past three games with a hamstring strain and Evans said United’s medical staff would assess him again this morning before making a decision on his availability for Hillsborough.

Souleymane Doukara has started the previous two fixtures and scored in both – including a strike after just 13 seconds against Ipswich Town on Tuesday – but Leeds struggled to create chances at Portman Road and Evans conceded that a “bright performance for 20 minutes” had been followed by a period in which United were “average to poor”.

Both of Ipswich’s came via crosses from left winger Ryan Fraser but Evans spoke out in defence of Scott Wootton, a defender he has used at right-back in the absence of the injured Gaetano Berardi.

Berardi will be absent with ankle ligament damage until the middle of next month and Evans is favouring Wootton at right-back to youngsters Sam Byram and Lewis Coyle.

Evans said: “A lot of the criticism I hear of Scott is unfair. I know what we see in training and in the games and I’m not going allow myself to pick a team based on the fact that some people are criticising an individual player. I’m not saying Scott hasn’t made the odd mistake but as a coaching staff we see good defensive qualities in Scott. I’ll pick the team I think is right, not a team I think is popular.”