The United head coach is nothing if not confident in his own ability and says if he is given the chance to bring the right players in, he can fashion a side capable of winning promotion. Lee Sobot reports.
STEVE EVANS is fully aware that time is a precious commodity at Leeds United.
A club that has been exiled from the country’s top flight for nearly 12 years has itchy feet, especially its owner.
Evans also knows stats like 12 home goals in 16 league games – a goal every two hours – makes grim reading.
Yet there is no lack of confidence from United’s head coach who still firmly believes he can make Leeds promotion contenders by this time next year.
Furthermore, Evans insists while Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka has had “six transfer windows to build a promotion side”, he will “do it for the Leeds United public in two”.
Leeds welcome Fulham to Elland Road this evening for the first of 15 remaining fixtures of a campaign most can’t wait to see the back of.
The last glimmer of hope in United’s season was ended with Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Watford in the FA Cup fifth round with Leeds now 16 points off the play-offs but 11 points ahead of the division’s relegation zone. Evans is aware that plenty of fans will consider the Elland Road club’s season as over.
Yet United’s head coach says he has strong reason to take another view, especially if he is to fulfil his wish of emulating Boro boss Karanka in one third of time.
Karanka was brought to Middlesbrough in November 2013 and looks well-placed to take the Riversiders back to Premier League some two-and- a-half years later.
Evans, though, knowing that time is ill-afforded to any Leeds head coach, is striving to achieve something similar within one third of that time – and firmly believes that a team who currently have the second worst home goal-scoring record in the entire Football League can be transformed into promotion-pushers next term.
Only Dagenham & Redbridge have scored less goals at home this term – 10 compared to United’s 12 – and the Daggers are odds-on favourites to be relegated to the Conference.
But Evans believes there have been mitigating factors to United’s home goal drought, and still believes United could be on their way back to the Premier under his guidance – if United’s fans continue to give him his chance.
Asked if United’s season was already over ahead of tonight’s home clash with Fulham, Evans told the YEP: “It’s far from over and let me say why I think it’s far from over.
“Aitor Karanka, I think, is a good manager but he has had six windows to build that squad. I’m going to do it for the Leeds United public in two windows.
“But why has the season not finished? Because we are still trying to recruit and we have to make decisions on people now, not when pre-season comes. Too late.
“You don’t build a squad in July and start telling your supporters in the second week in August ‘I’m two players away’. Too late. You have to have your squad in place.
“It’s a big test for us against Fulham but we are at home. We need to score goals to win games, and what’s going to happen between now and the end of the season is people are going to get opportunities and play in the team. They either grab them, or they are just not part of my plan.”
Another part of the Glaswegian’s plan was to recruit strikers in the January transfer window.
Despite having the full £3.7m from the sale of Sam Byram to West Ham to spend, not one forward arrived and Leeds have now gone five hours and 21 minutes without scoring a goal. In league matches at Elland Road this term, United’s 12 goals in 1,440 minutes equates to one every two hours.
But Evans is refusing to panic – insisting his arms and legs have been tied by the continued injury problems of main striker Chris Wood – and confident United can fix their attacking woes in the summer.
“To score goals you need a goalscorer,” said Evans.
“Chris Wood is a goalscorer but he’s been injured eight weeks we have been here. He’s been injured over half of the time. So I’m looking at the rest of the squad and who is going to genuinely get us goals? Not just from the strikers, but from wide positions and from the centre of midfield positions.
“I know what we need to strengthen, I know the type of player and I know the players, but I need to be allowed to build my team and work with them.
“The Leeds United supporters will say ‘well, that won’t happen’ but I’m just saying allow me to get in the type of players that I think we need and I know I will get that support because I have lots of conversations between me and the owner.
“When I get that support, that’s the squad that I will put in place for next season and if I don’t get supported, I will be telling the fans won’t I?
“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do and that means continuing to work hard with what we have got because that’s the minimum you should do.
“And when are talking about building and how we are going to build, it’s fairly obvious that we need to build in attacking areas. That’s not just strikers, that’s offensive wide players and central players as well.”
Wood will again be missing for tonight’s hosting of Fulham – which comes eight days after last Monday’s goalless draw against Middlesbrough which was short on goals but not on entertainment.
Evans reasoned: “I think if we play as good as we did against Middlesbrough we will win the game. People know that we are not blessed with lots of goals but what we are blessed with is opportunities to sign those goalscorers.
“There’s a lot of people who have players tied up with contracts which financially prevents them from doing much in the summer. With the players that we have got out of contract and with the players that won’t be around we will have different options. We have got the funds to invest and it’s my job to invest it in the people that do the business.
“That’s why I am saying I will build a promotion side, that’s just not any question of doubt. I just need the Leeds United supporters to give me that opportunity to show them. They will never regret it.”