MARIUS Zaliukas gave Leeds United a pre-transfer window boost last night by signing a new deal just two months after joining the Elland Road club.
Zaliukas agreed terms on an improved contract to the end of the 2014-15 season as Leeds moved to secure him in the hours before the beginning of January.
The Lithuanian international was tied down for the rest of this term by the deal he negotiated with Leeds in October but 10 appearances and eight league starts in the centre of defence have earned him a swift extension.
Zaliukas was a free agent throughout the early stages of the season having parted company with Scottish club Heart of Midlothian in May.
The 30-year-old rejected contract offers from Rangers and Queens Park Rangers and signed for Leeds in the last week of October after a short trial at Thorp Arch.
He has been a regular and impressive presence in United’s backline since making his full debut at home to Middlesbrough on November 23 and manager Brian McDermott said: “When he first came in he signed short term, but he’s done very well and he’s fitted in with the group. It’s great news.”
McDermott is already involved in transfer negotiations with the January window now open but he sent his squad into the New Year with a plea for several of them to “step up to the mark” and give the club fresh impetus in the second half of the season.
United reached the end of 2013 within touching distance of the Championship’s play-off positions, but McDermott’s satisfaction with the first half of the term was tempered by defeat at Nottingham Forest on Sunday, a result which sharpened his focus on the transfer market.
The Leeds boss wants his board to fund the arrival of four new players and has already opened negotiations with a number of them.
One target effectively ruled out a move to Elland Road by telling McDermott that he plans to join a Premier League side this month, but talks with another unnamed player are ongoing.
McDermott, who has been credited with a strong interest in Hull City winger Cameron Stewart, is beginning his recruitment drive ahead of a takeover of Leeds by club managing director David Haigh.
The impending buy-out of United owner GFH Capital – a deal which is still awaiting Football League approval – carries the promise of improved financial support for McDermott.
The 52-year-old spoke openly about the necessity of new signings after Sunday’s clash with Forest, saying a top-six finish would be a “tall order” without additions to his squad.
But he will be looking for his present squad to raise their performance levels and replicate the impact of 18-goal top-scorer Ross McCormack.
“We want one, two, three or however many players – maybe even just one – to step up to the mark,” McDermott said.
“Look at Ross. He is doing that.
“We need the players here to step up and say ‘let’s take the game by the scruff of the neck.’
“Because with 23 games to go we want this to be a season the supporters will really remember.”
McDermott rallied behind his players after a disappointing run of two draws and a defeat over Christmas, saying the improvements in his eight months as manager had been “vast”, but his appreciation of their effort has not swayed him from asking his board for support in the transfer market.
Stewart is thought to be among his list of targets with the former Manchester United winger out of contract at Hull this summer and unlikely to be offered an chance to extend his stay there in the top-flight.
Charlton Athletic took Stewart on loan from the KC Stadium in September and are keen to keep him, but the London club could be priced out of a fresh deal.
The 22-year-old has played against Leeds this season, scoring a spectacular volley during United’s 4-2 win at The Valley in November.
McDermott, whose side welcome Blackburn Rovers to Elland Road this afternoon, is currently chasing several deals and he recalled the difference made to Reading’s championship-winning season in 2011-12 by the January arrival of Jason Roberts, a transfer completed at a time when Reading were inside the play-off zone.
The squad went on to mount an impressive run to the title in McDermott’s second full term as manager.
“We were on a good run and Jason Roberts came in,” he said.
“I did feel then that what we really needed a figurehead player.
“We had a really good bunch but Jason came into the dressing room and gave off an air of real presence.
“It was just what we needed. He did a really good job for me, but, to be fair, so did the whole team.”