Leeds United: Quartet are key to Whites fortunes

Michael Tonge.
Michael Tonge.
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Reassured though he was to see Leeds United turn the corner with two wins in four days, it occurred to Neil Warnock that four of the players responsible for those wins might not be his this time next month.

When January comes, the plan in the mind of United’s manager is to reinforce his squad with external signings using funds from new owners GFH Capital, but he will devote himself in the next four weeks to making sure his squad as it stands remains intact.

Leeds emerged from a prolonged loss of form last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace and heightened their bounce by beating Leicester City at Elland Road on Tuesday night.

Warnock described the performance against Palace as “our best of the season by a mile” and was similarly enamoured by his team’s resurgence against Leicester but a line-up built on three emergency loans and one short-term contract is one that United’s boss knows he cannot yet rely on.

Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate made their debuts in the defeat of Palace, two days after moving to Leeds from West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City respectively.

They joined a third loanee, Michael Tonge, in a side which had previously failed to win in seven Championship matches.

United have signed Thomas and Tate until January 1, allowing them to play in every league fixture up to and including the New Year’s Day fixture at home to Bolton Wanderers.

Thomas is also eligible for Leeds’ Capital One Cup tie against home to Chelsea on December 19, a match for which Tate is cup-tied.

Tonge, meanwhile, is due to return to Stoke City in the week before Christmas, three months after coming to Elland Road.

Warnock has made no secret of his interest in signing the midfielder permanently and he admitted today that Thomas and Tate would also be in his plans if their first two performances are replicated in the weeks leading up to the turn of the year.

Stoke are expected to encourage offers for Tonge, who has barely played in four-and-a-half years with the club and is out of contract next summer, but Warnock is yet to enquire about the availability of Thomas or Tate.

“I’ve not idea about that and I’ve not even asked,” he said. “I was just so delighted on deadline day to get those signings over the line.”

On top of those issues, Warnock is also waiting to see if Leeds can succeed in coaxing El-Hadji Diouf into signing a new contract.

Diouf’s short-term deal will expire next month and Warnock is no more enthusiastic about the threat of losing him than he is the prospect of four players departing in the space of a fortnight around the turn of the year.

“We’ve got things developing at the moment,” Warnock said.

“Michael Tonge’s loan finishes after the cup game against Chelsea and we’ve got Diouf’s contract to sort out too. We’ve also got the two new lads whose loans end on January 1.

“You talk about where were going to go (in the Championship) but if we don’t get any of those four players tied down then there’s probably only one way we’ll go.

“There’s so much that needs to happen in the next few weeks.”

Thomas has the look of a player who is surplus to requirements at West Brom but the talented winger – a former England Under-21 international – has been a victim of circumstance at The Hawthorns, sidelined by injury and Albion’s creditable Premier League results.

His appearances against Palace and Leicester were his first of the season and his first since May, and Thomas’ impressive contribution was ended prematurely on both occasions by an inevitable lack of match fitness. Centre-back Tate has played four times for Swansea this season but not since September.

“They both need games at this level,” Warnock said. “They haven’t played and you can see that, especially with Jerome.

“It’s hard when you’ve not had a game since April to come into the Championship and sustain the right level of performance and fitness. Tate’s the same.

“Even he says he feels himself getting better with each game.

“He’s a leader and everyone knows that I like leaders. He’s a Clint Hill-type of player which I always think you need at a club. You can see what Jerome brings us too.

“I was so delighted to get them on deadline day.

“Having had knock-backs with both of them on the Tuesday, to get them on the Thursday was like winning the Pools for me.

“You can see why I wanted them and you can see why I was so disappointed when I thought I wouldn’t be able to get them.”

Thomas was initially resistant to the idea of leaving West Brom on loan, eventually relenting after speaking to Warnock directly.

Albion manager Steve Clarke gave few hints about Thomas’ future yesterday, saying: “I don’t know what’s going to happen here between now and the end of Jerome’s initial spell at Leeds.

“If we pick up two or three injuries then Jerome can come back here. That’s another part of the planning process.”

Games

Warnock said: “We’ve got a lot of games between now and January but come Christmas time we’ll have a look at it.

“It’s a two way thing. If they (Tate and Thomas) continue playing like they are then they’ll be in our plans but will they be in their own clubs’ plans? It’s really down to the players and then the two clubs.”

United have another loanee in their squad – Ryan Hall – but a £150,000 deal is already in place to bring the winger to Elland Road from Southend United on a permanent basis next month.

Meanwhile, tickets for United’s League Cup quarter-final at home to Chelsea on December 19 are due to go on general sale at Elland Road at 9am on Monday.

Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen. 
(Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe)

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