LEEDS UNITED defender Gaetano Berardi is being pencilled in for a comeback in the club’s FA Cup tie at Watford after being cleared to resume full training next week.
Head coach Steve Evans said the Swiss right-back had a “decent chance” of making the squad for United’s fifth-round clash at Vicarage Road after ending a three-month spell of rehabilitation.
Leeds lost Berardi, their first-choice right-back, to an ankle injury during the closing stages of a 0-0 draw at Charlton Athletic in December.
Evans expected to be without him for at least eight weeks and the United boss said the club had given Berardi “the maximum amount of time suggested” to overcome a torn ligament.
Berardi, whose form earned him an extended contract earlier this season, will not feature in Monday night’s Championship clash with Middlesbrough but Evans said: “He’s got a decent chance of playing some part at Watford. That’s a possibility.
“He’s a very fit lad and he’s more than ready now. We’ve given him the maximum amount of time suggested to us by the medical people and I can tell that he’s itching to step it up. When he gets back involved he’ll be up to speed very quickly.
“Middlesbrough’s too soon but it’ll be full training and full contact for him next week.
“It’s a bonus for us because his form was excellent. I said right when I first came in that he was a player who really surprised me. I didn’t think he was this good. It goes without saying that we’ve missed him.”
Leeds have relied on Scott Wootton at right-back in Berardi’s absence, prior to the sale of Sam Byram to West Ham United and since the youngster’s exit from Elland Road last month, but the return to Berardi is the part of a trickle of anticipated comebacks.
Evans said he was confident that midfielder Alex Mowatt is fully recovered from a leg injury and the 20-year-old is likely to play 45 minutes in a behind-closed-doors Under-21s game against Sheffield United tomorrow, with a view to featuring against Middlesbrough.
Striker Chris Wood remains on the sidelines with a hamstring strain but Evans, who has seen his hopes of a play-off bid falter rapidly since the turn of the year, said: “He’ll not be too long and it will make a big difference when they’re all back involved.
“Nobody was disputing Berardi’s form when he got injured and I felt that Alex was having his best spell of the season before Christmas. Wood’s been very good for us too. I’m not saying that even with those three we’re where we need to be as a Championship team but in my time as head coach I’ve been without them more than I’ve been with them.”