Leeds United: Squad strength at a critical juncture

Sam Byram

Sam Byram

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Leeds United’s generally successful five-man midfield has highlighted a squad imbalance that has prompted Neil Redfearn to target the emergency loan market. Phil Hay reports.

Neil Redfearn has again called on Leeds United to use the emergency loan market, claiming Tuesday’s defeat away at Brighton underlined the need for additions to an “imbalanced” squad.

Redfearn said extra players were required to see the club through to the end of the season after their strong run of form ended in a 2-0 loss at The Amex stadium. Leeds travelled to Brighton looking for a fourth straight victory and a fourth successive away win but they were easily outplayed on the south coast, succumbing to goals in either half from Sam Baldock and Inigo Calderon.

Redfearn, who made two enforced changes to his starting line-up, described United as “jaded” and said his team “looked like we’d come off the back of a long run” as Brighton forced the pace and hit the woodwork twice in the closing minutes.

Leeds’ head coach has relied heavily on a small core of players since rethinking his formation at the start of January, using players like Lewis Cook, Luke Murphy and Steve Morison throughout a productive but intense period, and Morison is a doubt for Saturday’s match against Watford – the first of 13 remaining games – after pulling up with a groin strain on Tuesday.

Redfearn named four strikers on the bench at The Amex, as he had done in previous fixtures, and said a lack of midfielders was putting heavy pressure on his team. The 49-year-old, who has lost Tommaso Bianch and Grandi Ngoyi to injury recently, is continuing to push for new signings before the Football League’s emergency window closes at the end of next month. Leeds remain under a Financial Fair Play (FFP) transfer embargo but the club are permitted to loan players for a maximum cost of around £11,000 a week.

Redfearn said: “I’ve identified players and I’ve identified that the squad needs strengthening. But as I’ve said before our situation isn’t like most clubs. I’m head coach and we’ve got a recruiter here beneath the owner. We go through the process and that’s just the way it is. But it’s something we’ve got to look at.

“If you look at the squad, it’s quite imbalanced. We had a lot of strikers on the bench at Brighton and two defenders. The two players who we left behind at Thorp Arch, Adryan and (Brian) Montenegro, are both attacking players too.

“The system we play has five in midfield and that’s where we need a little bit more strength in depth. It’s a young squad as well.”

United’s recent form, showing two defeats from nine games and five wins from their last seven matches, has effectively drawn a line under the threat of relegation and the club are 10 points clear of the bottom three despite their defeat to Brighton.

Their disqualified owner, Massimo Cellino, declared in a statement published prior to Tuesday’s game that Leeds were guaranteed a place in England’s second tier next season, saying “qualification for the 2016 Championship is now achieved.” The result at The Amex, however, ended any lingering thoughts of a dramatic run to the play-offs and United will fight to keep themselves in a mid-table position during the last two months of the term.

Their next two fixtures are back-to-back home games against sides in the top six, with Watford visiting Elland Road on Saturday and Ipswich Town due in Leeds next Wednesday.

Redfearn is hopeful that both Morison and Sam Byram, who missed the Brighton defeat with a knee injury, will be fit to start against Watford this weekend, saying both players had been protected as a “precaution”.

Leeds chose not to take Byram to The Amex after assessing his condition on Monday and Morison was quickly substituted in the second half of the Brighton defeat, suffering from a problem which Redfearn attributed to “tiredness”.

The striker made only six appearances before Christmas but has started all nine league games since the turn of the year. Redfearn said: “I think Steve’s injury was down to a little bit of tiredness and we got him off as quickly as we could. He felt his groin so we tried to limit the damage.

“He’s like a lot of players. He’s put a real shift in and he’s been a tower of strength for us up front. I’m hoping it’s superficial and not something that’s going to keep him out.”

Byram has also been prominent throughout United’s recovery, operating as an out-and-out right winger. His pace and penetration were missed by Leeds at The Amex as Redfearn tried to compensate for his loss by using Alex Mowatt on the right flank and Casper Sloth on the left.

“Sam had a whack on his knee and there’s a little bit of swelling there,” Redfearn said.

“He’s an important player and we’ve got plenty of games coming up so rather than risk him for one game and lose him for four or five, we felt the best thing to do was rest him. Hopefully we’ll have him right for Saturday. I think he’ll be fit for that game.”

Redfearn, however, defended his players on the back of an impressive two-month spell which stabilised a troubled season. We looked like we’d come off the back of a long run,” he said. “We looked like we’d applied ourselves to the max for the last half a dozen games. Tuesday was nothing like us, we didn’t pressure Brighton well enough. But going into this game we were the form team in the division. There was nobody better on current form. It’s been a fantastic run.”

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