Steve Evans insisted today that a top-10 finish would be a meaningful achievement and a “stunning turnaround” for Leeds United after the club’s brief battle with relegation.
United’s head coach said he was intent on carrying Leeds into the top half of the Championship during their last 11 games, reiterating that he had been charged with keeping his squad away from the division’s bottom three this season.
Evans was appointed in October as replacement for Uwe Rosler and given the immediate target of securing another season in the Championship after Leeds fell to 18th position in Rosler’s final weeks as head coach.
Leeds made a short-lived bid to reach the play-offs at the turn of the year with a seven-game unbeaten run but poor form since Christmas and a 4-0 defeat at Brighton last month put relegation back on the agenda.
Evans’ players promptly ended that threat with a 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers last Saturday and a 2-0 victory at Cardiff City on Tuesday night, Leeds’ first win in the Welsh capital since 1984.
Rosler was criticised during his time in charge, including by Cellino, for setting a top-10 finish as the aim in his first season in charge and playing down United’s chances of making the top six.
But Evans said: “I don’t think it relates to that. It relates to when I came in. The remit I was given by the club was to make sure we were a Championship club.
“The players were passed that remit too because you have to buy into targets together. There’s no point in a coach having a target and then giving the players a different one.
“You have to be focused with the same plans and when you’ve got a brief to make sure we’re in the Championship, and not involved in a relegation battle, if you finish 10th then that’s a stunning turnaround.”
Leeds are 15th in the table but only five points from 10th with a game in hand over several of the sides above them.
Asked if he felt a top-10 finish would exceed his own expectations of United’s squad, Evans said: “Privately no but I’d rather be 10th and disappointed. As we’ve seen, everyone beats everyone and it’s a tough league to draw results from. We’ve got some talented boys here.
“I’ve said before that in the summer when I was an opposition manager I never saw this as a promotion squad. But I can’t say where they should have been because I wasn’t here at the start of the season.
“I think the club, under the president and with Uwe, were trying to build something. If they’d finished top 10 and tried to selectively add one or two this summer they’d have been saying that next season there was a serious aim for the play-offs.”
Leeds travel to Blackburn on Saturday aiming to register a third successive league win for the first in over a year.
Evans said: “Any team in this league aiming for the top 10, and Blackburn will be one of them, if you string some wins together then you bounce up the table. You’re suddenly looking at aims which people thought weren’t realistic.
“We’ve set that (a top-10 finish) as a target and the league table clearly demonstrates that we’re much closer.”