Leeds United’s 3-0 win at Huddersfield Town in November was the birth of Steve Evans’ ‘three punch salute’ but Evans thought then and still thinks now that the biggest victory of his reign as head coach was more than a little flattering.
Outplayed in the first half and wholly unconvincing, United scored twice in seven added minutes to take a 2-0 lead into the break and all but put the derby to bed. Evans revealed afterwards that he was scathing at half-time, unwilling to gloss over Leeds’ performance.
With 54 minutes gone, Alex Mowatt produced a beautiful 25-yard finish which is in the running for the Football League’s goal of the year award and United cruised to a wide derby success.
“When Alex puts us 3-0 in front, it was a case of enjoying the afternoon,” said Evans, who milked the away end for all it was worth at full-time. “Their goalkeeper had another save late on to stop it being 4-0 but those days are few and far between in the Championship. We had one recently and they’re difficult to take.”
Huddersfield were managerless at the time and in the hands of caretaker Mark Lillis following the sacking of Chris Powell. David Wagner, Powell’s German-American replacement, sat in the stands at the John Smith’s Stadium as Mirco Antenucci, Chris Wood and Mowatt picked Town off.
The philosophy, the style and the players have changed under Wagner and Evans has been impressed with his work, despite Huddersfield sitting just six points above the Championship’s bottom three. In spite of the outcome of the last meeting between the clubs and in spite of Leeds’ impressive recovery from a 4-0 loss at Brighton last month, Evans is wary of overconfidence, saying “people should be guarded” about tomorrow’s derby at Elland Road.
“What you must always have after a bad result is a reaction,” Evans said. “David Wagner had it at Huddersfield and we’ve had it recently.
“That (the win in November) was comfortable in the end but this is different. People should be guarded. It’s a different Huddersfield Town coming here. It’s a derby where we’ll both claim to be favourites to win it.
“My recollections of Huddersfield are that we were 2-0 up at the interval and didn’t deserve to be. Antenucci scored a fantastic goal and made another for Chris Wood. That set us on our way and we controlled the second half but it was perhaps not justified that we had a 2-0 lead at half-time. In football, things like that happen.
“They’re a different team, in personnel, shape and results. From that point of view we know they’ll be up for the game. They’ve got some good players for this level and their results up until the last one or two have shown that. It’ll be fiercely competitive, like all derbies are.”
Wagner said: “My first game I watched from the stand was this derby in Huddersfield. It told me how important this derby is for everyone.
“In the last four-and-a-half months we’ve worked a lot with this team, especially on fitness. So I’m sure we’ll be fitter than we were. Of course, we like to find good solutions and good game plans to beat Leeds United and to make it tough for them to play against us.”
Huddersfield have toiled in the second half of the season, losing three league games in a row in January and February and taking three points from their last four fixtures. Championship leaders Burnley banked a simple 3-1 win at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday.
Evans’ camp has more momentum about it and improving form among players who were previously lacking it. Antenucci has established himself as Leeds’ top scorer with four goals in a fortnight but prior to Leeds’ 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers on March 5, the striker had not found the net since the victory at Huddersfield in November.
Evans, who has no fresh injury concerns and will be missing only goalkeeper Ross Turnbull, said: “We’ve had a fantastic return from Antenucci, who’s been on fire, but arguably so have (Marco) Silvestri and (Sol) Bamba, and (Liam) Cooper and (Giuseppe) Bellusci. I should really talk about the team because the team collectively has won these matches.”