Leeds United v MK Dons: Evans keen to succeed in race for play-offs

Leeds United head coach Steve Evans. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds United head coach Steve Evans. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Steve Evans said a win over MK Dons tomorrow would turn a good spell into an “outstanding” spell as he admitted that Leeds United’s improvement was making him impatient for success.

Evans paid tribute to his players for a six-match unbeaten run through December but said he was aiming for identical form in January to keep alive the possibility of Leeds challenging for promotion from the Championship. The 53-year-old, who became head coach in October and has been in charge for 13 games, came to Elland Road with the initial intention of “stabilising everything and then stepping up the ambition next summer.”

But speaking ahead of the first game of 2016, Evans said: “It’s been a really good spell and if we beat MK Dons then it becomes an outstanding spell but like everyone I’m a bit frustrated.

“At Leeds United you’re chipping away at a big iceberg and I want to get into it quicker. That’s only natural. The plan in the beginning, realistically, was to strengthen the squad in January and then have a real good go next season but you can’t help wanting it to happen overnight. I think that’s down to the fact that I can see the team making real progress.

“I said at the very start that I wasn’t prepared to give this season up and I’m still not. We’ve been averaging two points a game in December and if we do that in January then by the end of this month we’re going to be very close to the play-offs, if not in the play-offs. So that’s the target now.

“MK Dons will be tough opponents. I’ve watched them three times and they’re set up to play. They can hurt teams. For us it’s about the result. If you told me now that I’d get an average performance and go home with three points in my back pocket, I’d take that all day long.”

Leeds saw a nine-point gap to the play-offs open up in the days after Christmas but Ipswich Town and Burnley – fifth and sixth respectively – meet at Turf Moor tomorrow and United will be no more than seven adrift if they beat MK Dons.

Karl Robinson’s Milton Keynes side are fifth from bottom in the table after a 2-1 loss to Birmingham City on Monday.

Evans wants to strengthen his immediate prospects with signings in January and unlike the transfer window 12 months ago, Leeds are currently free to recruit players outwith a Financial Fair Play (FFP) embargo.

Leeds were hit with an embargo by the Football League this time last year after breaking rules on financial losses permitted at Championship clubs. That transfer ban was lifted ahead of the summer window and the League announced before Christmas that Leeds were not among the Championship sides who breached FFP regulations set for the 2014-15 accounting period.

Bolton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest and Fulham all face embargoes in January following breaches of the limits.

United have already submitted their interim 2014-15 accounts to the Football League and are due to lodge a final version at Companies House by the end of March. Evans said the situation under owner Massimo Cellino had improved significantly since the 2013-14 accounts which showed a 12-month loss of almost £23m. At the time Cellino said the club were in a “perilous state”.

Evans said: “Not many people want to defend the owner and he gets a lot of criticism which he has to take but when people see the accounts, when they see the way he’s brought down the running costs here and made the club pay its own way, I think they’ll realise that he’s brought some real prudence with him.

“He’s not going to get recognised for that unless the team is successful and that’s football but I can play my part in that and I’ve got plans for January which can make a difference. Maybe it’s not so bad here as people think.”

Kyle Bartley

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