Leeds United were working to tie down a high-profile signing today with manager Neil Warnock ready to sacrifice all other loan targets if the club secure a deal.
Warnock has moved for the unnamed player after asking Leeds to ensure that at least one new signing arrives at Elland Road before the Football League’s emergency loan deadline passes on November 22.
The United manager, who has been told by chairman Ken Bates to beginning identifying targets for January with a takeover of the Championship club pending, warned that immediate additions were necessary to give his team a “fighting chance in the second half of the season” and prevent Leeds from “treading water” in the weeks between the end of the loan window and the turn of the year.
United fell to 15th in the Championship after losing to Burnley on Tuesday night, a defeat which extended the club’s run without a league win to five matches.
Warnock admitted after the game at Turf Moor that he had no expectation of signing any new players before tomorrow’s clash with Watford but United began enquiring about a possible recruit following discussions with the 63-year-old on Wednesday.
The player in question has not been identified but Warnock hinted at the calibre of his proposed recruit by saying he would be willing to wait until January for further arrivals if United were able to agree terms.
Warnock said: “The club are aware that I’d love to get one or two players in before the loan window ends. Otherwise it’ll be a five-week period treading water.
“I talked to them on Wednesday and we’ve be trying to get someone in. We’ve made a few enquiries.
“The loan period ends in two weeks’ time and I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t have anyone in before then. If we don’t, we’ll be where we are now (in the Championship) come January. But everybody at the club knows that.
“If we could get our own house in order then we’d have a fighting chance in the second half of the season. That’s my objective and it’s doubly frustrating for me at the moment.
“There isn’t a lot wrong here and I liken us to a car that’s just missing on the carburettor.
“All you need to do is get the screwdriver out and gently tighten it.
“That’s why I’d love to get the player I want this week. If I got him I’d forsake anyone else until the January window. I’ll be quite happy because it would give us a fighting chance against anybody in the league. He’s someone I know very well.”
Warnock gave no other clues about the proposed signing but hinted strongly at an attacking player by saying the possibility of winger Ryan Hall making his first competitive start against Watford would depend on the club’s success in the loan market.
Leeds were linked with Stoke City’s Cameron Jerome earlier in the season, though Stoke manager Tony Pulis claimed yesterday that he was not aware of an approach by Warnock to take Jerome to Elland Road.
United are believed to have enquired about Bristol City’s Jon Stead in the past month and sources in London suggest gifted Queens Park Rangers midfielder Alejandro Faurlin is a name on Warnock’s radar.
But another credible option – Reading’s Simon Church – joined Huddersfield Town on a one-month loan yesterday.
Warnock said he was trying to assist the proposed deal by “generating some income”, an indication that certain squad members will be allowed to leave Elland Road on loan before the Football League’s emergency window shuts.
The effect of United’s recent form has been to drop the club into the bottom half of the Championship, four points beneath of the play-offs and 10 behind league leaders Crystal Palace.
Warnock admitted to a “feeling of frustration”, 15 games into a season which might yet be his last in professional management.
The former Sheffield United and Queens Park Rangers boss contended with a shortage of transfer funds during the summer transfer window and has seen consistently impressive form elude his team since the season began on August 18.
“It’s a feeling of frustration for me personally,” he said, “when I look at the targets we had in pre-season and the players we could have sneaked in. One or two have played against us recently.
“Looking at the top of the table, I think we’d have been very close to it if some of those deals had come off. I’ve got to get on with what I’ve got and do the best I can with what I’ve got but I think the odd change here and there would lift everybody.”
Warnock, however, was philosophical about United’s league position and the need to remain prominently placed in the Championship during the lead-up to January, recalling Crystal Palace’s improbable promotion via the play-offs in 2004.
Palace were fighting relegation when they appointed Iain Dowie as manager in late December but a remarkable sequence of form during the second half of the season ended with Neil Shipperley’s goal settling a tight play-off final against West Ham United.
Asked if a poor league position at Christmas would rule Leeds out of the running, Warnock said: “I don’t think you can say that.
“I remember talking to Simon Jordan (Palace’s former owner) a few years ago – before I went to Palace, we were friends – and saying I thought the squad they had at Palace was good enough to get them promotion that year. They were third from bottom at the time. They appointed Iain Dowie soon after and went up in the play-offs.
“You can’t write anyone off in the Championship and I don’t think there’s a particularly good team in it at the moment. There are teams with a lot of money but even they’re slipping up.
“But we do want to get on with it now. Everyone does. I’m no different because time is running out for me career-wise. I don’t want to waste a moment.”
United have a familiar list of doubts for tomorrow’s game but all of the players carrying minor injuries – Michael Tonge, Rodolph Austin and Lee Peltier – are expected to be named in Warnock’s squad.
Adam Drury is unlikely to play, however, after limping from the field towards the end of Leeds’ defeat to Burnley and Ross McCormack and Davide Somma are both a number of weeks away from serious consideration, despite plans to include them in full training sessions next week.
Defender Tom Lees, meanwhile, is still recovering from a damaged retina in one eye.
Warnock said: “We’ve had a little bit of a bug this week and one or two lads are stiff with the injuries they’ve been carrying but they’ve been like that for a couple of weeks. I don’t see it putting anyone out.”