Stuart Dallas was asked on Twitter last week if he regretted leaving Brentford for Leeds United. “Best decision I’ve ever made,” he replied, nipping the conversation in the bud.
Dallas had his reasons for quitting Griffin Park in August and Brentford – his first English side – have had their share of problems this season. Much as United’s are more public and pronounced, his £1.3m transfer has done him no harm.
In October the winger helped Northern Ireland over the line and into the finals of Euro 2016 as qualifying group winners. Domestically United have found none of the province’s consistency but the club’s season is not stopping Dallas from enhancing his reputation.
His tally of four assists is already higher than any Leeds player amassed last season. Dallas has been the most creative mind in the squad at Elland Road and in patches of the second half at The Valley on Saturday Charlton Athletic found him unplayable.
Charlton struggled to cope with Leeds as a whole during the final half-hour of a 0-0 draw and as Dallas admitted afterwards, in spells like that and in the first half against Hull City seven days earlier it was hard to deny that United looked like an organised, dangerous side.
“I said from the moment I first came into the club that we’ve got a good squad here,” Dallas said. “We haven’t proved it enough throughout the season but you see in glimpses what we’re capable of doing.
“Last week we had a good win against Hull. First-half we were brilliant, second-half we were under pressure. At Charlton we were average first-half but had a very good second-half. It’s about getting the balance right.”
Leeds’ failure to beat Charlton was largely down to their finishing. Lewis Cook succeeded in hitting Chris Wood with a shot from 10 yards which appeared to be heading goalwards and Tom Adeyemi struck a post from an even closer range 12 minutes from time.
United’s goalkeeper, Marco Silvestri, produced a brilliant save to deny Ricardo Vaz Te against the run of play but Karel Fraeye, Charlton’s manager, admitted that his side had been “lucky” to survive the onslaught. “It’s frustrating not to come away with the three points,” Dallas said.
Leeds’ head coach, Steve Evans, felt similarly aggrieved but Dallas’ performance and the flurry of chances after half-time pleased him.
“When Stuart was on the left he was a problem for Charlton,” Evans said. “When he was on the right he was a problem. Through the middle he was a problem. I think so much of him that I get annoyed whenever Stuart gives the ball away or misplaces a cross. I know how good he is.
“I honestly feel that if you had 10 outfield players who put as much into a game at both ends of the pitch as Stuart, you’d win a lot of games. The best example was when we put Jordan Botaka on (as a substitute at The Valley). He was okay on the ball in spells but there were times when my defenders were looking for him with Charlton on the break. That’s the difference with Dallas – the defence are never looking for him because he’s always there.”
Leeds are yet to give Evans a sight of the play-offs – something he wants to dangle in front of owner Massimo Cellino before the January transfer window opens – but they are seven points above the relegation places and a good distance from harm’s way. The squad have had exacting moments, none worse than their home defeat to Blackburn Rovers and their 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers last month, but United’s campaign is holding together and an away crowd of 3,100 was appreciative of the performance at Charlton.
In the past two games Evans has switched to the sort of formation his predecessor Uwe Rosler – the coach who signed Dallas from Brentford – tried to play.
A five-man midfield paid off against Hull and almost forced a late winner at Charlton.
“It’s a good formation,” Dallas said. “It’s how we played at the start of the season and the gaffer (Evans) has brought it back in.
“We seem to be playing well with that formation and it’s there to be changed. When you look at the bench the gaffer has Mirco (Antenucci) and he’d probably be playing in any other team. He’s probably disappointed that he’s not getting a game at the moment but we can change it up if needs be. The formation suits us.”
Evans is considering whether his club captain, Sol Bamba, might have to suffer in the same way that Antenucci has. Bamba was due to resume full training yesterday having recovered from a fractured toe and Evans expects to include the centre-back in his squad for Thursday’s televised game at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Liam Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci, however, contributed to a clean sheet at Charlton and Evans admitted he was in two minds about whether to break that partnership up.
“We’ll have Sol back available but my central two are playing really well,” Evans said. “Again, I’m back to that dilemma of ‘do I put the big man (Bamba) back in or not?’
“He’ll have to come back in at some stage. The football’s coming thick and fast and when it gets really busy, team selections might not be what supporters expect. But they’re not at Thorp Arch seeing who’s fresh, who’s ready. So when they say ‘why’s he playing?’ there’ll be good reasons.”