Steve Evans insisted he had not abandoned hope of Sam Byram staying at Leeds United but warned that substantial offers for the 22-year-old were likely after Byram’s third goal in less than two weeks forced a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.
Byram’s 20-yard strike on 80 minutes rescued Leeds from an eighth defeat of the season and offered consolation to Evans who bemoaned “two points dropped” at full-time and admitted he was “going home disappointed.”
United dominated long periods of yesterday’s game at The City Ground and Mirco Antenucci and Chris Wood passed up glorious chances to force a precious win as a low-key contest came to life after Byram’s finish. Forest’s Oliver Burke struck a post at the death.
Byram’s effort was a rare moment of class and followed on from his brace in a 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers 10 days ago.
Leeds’ one-time academy player and former player-of-the-year appears to be into the final stages of his time at United after he rejected an offer to extend a contract which expires at the end of this term.
Liverpool were linked with him yesterday and Evans said the fact that United would be entitled to compensation next summer on account of Byram’s age was likely to encourage serious bids when the January transfer window opens next week.
Evans has urged Leeds to cash-in on Byram quickly if he refuses to take up a new deal but he is refusing to give up on the possibility of Byram changing his mind and accepting a contract extension.
Evans said: “I know the kid wants to play at Leeds United so I think there’s hope. I’ve always been an optimist.
“The fans might not know this but if Sam doesn’t sign a contract then someone in the summer still has to pay about £2m for him. It’s based on earnings over the last four years and Sam has earned a lot of money in that time. It is also based on appearances and potential.
“He has the appearances and that’s a fact. I can’t imagine there are many people who’ve seen him in the last couple of games and don’t realise what a good player he is.
“If you’re in the Premier League and thinking he’s going to cost £5m to £7m in January, do you wait until the summer when there’ll be an auction of three or four clubs looking to get him under the compensation scheme? You would go get him now, wouldn’t you?
“But the kid knows I want him here. I love him to bits. He’s a fantastic professional. Look at his celebration of the goal, too. Does that mean a lot to him? Of course it does.”
Leeds slipped eight points back from the Championship play-offs on Boxing Day but yesterday’s draw cut the gap to seven and moved the club into the top half of the table for the first time since September.
Evans’ side host league leaders Derby County tomorrow night.
United were forced to fight back from an early Nelson Oliveira strike at the City Grounds, a goal gifted to the Portuguese forward by errors from Giuseppe Bellusci and Marco Silvestri.
“We go away disappointed,” Evans said. “If you’d said to me before Wolves that we’d beat Wolves, we’d beat Preston and we’d come down to the City Ground and get a point then you’d have taken that.
“But on reflection we made a cardinal sin-and-a-half for the goal. We’ve come here and dominated and with all but the final pass I’m delighted. We missed a couple of chances which on most days we’d score.
“The feeling is one of frustration. It feels like two points dropped.”