STEVE Evans says Leeds United will face a “genius” winger in Anthony Knockaert at high-flying Brighton tomorrow – but has backed his own star wide man Stuart Dallas to finish the current campaign on a high.
United were frequently linked with Knockaert’s signature before Evans’ arrival at Elland Road and Evans himself tried to sign the former French under-21s star from Leicester City whilst in charge of Rotherham United.
The attacking star instead left Leicester to join Standard Liège, with Brighton now the beneficiaries of the 24-year-old’s talents following his signature for an undisclosed fee in January.
Evans readily admits he would have loved Knockaert to have been a Whites player upon his arrival, but is instead now planning a way of combating the tricky winger – and relying on the attacking talents of Dallas is a big part of the Glaswegian’s plan.
“As a coach and as a manager I tried to sign him (Knockaert) at my previous club but I think the conversation with Nigel Pearson lasted about eight seconds,” laughed Evans.
“‘Is he available? Not to you!’ We weren’t going to sign him.
“He had a fantastic season in the Championship with Leicester City of course and he is the type of player you’d love to work with on a daily basis. I know the assistant manager at Brighton very well and he described him on the training ground as a genius and I can see why.”
Knockaert stars as part of a Brighton side that have scored 14 goals in their last seven league games, compared to United’s four in seven.
It was United’s own star winger guilty of missing Leeds’ best opportunity to seal victory against Fulham last Tuesday evening when Dallas volleyed a fine chance wide after coming on as a 78th-minute substitute.
Dallas’ place on the bench came as a surprise but Evans maintains maximum faith in the 24-year-old who has proved a fine signing from Brentford.
Evans reasoned: “I think what people seem to forget with Stuart is that at Brentford the previous season, off the top of my head he probably had 18 or 19 starts and the rest coming off the bench and he seemed to share the position with the boy [Alan] Judge – another top player.
“Stuart has come in and he’s been involved in practically every game, all bar I think one or two, and played more minutes than most. And I think sometimes that can catch you.
“He’s the type of lad where he has got huge desire, a big heart to play football and sometimes you think you want to give him a down day but he wants to be out there with the boys.
“I don’t think it’s confidence. I think it’s maybe a little bit of freshness, hence why we decided the other night to put him on the bench so we could get him back really fresh. I think despite the fact that he missed a chance for us, I think Stuart looked more like the Stuart Dallas we know for that last 20 minutes.
“Every time he got the ball he had a real purpose about himself. On another day he’d have scored that chance, I think he hits it too well.
“He’s thumped it and if he bobbles that one it probably goes into the net.
“Stuart has a big end to the season to have for us, of course, and we need him. I think Stuart has been one of the better players if I’m honest.”
Assessing what he was expecting from Chris Hughton’s Brighton this evening, Evans pondered; “I think I have gone on record as saying I think Middlesbrough would go up and I think I was on record as saying Middlesbrough, Hull and Burnley would be the three teams contesting it.
“And then on Thursday afternoon I watched a re-run of Brighton winning 4-0 at Bristol City. And it could have been nine. It was such a good performance.
“They have got pace, they have got everything, and more importantly I think, they have got a manager that’s seen them have a great start. He managed them fantastically well.
“Chris is somebody I know reasonably well and I think he deserves enormous credit for chopping and changing a bit and getting his team back on track.”