Former Leeds United manager Eddie Gray admitted last night that he would be “concerned” if the club failed to finalise any new signings before tomorrow’s loan deadline – but claimed the emergency window was the wrong market for the ilk of player United need.
Speaking to the YEP, Gray said the completion of last-minute deals would help head coach in Steve Evans who “seems to know who he wants” but voiced doubt about the impact which temporary signings would have on the club’s long-term form.
“I’d be concerned if nothing happens because Steve’s talked a lot about getting players in and he seems to know who he wants,” Gray said. “He obviously thinks we don’t have the right quality and it’ll help him if he gets a couple of players who fit into his way of doing things.
“But if you’re signing players in November then they have to be players who’ll walk straight into your team. Anything else is pointless. People have to realise that, at this stage of the season, there aren’t that many good players out there waiting to be signed.
“That’s not me making excuses for nothing happening. What I’m saying is that if you’re trying to bring in more quality – and the team at Leeds needs more quality, there’s no doubt about that – then this isn’t really the time when you’ve got loads of options available.
“Steve could probably justify making changes in quite a few positions so I can understand why he’d want new players in. But I also think that if there were players out there who he could get, he’d do the deals – and he’d have probably done them by now.”
Evans, who took charge of Leeds in mid-October, anticipated that as many as three players might arrive at Elland Road before the loan deadline passed at 5pm tomorrow. He stated last month that “five or six” signings were needed to turn United into a competitive Championship side but had no expectation of completing that many transfers before the January window.
As it stands, Evans is still attempting to push his first deal as head coach over the line. He and United owner Massimo Cellino met at Elland Road for further discussions on Monday and Evans retains the belief that Cellino – despite the Italian’s recent move towards selling the club – is ready to support him financially in the loan market. Interest in Sunderland’s Liam Bridcutt has come to nothing, however, despite protracted talks and last week Norwich City ruled out any deals for striker Kyle Lafferty, another player Evans coveted.
Evans remarked recently that it was “maybe easier to make the case for new signings when you’re winning games” but United’s season took a turn for the worse on Saturday with a 1-0 defeat to his former club, Rotherham United. Leeds had gone into the fixture looking for a third straight win against a club at the foot of the Championship.
A costly result has sharpened attention on the importance of the run-up to Christmas.
Leeds are 16th in the Championship and protected from the bottom three by four points. “This month’s vital,” Gray said. “We’re not so far away from the bottom six or seven and if you’re in that position come January, you’re in trouble. That’s a fact.
“I hear people say that we’re only nine points off the top six but there are nine or 10 teams in between us and the top six. It’s a big gap. We need results and we need points in this period coming up. After that, if this spell goes well, we might be able to look up the table.
“I heard Steve say after the win at Huddersfield (on November 7) that is was nice not to be looking over our shoulders, and he was right. But all of a sudden we’re looking over our shoulders again. Rotherham was a massive disappointment. The team didn’t play well at all. But then I didn’t get carried away with how we played at Huddersfield either. We just scored three great goals there.
“I think what the players can’t afford to do is think they’re doing better than they are. I always say that this club should aim for promotion every season but at the moment there’s no point in talking about the gap to the play-offs or anything like that. We need to put a run together, and a run of more than a couple of games.”
Leeds go to Queens Park Rangers this weekend, one of five games scheduled before Christmas. Championship leaders Hull City are next on the fixture list, at Elland Road a week on Saturday. Despite their win over Cardiff City last month, United’s form continues to show a marked difference between home and away matches. Thirteen of United’s 19 points this season have come from opposition grounds.
“That won’t get you anywhere,” Gray said. “There’s a problem at home and there’s been a problem for a long time, not just this season. The way I see it, too many of the players don’t have the courage to make mistakes at home. They don’t have the courage to really play.
“There was a lot of long balls against Rotherham and if I’m honest, I blame the midfield for that. They should have the courage to say to the defenders ‘give me a short, 10-yard pass and I’ll take it from there.’
“I don’t think it’s about confidence and I don’t think you can teach it. The best players, the top players, have that mentality. It’s natural. The mentality comes from within. If you make a mistake, try again. If you’re scared of making mistakes, you’ll never get on the ball.
“I’ve thought for a while and I still feel that communication in the team is a big problem. The players never seem to get onto each other, even when things are going wrong.
“It’s pally-pally. That’s fine in terms of the players liking each other but some of my best mates in football used to give me the biggest rollockings.
“Maybe that’s just the way the game is now. But what I’d ask is ‘are you happy being comfortable in your career or do you want to win things?’ I’m not seeing that will or that desire.”