Leeds United: Bamba braced for holiday run-out as Evans deals with hectic schedule

Sol Bamba. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Sol Bamba. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Steve Evans has attacked an “absolutely disgraceful” Christmas schedule and claimed Leeds United are victims of “the power of our brand” as the club prepare for three matches in seven days.

Evans waded into the on-going debate over fixture disruption after criticising a schedule last week which he said was to blame for a tired display in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Preston North End.

United had contested a televised game at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday night and returned to Leeds at 3am, leaving their squad with limited recovery time ahead of Preston’s visit to Elland Road.

Leeds and the club’s owner, Massimo Cellino, have been involved in a running battle with the Football League and Sky Sports this season following a spate of rearrangements caused by regular live broadcasts.

The club were hit with another change a week ago when their trip to Brighton at the end of February was moved to a Monday night following Sky’s decision to televise it.

Evans hit out at that alteration but voiced greater frustration over United’s immediate programme which will see his side meet Nottingham Forest and Derby County in the space of 48 hours before hosting MK Dons four days later.

Leeds go to Forest on Sunday to contest a match which was moved from its original Boxing Day date for television reasons.

Their clash with Derby on December 29 was pushed back a day as a result and will also be shown live.

Evans said: “Because of the power of the brand of Leeds United we’re being asked to play on the 27th, the 29th and then the second (of January against MK Dons).

“We’re being asked to go to Brighton on a Monday night. It’s absolutely disgraceful. That’s the bottom line.

“Leeds United is such a powerful brand but I feel for the players because they have to go out and perform and our supporters have the right to see a fresh team.

“I can understand when when we have to play Thursday-Sunday as a one-off but what we can’t be asked to do is play on the 27th, the 29th and the second.

“It’s ridiculous. But we’ll do our best to make sure the team is as fresh as we can make it.”

Evans’ comments echo remarks made by his predecessor, Uwe Rosler, who complained about a run of games in August which forced United to make three aways trips in seven days, including visits to Reading and Bristol City.

The club remained unbeaten in that spell but Rosler said it was “unprecedented” and “not fair”.

Evans, who has called his players in for training on Christmas Day, said he would rotate his squad heavily in the coming week-and-a-half, potentially offering chances to players like Jordan Botaka and Lee Erwin and leading to the recall of captain Sol Bamba.

Bamba has been missing from United’s line-up for over a month after incurring a suspension and then fracturing a toe and Evans named him on the bench for last week’s victories over Wolves and Preston, preferring to maintain a central defensive partnership of Giuseppe Bellusci and Liam Cooper.

Evans said: “Sol will get his turn over the holiday period because we didn’t choose to play Thursday night on the television and then on a Sunday.

“The recovery time is pretty much zero.

“We certainly didn’t choose to be playing on the 27th at 4.30pm or to be back out at Elland Road on the 29th hosting one of the best teams in the league. It’s very tough for the players, but I’ll use the squad we’ve got.

“It’s no secret that within our camp we’re not happy with the schedule coming up. This is why I said to the group – and to the boys who were sitting there (against Preston) but not stripped or playing a part – that they’re all going to get a chance in the next week.

“They need to be ready to grab it.”

Cooper said the availability of Bamba – a mainstay in Leeds’ backline before his ban and injury – was helping to maintain his own performance in the centre of defence.

“It’s always good to have a big, big player like Sol keeping you on your toes,” Cooper said. “Obviously we have got to stay on our game or Sol will be straight back in. He’s the club captain and a massive player for us.”

Cooper, meanwhile, insisted United’s players were happy to be training on Christmas Day, despite the absence of a game on December 26.

“I’ve done it for the last four or five years now so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “We’ll be in early, we’ll get to go back and see our families and prepare for the game against Forest. It’ll be hectic, very hectic but we’ll prepare as we do for any other game and that’s how it should be done.

“That’s what you have to do in football and we’ll be at it over Christmas.”

Keiran Westwood.

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