The arrival of Liam Bridcutt at Elland Road has coincided with an unbeaten run of matches for Leeds, but coach Steve Evans reckons there is no coincidence. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United did not try to deny that a 1-1 draw with MK Dons on Saturday was anything other than a poor result but it stretched the club’s unbeaten run to seven games.
Liam Bridcutt saw the disappointment afterwards as a mark of the palpable rise in standards in his short time with the club.
Bridcutt, whose loan from Sunderland ended at the weekend but is set to be renewed until the end of this season, endured a horrible debut at Queens Park Rangers in November, but Leeds’ 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road is the only defeat of his eight outings under Steve Evans.
In Evans’ view, the statistic is not a coincidence.
United’s head coach signed Bridcutt as a specialist defensive midfielder and the 26-year-old fitted that niche perfectly, underpinning form in December which allowed Evans to keep talking about the play-offs.
The two points dropped against MK Dons on Saturday were points Leeds could not afford to lose, but Bridcutt said the club were “probably due a game where we were not at the races.”
“We’ve set our standards so high and in the last few weeks we’ve been unbelievable,” Bridcutt said.
“We weren’t really at it (against MK Dons) and it’s one of those things. I think you’ve got to look at it in the context of us having a good run.
“We were probably due a game where we weren’t really at the races. For us it’s about building on and getting back to winning ways.”
Bridcutt’s comments on Saturday left little doubt that an extension of his loan for the rest of the season is his preferred option, despite persistent rumours that Brighton – his former club – want to sign him on a permanent basis.
Albion, the Championship’s leaders for so long, need solidity from somewhere after three defeats from four games.
Evans is equally keen to tie Bridcutt down and United’s boss admitted that in the midst of approaches for Norwich City’s Kyle Lafferty and more unrealistic interest in Stoke City’s Peter Crouch, Bridcutt was the deal he wanted to complete first.
According to Evans, Sunderland have indicated that they will allow the midfielder to stay at Elland Road until May with a view to a permanent move next summer.
Bridcutt confirmed that he was ready to finalise that deal, saying: “I want to stay. It’s just waiting on Sunderland.”
United’s position in the Championship, and the nine-point gap between the club and the play-offs, does not appear to have deterred him.
“If we’re not (going up) this season then it can give us a great platform to get back into the Premier League,” Bridcutt said.
Games away at Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday – sixth and seventh respectively – later this month already look crucial.
In the meantime, Evans is preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup third-round tie against Rotherham United, a match which will know its place.
United’s head coach has been contemplating the option of widespread changes to his line-up and regardless of whether Bridcutt’s deal is extended before this weekend, or whether Sunderland grant him permission to play, Evans might be minded to rest him anyway.
Leeds have a full week until their next league fixture and Evans’ priority in that period is to make progress in the transfer market.
A new striker is seen as essential and Bridcutt can understand why. Without the injured Chris Wood on Saturday, United failed to produce a shot on target. Antony Kay’s own goal earned the club a point two minutes from time. Asked what was lacking at Elland Road, Bridcutt said: “Just goals at the minute. I think we’re lacking a few goals. In fairness to the strikers they have been on-form and we had been creating opportunities. Once we start firing again and scoring, we’ll start winning games.
“Woodsy’s been brilliant for us in the past few weeks and he’s been a key player. It was a bit of a blow to miss him and it (Saturday’s draw) showed that we needed him.
“What happens here is the manager’s decision and it all depends on what he’s got in his plans. But looking at our performances I think we’ve shown we can pass and keep the ball. With Woodsy out we may need a striker.”
Bridcutt, in Evans’ opinion, has been just as effective as Wood. Evans maintained throughout December that Sunderland were likely to honour a “gentleman’s agreement” to extend Bridcutt’s loan but he identified alternatives to guard against the possibility that Bridcutt moved elsewhere.
Leeds have numerous midfielders on their books but few who are capable of occupying the holding role as Bridcutt does. Tom Adeyemi, who was seen by former Leeds boss Uwe Rosler in that mould, has looked more comfortable in an advanced position and was warned by Evans that his career would only progress if he played as a “box-to-box” midfielder.
Bridcutt said his own attitude towards the game and his responsibility on the pitch was simple: “It’s one of the things I have picked up as a kid. I’ve always been taught to play as much passing football as I can and to keep the ball as much as I can. It’s a big part of my game – winning and keeping possession.”