Leeds United: Evans admits ‘we may have a player’ in Botaka

Jordan Botaka.
Jordan Botaka.
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Out-of-favour winger Jordan Botaka has been offered hope of another chance before the end of the season after convincing Steve Evans that Leeds United “have a player here.”

Evans, who was outspoken in his criticism of Botaka last month, named him on the bench for recent wins over Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers and said an improved effort from Botaka in training had put him back in first-team contention.

The 22-year-old has rarely featured in Evans’ time as head coach and was facing an uncertain future with his two-year contract set to enter its final 12 months this summer and United’s boss showing obvious reluctance to use him.

Botaka appeared as a late substitute in matches against Fulham and Watford towards the end of February but Evans admitted after an FA Cup defeat at Vicarage Road that Botaka was “very fortunate to be on the pitch” and had only been used because of an injury to Mustapha Carayol.

Evans claimed Botaka’s performance in training and in Under-21 fixtures had given him no reason to select him but the Congo international – signed from Dutch club Excelsior last summer while Uwe Rosler was head coach at Leeds – appears to have regained favour with 10 games of the Championship season left.

Evans said: “We’ve looked at Jordan, who I was critical of before, and he’s suddenly producing performances on the training ground. They’re making me say ‘we have a player here’.”

Young midfielder Kalvin Phillips was also taken to Ewood Park and although he failed to make United’s final 18-man squad, Evans said he was another player who was likely to be used before the end of the campaign. Three successive victories have moved United clear of the Championship’s relegation places.

Evans, meanwhile, admitted Luke Murphy had been unlucky to lose his place at Blackburn after making a rare and successful outing in a 2-0 win over Cardiff City last week.

Murphy made his first start in more than a month in Wales and helped United secure a first away win at Cardiff since 1984. Evans dropped Toumani Diagouraga for that game with his January signing at risk of incurring a two-match ban for 10 bookings before the Football Association’s cut-off point arrived on Sunday.

Diagouraga regained his place at Blackburn and Evans’ selection was vindicated by a deserved 2-1 victory.

Evans said: “I possibly wouldn’t have made any changes but I looked at Luke in training and I’ve spoken to him. He accepts it. He was one of our best players at Cardiff but he looked a bit tired, a little bit down, and it’s easy to understand when he’d not played a competitive game since January. He’ll be back in the team sooner rather than later.”