STRIKER Caleb Ekuban has received the strong backing of Leeds United head coach Paul Heckingbottom who is determined for the forward to remain his “bright and bubbly” self.
Ekuban netted his first league goal for Leeds in Good Friday’s 2-1 win at home to Bolton Wanderers but the striker fluffed two one-on-ones and crucially squandered another such opportunity in Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss at Fulham.
With United 1-0 down, Ekuban was played through by Gaetano Berardi with just goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli to beat but Bettinelli saved an effort that was placed straight at him and Fulham then swiftly countered to double their lead some 15 seconds later.
Ekuban was visibly affected with the striker pulling his shirt over his head and then consoled by his team-mates as United trudged back to the centre circle.
But Heckingbottom his reaffirmed his confidence in the 24-year-old who United’s head coach says is extremely popular within the dressing room.
Heckingbottom also insists that Ekuban is being picked ahead of fellow striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga solely for his footballing ability and not because he has a long contract at Leeds whereas Lasogga is only on loan.
United signed Ekuban on a four-year-deal from Chievo Verona last July whereas Lasogga is only on a season-long loan from German club Hamburg who are still paying around 75 per cent of the German’s reported £50,000 weekly wages.
Asked if he had spoken to Ekuban about his glorious missed opportunity at Craven Cottage, Heckingbottom said: “Not since the game.
“Caleb is a bright, bubbly character and we want to keep that because he is infectious and he rubs off on the other players.
“The players love him, the work he does on the pitch, how he is around the training ground and so you feel for him.
“No-one is more critical of themselves than a football player, regardless of what they say in the press or afterwards.
“Everybody wants to do well, they are always looking at how they can improve and Caleb is no different.
“But we win and lose together and it’s always the same.
“You focus on a mistake to concede a goal or you might focus on a miss but as a team we want to defend as a team and as a team we want to score goals.”
After recovering from a second injury to a broken bone in his foot, Ekuban has now started United’s last four games with United’s top scorer Lasogga on the bench for three of them in the matches that Heckingbottom has opted to start with just one striker in a 4-2-3-1 system. “It’s purely down to football these decisions,” said Heckingbottom.
“It’s nothing in terms of next season going forward. It’s down to football.
“It’s the make up of the team, the qualities we want on the pitch for that particular game and that’s why I pick the team.”