Leeds United: Benedicic battling towards full fitness

Zan Benedicic.' PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Zan Benedicic.' PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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David Hockaday says a lack of match fitness is behind Zan Benedicic’s absence from Leeds United’s league games.

Hockaday revealed that Benedicic was still to put himself in serious contention for a starting place after leaving the Slovenia international out of Tuesday’s defeat to Brighton.

Benedicic was missing from United’s 18-man squad for the second time in four days having failed to merit inclusion in their 1-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday.

The 18-year-old – signed on a season-long loan from AC Milan at the start of this month – was an unnamed substitute at Millwall on the first day of the season and came off the bench for his debut in Leeds’ League Cup win over Accrington Stanley last week.

But asked about Benedicic’s lack of regular involvement, Hockaday said: “It’s about him getting match sharp.

“He’d been with Milan in America (for the club’s pre-season tour) but he hadn’t played any games. He came to us, he trained with us and then we played him against Accrington Stanley but it was very obvious in that game that he lacked match fitness.”

Leeds fielded Benedicic in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Rotherham United yesterday, giving the youngster a chance to hone his fitness ahead of this weekend’s trip to Watford.

Hockaday’s midfield came in for criticism after Brighton overran Leeds at Elland Road and Benedicic – an attacking midfielder who has been with AC Milan since 2011 but never played for their first team – is an option available to United’s head coach in the aftermath of a poor loss.

“We’ll see where he is,” Hockaday said. “There are one or two other players who need match practice too.”

United suffered from a chronic lack of possession in the first half of Tuesday’s defeat and fell behind to a fifth-minute goal from Joao Teixeira, a young Spaniard on loan at Brighton from Liverpool.

Kazenga LuaLua’s 84th-minute free-kick confirmed Leeds’ second loss of the Championship season. Hockaday bemoaned United’s performance before half-time but denied that his midfield was suffering from fundamental weaknesses, saying: “In most of our games I’d say that’s not the case.

“In the first half on Tuesday I’d say yes (there was a problem) but in the second half we moved the ball around very well.

“We were at sixes and sevens but we got the players focused at half-time and got the game-plan sorted out. We had one great move and one great chance, and we had to put that away. If that goes in – a chance in the six-yard box – then we’re dominant because they couldn’t get out of their half.”

Hockaday conceded that his team were being hampered by a lack of pace and width but played down the idea of targeting out-and-out wingers in the remaining days of the transfer window.

“Brighton didn’t have any wingers but they had lots of width,” Hockaday said. “It isn’t about that. People go on about this winger thing but in football you need people with pace.

“I honestly think that the days of the winger who just stands out on the touchline, gets the ball and dribbles have gone. You can’t do that now. Everybody has to be involved. The game’s more tactical.

“But I take the point that we need more pace and quality and we’ve been saying that since day one. After the Middlesbrough game, I didn’t change my tune – it was still a work in progress and we know where we are.

“We’ll look at the Brighton performance again but this league is relentless. We’ve got a game on Saturday, then Wednesday and Saturday again. We’ve got to pick ourselves up because no-one’s going to feel sorry for us.”