Some had questioned Steve Evans’ decision to take his Leeds team to Wycombe on Friday night. But, as Amitai Winehouse reports, the Elland Road manager got exactly what he needed from it.
There was no convention about Leeds’ trip to Wycombe on Friday night, but Steve Evans took away plenty of positives from the game.
It was easy to find them. Evans spoke openly about his admiration for Lee Erwin when he took the job as head coach, and the Scottish striker showed his potential with an eye- catching display, showing great instinct to open the scoring. There was also a return to form for Sam Byram.
Introduced at half-time, the right-back struck home shortly after to give Leeds what, in truth, was a comfortable victory.
The result could have been even more favourable.
The often forgotten Casper Sloth almost scored a third straight from the restart after Byram’s goal, and Jordan Botaka curled an effort just around the post.
Erwin was also denied on two occasions by what Evans described as “wonder saves”.
The match felt like a league game, not least because of the nearly 800 Leeds fans gathered at one end of the ground. Those who chose to make the trip were rewarded, the players handing over footballs pre-match.
In turn, the fans created a bubbling atmosphere on a very chilly night, singing captain Sol Bamba’s name over and over before doing the same for any player who won a tackle or header.
It explained Evans’ decision to take players on a 199-mile drive down the M1 and M40 during an international break.
He admitted: “We had an option to play on the training ground.
“No one is there. You see the commitment that the Wycombe players put in tonight. They’re going into wholehearted tackles, smashing my centre-backs, running channels.”
The decision was also part of a plan that Evans believes will pay dividends in “three or four weeks”.
Despite seven changes to the starting 11 from the game against Huddersfield Town, there was also a plan about the team selection, one intended to bring players who have lacked game time up to speed.
“We’ve got 90 minutes into Will Buckley, we’ve got 90 minutes into Jordan, into Lee. We’ve got 45 minutes into Tommy Bianchi, who did 90 minutes for the Under-21s earlier in the week,” added Evans.
“If Charlie Taylor had been ready to play tonight, it would have been the ideal opportunity, or for young Lewie Coyle.”
Had things gone slightly differently, had Leeds contrived to lose, the decision to play the game in front of fans may have been questioned.
The players were held up in traffic, causing the start to be delayed by 15 minutes. With Leeds still mentally on the coach, Wycombe had the ball in the back of the net after only a minute, but there was a clear offside. From that point the Whites looked comfortable at the back, despite questions being asked by the Wanderers attack.
They showed the defensive solidity that has now led to three clean sheets in a row.
It led to Evans praising his back five, something managers and coaches at Elland Road have had few opportunities to do over recent seasons.
“I think Sol Bamba and Guiseppe Bellusci and Marco Silvestri were really commanding. Marco made two or three really smart saves – I would have expected him to save them, but I’m pleased for the big fellow,” he said.
“Marco’s really confident. I said to him pre-game, ‘Let’s go have another clean sheet tonight’. His performances in training and the last couple of games, we want that to continue. I said to the back five, whatever shape Wycombe have tonight, I want a clean sheet. Clean sheets are habits. Conceding goals is a habit. Winning is a habit.”
Clearly wins are on Evans’ mind, and another has given him reason to look up the table, something he feels the rest of the division will fear.
“You get three or four consecutive wins in the Championship, you get into that top 10,” he said. “If Leeds United do it, I tell you, they will all be looking from the top.”