Leeds United: Mission accomplished for departing Steve Evans

United's departed head coach Steve Evans.
United's departed head coach Steve Evans.
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STEVE EVANS can leave Leeds United with his head held high after becoming Massimo Cellino’s longest serving head coach - and the club’s most successful for two years.

United were one point off the Championship relegation zone upon Evans’ appointment with Cellino issuing the Glaswegian the remit of keeping the club up.

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Cellino feared United were heading for a relegation dogfight under Uwe Rosler, for whom the 2-1 loss at home to Brighton on October 17 proved his final game in charge.

Evans was brought in two days later – thrust in front of a huge media presence at Elland Road for an afternoon press conference – shortly before embarking on the long trip to Fulham for his first game as Whites head coach.

And while United went 1-0 down to Moussa Dembele’s 23rd-minute opener, Chris Wood’s 64th-minute penalty sealed Leeds a share of the spoils in Evans’ first game in charge.

Another draw – at Bolton – then followed, but many felt Evans’ tenure was about to be over in super quick time even by Cellino’s standards when Leeds lost 2-0 at home to Blackburn Rovers on Thursday, October 29. The atmosphere at Elland Road – which had not seen a home win since March – was toxic.

But Evans perhaps saved his job with the subsequent 1-0 win at home to Cardiff City five days later, a result which was backed up by a 3-0 win at Huddersfield Town, which was particularly impressive.

Back to back defeats to Rotherham and QPR followed but Leeds and Evans then embarked on a fine eight-game unbeaten run that began with a 2-1 defeat of high-flying Hull City. The Whites were suddenly within touching distance of the play-off spots but top-six dreams were then all but dashed after successive defeats to Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday.

Evans and Leeds bounced back by beating Bristol City but a five-game winless streak followed the FA Cup fourth-round win at Bolton, including a fifth-round FA Cup exit at Watford through a Scott Wootton own goal.

Twice in the next 10 games Evans steered United to something rare at Leeds – a hat-trick of league wins – with successes at home to Bolton and away at Cardiff of all places and Blackburn, then later followed by a Tuesday night win at Birmingham, which prefaced home triumphs against Reading and Wolves.

Evans and Leeds then made it four games unbeaten when drawing a 2-2 thriller at Hull but the Scot said farewell to Elland Road in disappointing circumstances with the end of April’s 2-1 loss at home to already relegated Charlton Athletic.

United were by then comfortably safe – the remit achieved – but with tears in his eyes as he waved farewell to the Elland Road stands, one sensed Evans knew his fate before the season finale at Preston, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Not enough to bag a top half finish but 13th was still United’s joint best since the 2011 finish of seventh under Simon Grayson. Grayson – sacked in February 2012 – lasted four years with 169 games yielding 84 wins, 40 draws and 45 losses, a win ratio of 49.7 per cent. Evans bows out after 38 games in charge that resulted in 14 wins, 12 draws and 12 losses. The 36.84 per cent win rate doesn’t compare to Grayson but, aside narrowly from Brian McDermott’s 38.18 per cent, it beats everyone else since.

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