Leeds United will field Alex Mowatt in an Under-21 game today as they try to get the midfielder over his injuries and back into the thick of their Championship season.
Mowatt has been pencilled in for a development-squad outing at Crewe Alexandra later after head coach Steve Evans omitted him from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.
The 20-year-old struggled with a groin strain around Christmas and had his return halted quickly last month after suffering heavy bruising in one leg during a 2-0 loss away at Sheffield Wednesday.
Evans has resisted the temptation to hurry him back, despite United’s current run of one win from eight league games, but Mowatt will be in line for inclusion against Championship leaders Middlesbrough next Monday if he makes a successful appearance this afternoon.
United’s reigning player-of-the-year has seen his campaign disrupted by a combination of fitness issues and mixed form.
His spectacular strikes in back-to-back matches against Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town in November are his only goals of the term and he has started just one game since a 0-0 draw at Charlton Athletic in early December.
Evans is badly in need of goals and inspiration after a disappointing spell of Championship results but speaking after the defeat to Forest, United’s boss said: “Alex has only trained for three days so he’ll play in the 21s for part of the game.
“Nobody likes Alex more than me, he’s had some fantastic moments in my short time here and we want him back involved.
“The medical advice was just to let him have three or four sessions, part of a game and then he’ll be ready.”
Leeds have been hampered by injuries during the winter, losing Mowatt, Chris Wood, Gaetano Berardi and Ross Turnbull for extended periods of time.
The club faced criticism over the business they completed in the January transfer window and Evans faced further questions about his failure to sign a new striker after Leeds were unable to make anything of more than 60 per cent of possession in Saturday’s defeat to Forest.
United are 16th in the league table, 20 points off the top of the division and 14 beneath the last play-offs place.
Evans said on Thursday that he was aiming for a top-10 finish with promotion beyond him, but Forest, who hold that position, are six points better off after their narrow victory at Elland Road.
Evans, meanwhile, was unapologetic after again choosing to leave captain Sol Bamba on the bench.
Bamba, who last week voiced disappointment with United’s dealings in the transfer window, was replaced by Liam Cooper against Forest as Cooper’s recovery from a minor hip problem allowed Evans to reunite him with Giuseppe Bellusci in the centre of defence. Cooper and Bellusci have occupied those roles for the past three months and Bamba – himself the subject of interest in January – has struggled during isolated appearances.
Faced with the suggestion that Bamba might not be happy with his role, Evans said: “That’s his problem isn’t it? His performances need to dictate that he should be in the team. I thought Liam had a good game and I thought he was outstanding (before his injury). He deserved to go back in the team.
“With these players I might not be the best manager they’ll ever play for but I’ll be the most honest. If they deserve to play they’ll play.”