Leeds United: Redfearn relishing front line options

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The capture of Edgar Cani from Catania on transfer deadline day has given Leeds United head coach Neil Redfearn a whole new avenue of formation options to explore. Phil Hay reports.

Neil Redfearn says the signing of striker Edgar Cani has given Leeds United “cover we need”, admitting the recent change to his team’s formation put excessive pressure on Steve Morison.

Redfearn is weighing up a range of attacking options for this weekend’s game against Brentford after Cani joined Leeds on a half-season loan from Catania on Monday.

The little-known Albanian – a 25-year-old whose career took him to Italy and Poland before England – was identified by technical director Nicola Salerno before the January transfer window and Leeds sealed the move on deadline day after reaching a deal with Catania last weekend.

United, who operated under a Financial Fair Play embargo throughout the window, identified a tall centre-forward as a priority signing, holding talks with Sassuolo’s Leonardo Pavoletti before turning their attention to 6’4” Cani.

The striker arrived in Yorkshire with a mixed record, showing numerous spells spent on loan and an unspectacular goalscoring record, but Redfearn hopes the deal will help keep his preferred system intact during the Championship run-in.

United’s head coach has used Morison at the front of a 4-2-3-1 line-up, pushing the experienced forward through a hip injury in the absence of any other striker suited to playing alone up front.

Redfearn is yet to decide if Cani will feature in his 18-man squad against Brentford having resisted the temptation to throw him into an Under-21 game played on astroturf against Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week. But he expects the forward to play a meaningful role in United’s campaign.

“My first impressions of him are that he’s got a great build for a centre-forward and decent touch for such a big lad,” Redfearn said. “We’ll need to see him in an 11-v-11 game before we’re certain about what he brings to the table and I didn’t want to throw him into a game on Astroturf. That wouldn’t have been great for him. But I’ve got decisions to make about Saturday and we were lacking that type of player.

“Steve’s been great for us and he’s made that position his own but it’s not a secret that he played with a little injury against Bournemouth. We’re asking a lot of him and there’s pressure on him because no-one else here is really suited to playing up front alone. Cani is back-up we really need.

“We can’t expect Steve to carry the can with no help. I thought it was quite noticeable that when he came off in the Bournemouth game, they really came onto us and got a hold of the game. Without a target man up front we were more vulnerable. Cani’s an option in the same mould.”

Cani’s match fitness is unlikely to be in doubt after 15 appearances for Catania in Italy’s Serie B this season. He was left out of two of their more recent matches after the Sicilian club decided that the forward would be allowed to leave on loan. Redfearn hinted after last weekend’s 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town – United’s fourth game without defeat and a result which kept them five points clear of the Championship’s relegation places – that he was open to a line-up with two strikers, a system which might offer a chance to Billy Sharp.

Sharp produced a 90th-minute winner as a substitute at Huddersfield, earning him a glowing vote of confidence from debutant Sol Bamba afterwards. “He’s a nightmare to play against,” Bamba said. “His movement for the goal was unbelievable. I played against him when he was at Doncaster and I never liked it.”

Leeds’ improved form in their 4-2-3-1 formation has not changed Redfearn’s view that his squad need to be “versatile” and “adaptable”. He expects Saturday’s opponents, Brentford, to demonstrate that attribute in a match which Redfearn claims will be “every bit as hard as Bournemouth.”

Leeds overturned odds of 4-1 by beating Bournemouth 1-0 at Elland Road last month, settling the game with a classy goal from Luke Murphy and withstanding a frantic finish in which Eddie Howe’s side hit the woodwork and missed a penalty. Redfearn said Bournemouth were the “best footballing side in the division” but the club’s strict passing style made his preparation easier. Brentford, who are unexpectedly fifth in the table and in serious contention for a play-off position, seem to him to be less predictable.

The west London club wiped the floor with Leeds at Griffin Park in September, recording an easy 2-0 win in Darko Milanic’s first game as head coach. Jota and Alan McCormack scored in each half.

“The thing about Brentford is they’ve got a plan B,” Redfearn said. “That’s no disrespect to Bournemouth. Bournemouth are outstanding and I think they’re going up but you know how they’re going to play and you know they’ll stick to that philosophy. You can plan for that. Brentford play football and they’ve got some quality players, players with pace who like to get at you, but I’ve watched them and I’ve found that if you try to mix it with them they’ll get into a scrap no problem. You can’t bully Brentford. That’s probably one of the reasons why they are where they are.

“From our point of view, we have to play our own game but be ready to deal with any type of contest. It could be open or it could be a real battle. I don’t want us getting caught out.”

United’s 18-year-old midfielder, Lewis Cook, limped out of last weekend’s derby at Huddersfield with a minor knee injury, replaced on 88 minutes by Sharp, but he trained on Tuesday and will be fit to start against Brentford.

“He overstretched his knee a bit but it’s nothing major,” Redfearn said. “We were about to put Billy on anyway so Lewis’ problem meant he was the one to come off. But there’s no holding him back at the moment. It won’t be keeping him out, that’s for sure.”