IT’S looking increasingly likely that it’ll be a cold play from Leeds United for Derby County’s available striker Chris Martin, unless his salary can be negotiated down drastically. Phil Hay reports.
The perception that Leeds United are a striker light is not confined to their own support. Derby County spotted a gap there too and, in the past week, the club approached Leeds to offer the chance to take Chris Martin on loan.
Derby are keen to move Martin on after rendering him fifth choice by lining up a deal for Norwich City’s Cameron Jerome, but Martin signed a new contract last January and his salary at Pride Park would instantly tear up the wage structure at Elland Road. Leeds declined to bite and are unlikely to follow up that brief conversation.
Martin is a bit-part player for Derby these days and has not scored regularly for the past 12 months, but his track record as a striker is largely consistent and his style and physique would potentially suit the make-up of Thomas Christiansen’s team. Goals were not much of an issue for Leeds before the turn of the year but their only finish in four games has come from Gaetano Berardi, the last player who Christiansen looks to up front.
Berardi’s 20-yard strike at Newport County was his first goal in more than 11 years as a professional, driven in with the help of a slight deflection off the heels of Pierre-Michel Lasogga. Either side of it, the knack of finding the net has evaded Leeds, in spite of the chances falling to them. Liam Cooper missed an open goal from four yards out during Saturday’s defeat to Ipswich Town. Pawel Cibicki’s lack of composure earlier in the game wasted another situation where Ipswich were badly stretched. Even Kemar Roofe, United’s top scorer, could only rattle the crossbar when Samuel Saiz presented him with an inch-perfect lay-off in a 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day.
The club’s failure to score in three successive league matches has come at a cost of eight points and a place in the Championship’s top six. Christiansen is facing questions about the self-control of his squad after losing Samuel Saiz and Eunan O’Kane to red cards and suspension but, as essential as discipline against Millwall on Saturday will be, the re-emergence of Leeds’ clinical touch is paramount.
Roofe came up with four goals in December and Pablo Hernandez produced two, but Saiz has not scored since November, Lasogga last struck in October and Cibicki and Jay-Roy Grot have not scored at all.
Leeds rank 17th in the Championship on the basis of shots per game, albeit ahead of Derby and Sheffield United, but Derby are profiting from a proven and in-form Championship forward in Matej Vydra. His effort in a 3-0 win at Birmingham City over the weekend was his 15th league goal of the term.
Leeds were determined to back their crop of centre-forwards this month, believing the players already available to Christiansen were sufficient for a top-six finish. Caleb Ekuban is expected to return from a fractured foot in February, though despite some effective performances the Ghanaian is yet to score in the league. There was also a reluctance to spend excessively or to sign anyone whose salary would upset the wage structure maintained since Andrea Radrizzani too full control of Leeds in May. Martin’s peripheral role at Derby has not stopped his income comfortably exceeding that of the highest earner at Leeds.
United have two weeks until the transfer deadline and it remains to be seen if the combination of results, bans and the league table tempt the club into signing a centre-forward before the January window closes. The cancellation of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s loan from Manchester United yesterday afternoon created some space on the wage bill and Leeds, in the light of the loss of key players in the past fortnight, appear to be softening their view that the squad as it is can reach the play-offs.
Martin is a bit-part player for Derby these days and has not scored regularly for the past 12 months, but his track record as a striker is largely consistentPhil Hay
Twelve months ago Leeds made a late play for Lewis Grabban, who was available on loan from Bournemouth. The possibility was put to Garry Monk but United eventually sidestepped that transfer and Grabban went to Reading instead. The 30-year-old is on the market again but on a permanent basis after Bournemouth recalled him from a season-long loan at Sunderland with a view to cashing in. Numerous Championship sides are being credited with an interest.
Christiansen hinted last week that he would be happy to see another striker arrive at Elland Road but conceded that the January market was “very difficult”; a world of high prices in which many of the players put up for sale were inactive during the first half of the season.
There was still no doubt that the Dane cut a coach under pressure at Ipswich on Saturday, weighed down by a fortnight of defeats, injuries and red cards. This weekend, at home to Millwall, Leeds host a club with more glaring problems in attack. Millwall’s 13 away games in the Championship have yielded six goals and, somewhat predictably, no wins. That record ties in with United’s experience of playing the Bermondsey club: a nightmare at the New Den but nowhere near as feisty at Elland Road. Millwall last won at Elland Road eight years ago, at a time when the teams were head-to-head in League One.
On Monday it was reported that Millwall’s goalscoring concerns might be eased by a deal to bring Australia international Tim Cahill back to England after he parted company with Melbourne City last month.
Cahill needs a new club and needs games behind him to enhance his chances of making Australia’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia. Millwall, however, ruled out any prospect of him rolling up at Elland Road on Saturday, saying there was “absolutely nothing in the rumours at all”.