Leeds United manager Steve Evans is hopeful that the club’s recent upturn in fortunes will help him strengthen his squad before the emergency loan window closes. Phil Hay reports.
Leeds United head coach Steve Evans is likely to delay Charlie Taylor’s comeback from illness until next week’s visit to Queens Park Rangers despite sanctioning the defender’s return to full training.
Taylor took part in the warm-up before Friday’s friendly at Wycombe Wanderers and will work with United’s squad ahead of Saturday’s game with Rotherham United but Evans said the Yorkshire derby might “come too early” for a left-back who last played on October 3.
The 22-year-old succumbed to a virus after Leeds’ 2-0 defeat to Birmingham City at Elland Road and has missed the last six matches, including all five of Evans’s games in charge. He was diagnosed with glandular fever and required various blood tests and medical examinations before resuming light training last week.
Taylor is the only out-and-out left-back in United’s squad and he was ever-present this season until he dropped out of the club’s starting line-up ahead of a 2-1 defeat to Brighton on October 17.
Gaetano Berardi has occupied the left side of defence during Taylor’s extended period of absence and Evans admitted that Taylor’s availability would strengthen an area of weakness.
“Gaetano’s been excellent for us and I’ve no complaints with him but with Charlie missing we’re without any cover,” Evans said. “At the moment, it’s a case of ‘if Berardi can’t play at left-back, I don’t know who can.’
“We’ve been careful with Charlie and we’ve needed to be. He’s a big player and it sounded like he was having a really good season but this wasn’t something we could rush. That’s still the case.
“He did the warm-up at Wycombe and he’ll be reintroduced with the other lads now but, realistically, Rotherham will come too early for him.
“You never know in football but with Charlie we’ve really got one eye on QPR next Saturday. That would give him a good two weeks to get back into the feel of things.
“I’m not worried about his fitness at all. He’s a naturally fit kid. I just want to be sure that he’s happy and feeling good.”
Taylor’s recovery was always expected to strengthen Evans’s options at an early stage of his tenure as head coach but Evans has been asking for loan signings since his appointment a month ago.
A deal to take midfielder Liam Bridcutt from Sunderland has been on the table for the past fortnight but is yet to go through. Reading and Cardiff City have also expressed an interest in the 26-year-old but Bridcutt is understood to have told Evans that he is willing to move to Elland Road until January.
Leeds have also enquired about two of Norwich City’s strikers, Kyle Lafferty and Lewis Grabban, and Lafferty remains a major target for Evans. Evans worked with Grabban at Rotherham United but the forward is believed to be reluctant to move to the north of England.
Four weeks into his reign, the 52-year-old is yet to complete his first signing despite warning last month that United were risking a relegation battle unless additions were made to their squad. His attempts to secure a new goalkeeper as competition for Marco Silvestri also drew a blank, though largely because a series of targets were unavailable.
Evans’s work in the loan market is continuing at a time when United’s owner, Massimo Cellino, is pondering his future and actively engaging with potential buyers of the club. Cellino continues to face the threat of an imminent Football League ban. With high levels of uncertainty around Elland Road, the absence of incoming players begged the question of whether the Italian is supporting Evans’s attempts to recruit new players before the emergency loan window closes a week on Thursday.
“The club are genuinely working on deals,” Evans said. “From the dealings I’ve had with Mr Cellino, I get the impression that if his mind’s set one way then you’d have more chance of moving mountains than changing it.
“He’s spoken to Liam (Bridcutt’s) representatives and I don’t think he’d be doing that if he didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t think he’d be asking me or Martyn Glover (United’s head of recruitment) to look for targets and chase them up.
“We’re working and I’m still really hopeful of getting a couple in before the window shuts. It’s maybe easier to make the case for new signings when you’re winning games. We’ve had a couple of wins back-to-back now and whoever the owner is, if it was my money a manager was spending then I’d be happier to spend it if it looked like the team was on a bit of a roll.”
United have had loan enquiries about several of their own players – Lee Erwin, Kalvin Phillips, Casper Sloth and Lewie Coyle – and Evans spent yesterday reassessing his squad on the back of Friday’s 2-0 win at Wycombe.
The friendly was used by Evans as a way of honing the “sharpness” of his side but the result and the clean sheet satisfied him, despite the nature of a practice match against a League Two club.
“People will talk about the opposition but we put a strong side out and the circumstances were more competitive than a game at the training ground,” Evans said. “It’s a third win in a row and a third clean sheet in a row. All I’d say is that the more you win, the more you keep clean sheets and defend properly – like we weren’t doing before – the more of a habit it becomes.”