Leeds United: United pair hoping to get chance to finish the job

Paul Raynor and Steve Evans
Paul Raynor and Steve Evans
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Attempts to glean more information about Steve Evans’ future were met by him yesterday with a smile and a stone wall.

“Nothing’s happened,” he said, perched in his usual seat at Thorp Arch. “I think you guys have enough O-Levels and A-Levels not to ask me the same question every time I see you.”

For all the uncertainty about his position as Leeds United head coach, Evans has reached the stage where he can almost say no more about what the club have in store for him. He wants the job next season but is entirely at the mercy of United’s owner, Massimo Cellino. Cellino wants to shelve any announcements until the end of the season and much as he is prone to changing his mind on a whim, it is not clear if Evans has much to gain from the last nine matches of the season.

The Scot hopes so – he hopes that a good month will see his contract extended as Cellino “makes the decision I’d like him to make” – but he said speculation about his post and the rumours linking names like Fabio Cannavaro to his job were not serving as much of a distraction.

“It’s not difficult to focus,” he said. “I focus on every game as it comes and we’re not going to have the time to be any different.” Leeds play eight times in 28 days this month, starting at Rotherham United tomorrow.

“I’m 100 per cent convinced that if we win matches then the president will make the decision I’d like him to make,” Evans insisted, “but I have to let the president make that decision in his own time. I’ll give myself the best chance of being around by winning games and that’s a challenge for the players too – because a lot of them are the same as me.

“I love being the head coach at Leeds United but you need to win matches to be the head coach of Leeds United. Since I’ve joined Leeds, we’d say we’ve been frustrated with a lot of it in terms of results and performances, and the players have as well. That’s not just us as staff. But had the league table started when we walked in, we’d be 10th in it and a few points off the top six.

“You could say in that time-period, a lot of what’s happened has been very good and I’ve got a demonstrable track record which shows that when supported I deliver.”

Leeds, Cellino and Evans will fast reach the point where the Italian either accepts that view or moves Evans on and brings another head coach on board; Cellino’s seventh in two years as owner of United. Cannavaro, the renowned and now retired Italy international, was touted as a possible replacement last week but neither Cellino nor Cannavaro’s UK agents, Base Soccer, have responded to requests for comment.

Evans said the links to his post were natural. “You only have to look at Arsene Wenger,” he said.

“They (Arsenal) have probably got the best pound-per-point ratio in the whole of the world for what they spend versus what others spend but I see names linked with his job. That’s football.”

The last month of Leeds’ campaign starts in South Yorkshire this weekend, against the club Evans managed for more than three years. He left Rotherham by mutual consent in October, little over a fortnight before Cellino offered him the job at Leeds.

Evans wants to finish the campaign with a flurry but there are others at Elland Road in need of a strong ending, among them Chris Wood. The striker, who became Leeds’ most expensive signing in more than a decade last summer, has not started a game since the end of January due to injury problems and has been largely peripheral since the turn of the year.

Leeds held him back deliberately in the early part of the new year, anxious not to aggravate a troublesome hamstring, but Evans is likely to name Wood in his line-up tomorrow.

The United boss promised changes in the wake of the club’s previous game, a 4-1 defeat at home to Huddersfield Town on March 19, and he will be without Souleymane Doukara for the whole of April after the Football Association dramatically punished the Frenchman with an eight-match ban for biting last night.

“Chris has been walking backwards and forwards past my office for the last two hours,” Evans joked. “He must be trying to put himself in my thoughts!

“But I called him up, had 10 minutes with him and you could see the focus. He’s ready if selected.

“He’s used a difficult time when he was a bit down to get himself in super condition. He played in a practice match on Tuesday and said it’s the best he’s been in a long time. I don’t need to tell people the condition he’s in because any one of the people in the New York Stadium will see it on Saturday.

“We’ve got some hard work into him and any time he’s fit he must come into your mind with a view to starting. A lot of fans when they hear the team announced on Saturday will want to hear the name of Chris Wood.”

Wood has eight goals to his name this season, one fewer than Mirco Antenucci who currently stands as Leeds’ top scorer, but Evans insisted that the forward should not be despondent about his first season at Elland Road.

“It’s been disrupted by two little niggly hamstring injuries which can happen to the best players,” Evans said.

“A match-fit Chris Wood is as good as any (striker) in the Championship, by a million miles as good as anyone. It’s our job to make sure that in these four or five weeks we give Chris the opportunity to have a good end to the season.”