Leeds United’s squad were anticipating the luxury of a few days off when the season breaks for its third international break next week. Instead, Steve Evans will take the unusual step of throwing his players into an impromptu friendly at Wycombe Wanderers.
Evans, by his own admission, had no complaints about the fitness of the squad left behind by Uwe Rosler last month but he will use the next fortnight to work on their “sharpness” as he tries to reinvolve Leeds at the front end of the Championship.
The first step as the 52-year-old sees it is to win at Huddersfield Town tomorrow; back-to-back victories for the first time this season after Tuesday’s defeat of Cardiff City. United’s campaign has been hard enough to warn Evans off any wild targets for the rest of it but he would like the top half of the division to take notice of his squad again.
Leeds are nine points short of the play-offs and considerably further behind a top five who are moving at pace. That gap will fall to six, albeit for only a few hours, if Evans’ side take the honour in tomorrow’s derby.
“What we have to do now is add to what was a good win against Cardiff,” Evans said. “If we do that we go into the international break ready for some hard work and some disciplined work, rather than having four or five days off.
“You only have to look at the table to see how tight it is. You look at Reading under Steve Clarke, who’s done a fantastic job, and they ran up four or five consecutive wins. They went from the bottom six to the top six quite quickly.
“I think everyone’s waiting for Leeds United to do that. We’ve not been able to do it so far and our next challenge is – to win back-to-back fixtures. If we can do that it’ll send us into the break in a good frame of mind.
“We’ve got a chance to go into the break in a mid-table position. That doesn’t seem great from a distance at Leeds United but from where the players were two or three weeks ago, it’s a giant step forward.
“If we can go to Huddersfield and get three points, we know that everyone in that top group will be having a little look behind them. Because Leeds United’s coming.”
Evans is into his third week as head coach at Elland Road after owner Massimo Cellino chose to dismiss Rosler after 12 games of the Championship term.
The forthcoming international break, in which Lewis Cook and Stuart Dallas will report for duty with England’s Under-19s and Northern Ireland respectively, was an opportunity for a rest and recuperation but the Scot said he was anxious to prevent a repeat of the slump which Leeds experienced after the first interlude at the end of August.
Leeds, under Rosler, were 10th in the table and unbeaten at that stage. By the time Rosler was sacked on October 17, they had fallen to 18th and gained only four more points.
Evans will guard against that with an intense programme next week, a programme which is due to end on Friday night with a game against Wycombe at Adams Park.
Wycombe are in the running for the League Two play-offs and their chairman, Andrew Howard, is a lifelong Leeds fan. Evans already appears to have one eye on United’s meeting with Rotherham United on November 21, the club he parted company with in September.
“You know what happens, certainly in the Premier League but also in the Championship,” Evans said. “The players disappear for a week.
“But we need to work on sharpness; not so much on running because the one thing Uwe left behind was a fit group and that’s always good from a coaching perspective.
“We want to work on sharpness, on the five, 10 yards that make a difference so we won’t be having a lot of days off. The game at Wycombe might give us the chance to give a few people some game time there but we’ll be going down there full strength. The reason for the game is to finish off a really tough week. This is an opportunity for us and the stats don’t lie. When you look at the recent international breaks, with players given lots of time off, the form (afterwards) has been simply not acceptable.
“I don’t think you get to the stage in November where you need to say to the players ‘you can have four or five days on your holidays.’ They get enough holidays in the summer. My view in this break is that as a group we’re lacking in sharpness. That will comes from high intense work and we’ve a perfect opportunity to freshen up to play my old club.”