Preston v Leeds United: Liam Bridcutt’s return adds potency to midfield mix

Liam Bridcutt
Liam Bridcutt
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Whites captain Liam Bridcutt says he’s fit and ready for action but is well aware that squad-mates have improved in his absence – and that doesn’t make him a selection shoo-in. Lee Sobot reports.

LEEDS United’s fans were left with a sinking feeling following the news that captain Liam Bridcutt would be facing two months out with a fractured bone in his foot.

The defensive midfielder was seen as a crucial signing from Sunderland and integral to United’s progress on the pitch.

With Irish international midfielder Eunan O’Kane also struggling with a groin problem of late, Kalvin Phillips and Ronaldo Vieira have had to step up to the plate.

“Unbelievable” efforts in the eyes of 27-year-old Bridcutt, who is eyeing his first start since September at Preston North End today, but knows strength in depth could prevent even the skipper from “walking back into the side”.

Walking was about all Bridcutt could do from the middle of September onwards with the midfielder injured during the home clash against Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, September 13.

Bridcutt was substituted after 49 minutes and initial indications were that the Reading-born footballer had suffered only a minor injury and would be looking at an imminent return.

In fact, the captain had fractured a bone in his foot and would not return to the Leeds side until three months later when on as a 33rd minute substitute for the injured Chris Wood in this month’s home clash with home town Reading.

Even that re-appearance came sooner than expected, with Bridcutt admitting the initial plan was to have a couple of outings for Leeds United’s under-23s first. As it is, after coming through 57 minutes of the Royals clash and then 18 minutes of last weekend’s Elland Road encounter with Brentford, Bridcutt may well now start in today’s Boxing Day fixture at Deepdale.

Yet even with O’Kane still nursing a groin problem, Whites head coach Garry Monk has other strong options thanks to the form of young centre-midfied duo Phillips and Vieira, who Bridcutt has been highly impressed with in his absence.

Leeds have climbed to fifth in the table in spite of the captain’s three-month lay-off, and Bridcutt told the YEP: “For me, every team that I have ever been at, the midfield is always probably the strongest part of the team.

“That’s where you are going to get most of the battles really in terms of numbers and stuff like that.

“I am not saying I am going to walk back into the team and I know that the boys that have been in there have done unbelievably well.

“They have had a good run of games and done really well.

“It’s down to the manager if he feels whoever is ready to be in on that day. It’s down to him.

“Obviously, if he thinks that I’m ready then he will put me in.

“But I am feeling fit, I am feeling strong and obviously I have shown that I have worked hard over this year other than the 10 weeks that I was out because I trained five days and then I had 75 minutes straight back in and I didn’t look out of place.

“That’s obviously full credit to the medical staff with what they have done there.”

Bridcutt admitted: “The plan was originally to get a few games with the 23s and ease my way back in.

“But obviously with the circumstances with suspensions and a few other injuries, the manager knew there was going to be that little bit of a risk there.

“But for me I felt strong and I knew I was in the right shape to go into that game and I don’t think he would have put me in if he didn’t think so.”

Bridcutt’s return not only bolsters United’s midfield but also their dressing room.

Just under one month short of finally joining Leeds permanently from Sunderland in the middle of August, Bridcutt was made Leeds United’s captain on September 9 following the departure of former skipper Sol Bamba.

Bridcutt explained: “I got the phone call and the manager sat me down and said that the president and he had been speaking, obviously after Sol left, and that they said that they thought I would be the best candidate for the role really.

“That was a great honour.

“You are captaining one of the sides that is one of the top teams in Europe in terms of the fans and the club’s history.

“It’s a great achievement.”

The former Sunderland midfielder was the natural choice given his experience of the Premier League – and the Scotland international makes no secret of his desire to return to the country’s top flight soon.

“One hundred per cent,” said the former Chelsea youth player.

“I have had a few starts in the Premier League now and I’ve had a taste of it.

“I have always said as a kid that you want to be playing at the highest level and testing yourself.

“I think that coming here has given me a great platform to go and prove that I should be back.

“We just take it game by game and I think the key now is to not get carried away.

“It’s still too early in the season and I think every game, you know it’s going to be a tough game and every game I think we are maturing as a team and growing as a team. We have got good set of lads and we want to achieve great things.

“And the management has been great.

“We just take it game by game and then, by April, then we can hopefully start talking about promotion.”