Watford v Leeds United: Wood in race to face the Hornets

Chris Wood.
Chris Wood.
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Chris Wood will be given until tomorrow to prove his fitness for Leeds United’s FA Cup tie at Watford with head coach Steve Evans anxious to re-involve the club’s “main man”.

Evans said the striker was rated “50-50” to overcome a hamstring strain and make United’s squad for Saturday’s fifth-round tie at Vicarage Road with Leeds continuing to want for goals.

The club drew a blank in Monday’s 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough, the second league game in a row where Evans’s side have failed to score despite a competitive display against a team in contention for the Championship title.

Evans changed his system to allow Souleymane Doukara to partner Mirco Antenucci up front but he admitted that Leeds were being hampered by the prolonged absence of Wood, the forward signed for £3m from Leicester City last summer.

Wood has played only twice since the turn of the year and his comeback from a previous hamstring injury was halted quickly when he suffered a fresh problem in the early stages of a 1-1 draw at Brentford last month.

Evans had been criticised for refusing to recall the forward earlier with Leeds fighting in vain to stay in the hunt for the Championship play-offs but Wood’s setback has ruled him out of the last three matches.

United travel to Premier League side Watford bidding to make the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time

since 2003 and Evans plans to take a decision on Wood’s fitness tomorrow afternoon.

“It’s maybe a stretch too soon but we’ll give him until Thursday,” Evans said. “He’s 50-50.

“We’ve looked at it every two or three days and there’s been a marked improvement. We didn’t take a risk before but I got criticism for not starting him in a game (against Bristol City at Elland Road). We went to Brentford, introduced him from the start and it was disappointing to be missing him again.”

Wood is United’s leading scorer with eight goals, his last claimed in a 2-2 draw against Derby County on December 27. The 24-year-old, who has been troubled by minor hamstring issues throughout his short time with Leeds, limped out of that game in the closing stages.

Evans has failed to sign a new striker during his four-month reign as United’s head coach, despite targeting players in both the emergency loan market and FIFA’s January window, and he said Middlesbrough’s resources - improved by the £9million purchase of Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn Rovers - were apparent on Monday night.

Evans said: “I’ve never sat here and said we’re punished by missing Chris Wood but I don’t see another team in the Championship missing their main man for as long as we’ve missed Chris.

“Chris is a big player. I see David Nugent coming off (Middlesbrough’s) bench and Jordan Rhodes there too. I look at the options they’ve got - they’re all fit, all playing. It’s the same at Burnley and Hull and Chris could play for any of those teams. This club spent a lot of money on Chris and we’ve been unfortunate.

“But I’m not going to decry my front two (Doukara and Antenucci) because they were very good. If they were playing for any other team I think you’d go away and say they are two excellent strikers.”