Sam Byram emerged from the most difficult period of his career at Leeds United by earning a 3-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers and reviving hopes of him signing a new deal.
Byram set aside the dispute over his dwindling contract to make the most of a surprise recall to United’s starting line-up last night with two goals in a dramatic game at Molineux.
The 22-year-old was handed his first start for almost two months and scored either side of half-time to earn a deserved win and keep Leeds in the hunt for the Championship play-offs, eight points off sixth place.
Byram – United’s former player of the year – has been the centre of attention at Elland Road amid unsuccessful attempts by Leeds to extend a deal which expires at the end of this season.
A final offer made last month, matching his £12,000-a-week wage and extending his stay to 2017, was rejected by him but Evans opted to play him against Wolves despite a prior warning that he would look for Leeds to sell Byram in January if the ex-academy player refused to sign. Byram pounced on his opportunity, slotting home a simple finish on 44 minutes before putting Leeds 3-1 ahead with a hanging header on the hour.
Stuart Dallas had earlier found the net as Leeds fought back from a poor opening half-hour and an early strike from Wolves’ Benik Afobe.
Evans said: “I’m not crossing my fingers but I want Sam Byram to be at Leeds United more than anything. If he does then I’m sure something can still be done.
“That’s an issue for the boardroom. I’m just glad he’s got two goals and played really well. I’m not a manager who’s frightened to make a decision and Sam’s been good on the training ground for the last two weeks. I told him his chance was coming.
“Nothing changes my opinion, he has to sign a contract. We can’t just sit there and say ‘the player controls the football club.’ But you saw the fans’ reception to him. The players, all of us – we love the kid to bits.
“When I told the owner (Massimo Cellino) the team at tea-time he messaged me back saying ‘I hope Sam Byram gets two goals and man-of-the-match’.”
Byram took the plaudits afterwards but the game turned on Evans’ inspired decision to use maligned forward Souleymane Doukara as a half-hour substitute for Tom Adeyemi.
United’s performance improved dramatically and Evans said: “For 35 minutes we were awful. We rode our luck just to be one down.
“We needed someone with power and strength, someone who was going to stretch their defence. The stats will show that (Doukara) did that.”