WITH a strong performance against automatic promotion contenders Derby, Leeds United finished the year on a high, extending their unbeaten run to 6 games and taking 8 points from their last 4 games. The recent good form displayed by The Whites under Steve Evans comes after a mediocre start to the season which left the club close to relegation, and up until recently, without a win at home in 7 months.
Ex-Rotherham boss Steve Evans took charge of the Whites after Uwe Rosler was sacked by Cellino in what was a bad spell for the club, with many lacklustre results and performances. The appointment of Evans seemed perhaps a backward step at first, replacing a manger who has championship experience, with one who had left a club (Rotherham) who were struggling at the bottom of the table. However, Evans’ physical, pressing style of football has proven to be just what the club needed to turn results around and pick up points which were desperately needed. The loan signing of Liam Bridcutt from Sunderland is a testament to the good judgement of Evans, strengthening the midfield and showing the physicality which is a highly valued trait in this league.
The question remains as to whether Cellino trusts the judgement of Evans enough to grant funds to use in the January transfer window, a decision which will also surely be made largely on the basis of how likely a push for the play-offs could be. Although Leeds are in fine form, Ipswich beat Brighton on the same night they drew with Derby, thus extending the gap to 6th place to 9 points. By no means is this too large a gap to close down, this distance could dissuade Cellino from funding potential transfer signings, something which would frustrate Evans who has publicly stated his desire to bring in 3 or 4 players when the transfer market opens.
As such it is difficult to make a prediction as to where Leeds might finish in the championship, since any aspirations for a top 6 finish could rest on transfer activity. Another important factor will be where Sam Byram decides his future will be – the promising youngster’s contract expires at the end of the season, having rejected several renewed contract offers from Leeds, leaving many to believe he will accept a transfer offer in January. This would be a big blow for the Whites as Byram is one of the players who makes up the youth core of the team which has been instrumental in Leeds recent turn around in form and his departure would surely hinder the play-off ambition.
Having said this, I believe that if Leeds can make a few signings in January and start the next year with the same form they have showed towards the end of this year, they could challenge for the playoffs. Though if there is no activity over the transfer window, then I think that the Whites will finish the season roughly where they are as of the end of 2015, in 12th place. There is certainly cause for optimism for Leeds fans going into next year, and for the first time in a while the team are performing consistently and proving they can contend with top sides in the championship.
Featured image: The 72.co.uk