Brighton v Leeds United: Steve Evans fighting to keep his young stars at Elland Road

WANTED: Lewis Cook is one of the hottest properties outside the top flight.

WANTED: Lewis Cook is one of the hottest properties outside the top flight.

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HEAD COACH Steve Evans expects Leeds United to have secured the futures of Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor and Alex Mowatt before the start of next season – after proving to the talented trio the promotion credentials of the Yorkshire club.

The in-demand youngsters all have deals that expire in the summer of 2017. Following the recent departure of Sam Byram, who was into the final few months of his Elland Road contract, supporters fear another exodus of Academy-reared talent.

Talks, however, are ongoing with representatives of all three players and Evans, who reiterated his desire last week to remain at Leeds next season, believes the plans he has for the summer will go a long way towards keeping Cook, Taylor and Mowatt firmly on board.

The Scot believes Byram’s decision to join West Ham United in a £3.7m deal was partly fuelled by United being well off the pace in the hunt for promotion this term.

The highest Leeds have been in the Championship under either Evans or predecessor Uwe Rosler is 10th.

“I think Sam last summer – and I am only guessing – didn’t think there was a squad here that would challenge for the Premier League,” said the Elland Road head coach ahead of tonight’s trip to Brighton & Hove Albion. That is probably what he was looking at.

“He had a desire to play in the Premier League. If I was the father of the Cooks, the Taylors, the Mowatts then you want them to play in the Premier League, don’t you?

“But I would also want them to play there for Leeds United – so I would have a look and see if they have really got a squad which is challenging.

“Do I think Sam would have left if Uwe Rosler was coach and Leeds United were sitting in the top six? He would still be a Leeds United player. It is great to see him do well at West Ham but I think he would still have been at Elland Road.”

Byram left Leeds following months of speculation about his future, fuelled by the club’s failure to agree a new contract with the defender. An initial offer that would have involved Byram taking a wage cut was rejected and he left with just six months remaining on his deal.

Cook, one of the hottest properties outside the Premier League, was firmly on the radar of Bournemouth in the January transfer window, and both Taylor and Mowatt have built impressive reputations since breaking into the United first team.

Asked about extending the trio’s current contracts, Evans added: “I know the president (Massimo Cellino) and (executive director) Paul Bell have been speaking to representatives of those guys. That will go where it goes.

“There is no pressure from me, the club decide what is right and what is not right. But I think we won’t be going into next season with them only having one season left on their deals.”

United head to the south coast, for a game moved to be shown live by Sky Sports, needing an on-field lift.

Just one win from the last 10 league outings has left Evans’s side marooned in mid-table, 17 points adrift of the play-off spots and nine points clear of trouble.

On the surface, there seems little left to play for but pride. The reality, however, is that Evans is already preparing for next season and the players know that.

One man keen to stay is Liam Bridcutt, who joined the Championship club from Sunderland on loan in November.

Tonight, the midfielder returns to a club where he spent four happy years before leaving for the Stadium of Light in 2014.

While with the Seagulls, he helped the club to win promotion from League One and then reach the play-offs in two consecutive seasons under Gus Poyet.

“I am really happy here (at Leeds),” said the 26-year-old, who missed last week’s draw at home to Fulham to attend a funeral.

“I am playing football, which is what I came here for, and that mattered more than anything else.

“For me, I would like to stay at Leeds if the circumstances are right. So, every time I go out on the pitch, I am playing for a place in the team and not just for this season.”

Chris Wood will again be missing for United, though the club’s top scorer could return against Bolton Wanderers next weekend.

Last six games: Brighton & Hove Albion WWWDLW, Leeds United DWLDLD.

Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).

Last time: Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Leeds United 0; February 24, 2015; Championship.

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