Steve Evans promised to pass ruthless judgement on individual players this summer after an FA Cup defeat to Watford on Saturday drew a line through Leeds United’s campaign.
The club’s head coach warned his squad that they were “playing to be part of next season” and said he would have “no respect for contracts” as he faced up to the end of Leeds’ FA Cup run.
The competition had kept United’s season alive after they dropped out of the fight for the Championship play-offs but an own goal from Scott Wootton condemned Leeds to a 1-0 loss at Vicarage Road, denying them a first quarter-final appearance since 2003.
Evans, whose contract runs to the end of this term but offers the option of a second year as head coach, voiced disappointment with the result and a mediocre league campaign but he defended himself by insisting again that Leeds would be “in the promotion race next season.”
United are 17th in the current table with 15 fixtures remaining, the first of those at home to Fulham tomorrow night.
Evans, who claimed he was happy with “60 per cent” of his squad, said: “It’s not all about next season now because people are playing to be part of next season. People have to produce performances.
“I’ve got no respect for them having contracts that go beyond the summer. They’ll either be a part of it come the end of the season or not, and they’ll be told to their faces.”
Evans has made three signings in his four-month reign as boss, agreeing loan deals for Liam Bridcutt and Mustapha Carayol and paying £575,000 for midfielder Toumani Diagouraga.
His transfers, however, have failed to address an acute lack of creativity up front, an issue which was apparent again in a narrow defeat to Watford.
Evans said: “We know the type of players we want to bring in and sometimes the exact players. Some of those conversations are happening.
“I look at managers at the top end of the league and they get about 10 transfer windows to build a team. We’ve had two – the last one and the one that’s coming in the summer.
“I’ve always said it – if I get the players I want, put the kettle on. We’ll be in the promotion race next season. Whether that’s good enough to get up, who knows, but we have to be ready with a group assembled. We need to be in a promotion chase.
“I think there’s no doubt that 60 per cent of the squad are very good players and good enough to be part of something here. I looked at Diagouraga in the first half and Bridcutt, and they looked like Premier League players.”
Carayol and Liam Cooper were both ruled out of Saturday’s fifth-round tie with minor injuries and are doubtful for tomorrow’s clash with Fulham.
Evans will be forced into a change in the centre of defence after Giuseppe Bellusci picked up his 10th booking of the season at Watford, incurring an automatic two-match ban.
United’s boss, however, could resist pressure to replace Wootton despite the 53rd-minute blunder which sent Leeds out of the FA Cup.
Wootton – a recognised centre-back – has been playing at right-back for much of Evans’ tenure, kept in that position by an injury to Gaetano Berardi and the departure of Sam Byram to West Ham United. Wootton was jeered by sections of United’s 4,200 away crowd following his error at Vicarage Road.
But Evans said: “They’ve travelled a long way down the country. They see a player whose form’s been a bit inconsistent and they see him score an own goal.
“That wouldn’t just happen at Leeds but because of the size of the support, it probably (sounds) worse.”