Never mind Rotherham - Leeds’ cup ambitions are on back burner

Gaetano Berardi, right, and Rotherham's Leon Best.
Gaetano Berardi, right, and Rotherham's Leon Best.
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While Leeds coach Steve Evans would revel in a good FA Cup run, he insists that his focus, however, shouldn’t stray too far beyond the Whites’ very next fixture.

Steve Evans would like a run in the FA Cup but head coaches at Leeds United aren’t prone to thinking a month in advance.

“As the saying goes, you’re alive now,” Evans said after Leeds were paired with Rotherham United in the third round of the competition on Monday. “It’s an interesting draw and I want to make a go of the cup but even if we’d pulled the biggest club in the country I wouldn’t be giving it much thought. January’s a long way off.”

Rotherham are Evans’ former club. They are Neil Redfearn’s current club and when Rotherham came to Elland Road last month the game threw up enough bitterness and politics to make a quick rematch fascinating. But Evans is into the mindset of working game-to-game. To a large extent, a defeat to Rotherham was responsible for that.

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Leeds were bidding for a third straight win when Redfearn’s squad produced a 1-0 victory in West Yorkshire on November 21. The result sucked momentum from United’s season but an impressive win against Hull City on Saturday allowed Evans to breath more easily.

“The last Rotherham game was a missed opportunity,” he said. “We went into that game looking for – and confident of getting – a third win in a row and then two weeks later we’ve lost twice and put ourselves under a bit of pressure again.

“The FA Cup can be really memorable and a Championship club always does well. When it comes to it I want us in the next round and in the hat. I don’t care what anyone says about cup runs affecting your season (negatively) – everyone gets a buzz when you start to go far in a cup competition. It would be good for the dressing room and good for the supporters.

“But no matter who we were drawn against, I’d be giving it the minimum of thought until I toast in the new year. I’m no different to any other coach here. You never look that far ahead, not in terms of matches. The here and now’s the important thing for us.”

Leeds are due to play Rotherham between January 8 and 11 and the low probability of an all-Championship tie securing television coverage will almost certainly see the game staged on Saturday, January 9.

United have six league games to complete before then – three at home and three away, starting with Saturday’s trip to Charlton Athletic – and Evans sees that passage of fixtures as crucial in a number of respects: for the season, for himself and for the possibility of heavy recruitment in January.

“The first half against Hull was very, very good,” Evans said. “It gave a better impression of what we’re about when we play well and I was a bit disappointed that so much was made afterwards of how poor Hull were. Without being disrespectful, I don’t think any team would have coped well against us in the first half.

“What’s letting us down is our consistency. If you look at it, the squad here have beaten Hull, Derby County and Cardiff City. They drew with Burnley and were pretty close to beating them. That’s four of the (Championship’s) top six at the moment so it’s clear to me that we can live with those sides on our day.

“Our problem is that we get a couple of good results against Cardiff and Huddersfield and then we go and lose to bottom-of-the-league (Rotherham). Then we don’t play at all well at Queens Park Rangers. We’ve got a very good win over Hull behind us now and we’ve got to go to Charlton and do it again. That has to happen.”

Charlton are severely out of form and third from bottom in the Championship. Their Belgian owner has faced protests from sections of the club’s support and head coach Karel Fraeye – a 37-year-old with no extensive track record in top level management – has taken six points from as many games in charge.

Evans, who predicted that last month’s meeting with Rotherham would be a “dangerous game”, is not convinced that Charlton are the struggling side they seemed to be. He watched a re-run of their 3-2 defeat to Brighton on Saturday – a match which Albion won with three goals in the second half – and agreed with Fraeye that Brighton “were very lucky to only be 2-0 down at half-time.”

“Charlton could have been three or four up,” Evans said. “That’s against a side who are top of the league and unbeaten. It’s more than enough warning about how well we have to play to get a result down there.

“I still think we can get ourselves in a very decent position over Christmas but that’s only going to happen if we hit a run. We had a chance to put one together last month and we didn’t take it. This is the point where we’ve got to get some consistency in our play and in our results.”

United’s performance against Hull will not encourage many changes in London but Evans will have the option of recalling Gaetano Berardi after his two-match suspension.

The Swiss defender was sent off during the second half of Leeds’ defeat to Rotherham but United were successful in appealing for his ban to be reduced from the standard three games for violent conduct, allowing him to return for the trip to The Valley.

Scott Wootton has played at right-back in Berardi’s absence, preferred to Sam Byram whose career at Elland Road is nearing an end after he rejected a fresh offer of a new deal at Elland Road.