His performance was dubbed ‘quite exceptional’ by head coach Steve Evans but midfield player Tom Adeyemi is unsure if he will still have a future at Elland Road by the summer.
When Adeyemi first joined Leeds United, he described the club as “arguably the biggest in the Championship.” The past five months have been an education for him – life on a “different level” as the midfielder puts it.
He came to Leeds on a season-long loan in July after a change of manager pushed him out of the picture at Cardiff City. Uwe Rosler, the head coach who signed him, wanted Adeyemi to “find a home” at Elland Road but midway through October Rosler was sacked. Since then, Adeyemi has seen first-hand how the goldfish bowl operates.
The 24-year-old might have worried that Rosler’s dismissal would have the same effect as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s exit from Cardiff last year but performances like his against Hull City on Saturday will keep Steve Evans sweet. Evans called Adeyemi “quite exceptional” after the midfielder’s 45th-minute goal earned United a precious 2-1 win.
Adeyemi is at a key stage of his career, both generally and with Leeds. The club took him from Cardiff with a view to a permanent transfer next summer but he was Rosler’s recruit and had played under the German previously at Brentford. United’s owner, Massimo Cellino, liked him, too, but Cellino remains at risk of a Football League ban and has spoken about selling his stake in Leeds.
Amid all that, Adeyemi admitted that thoughts about his future were at the back of his mind.
“I’m just focusing on doing as well as I can for Leeds,” he said. “The rest can take care of itself.
“I don’t know what the club’s plans are. Obviously I was brought in during the summer under different circumstances to what we’re in now. I honestly don’t know what will happen.
“The focus here is on a different level here to what I’ve known in my career. The following and the press headlines which surround the club show how massive Leeds United are.
“We’re in the Championship but this is a massive club. The fans deserve more. We’re trying to improve things.”
Adeyemi’s goal against Hull – a scrambled finish minus one boot after a volley from Lewis Cook rebounded into the six-yard box – settled an eventful Yorkshire derby on Saturday but no less decisive was the difference his inclusion made to the structure of Evans’s team, particularly in the first half.
The selection of Adeyemi allowed Liam Bridcutt, United’s loanee from Sunderland, to occupy an out-and-out defensive midfield role. Adeyemi and Lewis Cook played in front of him and rattled Hull for 45 minutes. City were 2-0 down at the break. Their manager, Steve Bruce, read his players the riot act.
Hull were better after half-time as Leeds dropped deep and Elland Road was forced to hold its breath as Ahmed Elmohamady pulled a goal back and Chuba Akpom missed a header from point-blank range in the closing minutes. It was, still, a crucial victory after a difficult fortnight.
Evans singled out striker Chris Wood as United’s man-of-the-match but took notice of Adeyemi’s contribution after starting the midfielder for the first time in four matches.
“Tom was quite exceptional,” Evans said. “We told him afterwards that needs to work on his fitness level – tongue in cheek! He was box-to-box, side-to-side and he got his goal. We were strong all over.”
Adeyemi said his first goal at Elland Road – and his first since a 2-1 win at Derby County in August – was “special”. “Cooky had a shot and my left boot fell off,” he said. “I’m not sure if someone stood on my foot or not but I stayed on my feet and put it in with the other foot.
“It’s only my second goal of the season so it’s a big deal for me – and my first at Elland Road which makes it special.
“The manager was pleased afterwards. He said we’d worked hard on the back of last week and deserved the result. He stressed that it’s now about what we do next and how we go forward.”
The win over Hull was an antidote to two poisonous weeks in which Leeds lost to Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers and took the brunt of scathing criticism from a large away crowd at Loftus Road. Saturday’s result put six points between Leeds and the bottom three and left seven between them and the play-off positions, albeit with 10 teams in between.
Leeds travel to Charlton this weekend, a side who are third from bottom in the Championship and have lost seven of their last nine matches. Simon Grayson’s Preston North End will then contest the last fixture before Christmas. United’s timely victory over Hull vindicated Evans’s claim that the season was “a marathon” – and that other clubs narrowly in front of Leeds “won’t be answering questions about whether they’re in a relegation fight.”
Adeyemi said: “Christmas, with the amount of games we play, is a massive opportunity to climb the table.
“At the same time, it can go the other way but a win like Hull gives us belief. We’ll head to Charlton full of confidence and, hopefully, we can put in a similar performance.
“If we can perform like that against Hull then we can do it against other teams. And if we do that, I don’t think there will be too many who can live with us.”