Bolton v Leeds United: Demand for top-six place is okay by O’Kane

Eunan O'Kane talks tactics with Leeds United team-mate Chris Wood ahead of last month's friendly with Borussia Monchengladbach (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Eunan O'Kane talks tactics with Leeds United team-mate Chris Wood ahead of last month's friendly with Borussia Monchengladbach (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
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EUNAN O’KANE has no problem with Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani breaking with modern football protocol this week by going public with his demand for the club to finish in the top six.

Far from it, in fact, with the Republic of Ireland international insisting last season’s seventh-place finish meant the squad were already well aware of what will be required in the coming months.

“Regardless of whether it is public or not,” said O’Kane about Radrizzani’s target for new head coach Thomas Christiansen, “we all knew that was the expectation before it was said.

“It was not a shock to us and why shouldn’t it be the case based on how we did last season? We were so close and only fell away at the end. He has every right to have that ambition based on the amount of money he has spent.

“It is maybe added pressure that everyone now knows it, but, at the same time, it was always expected of us. It doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Christiansen, whose bow in English football comes tomorrow at Bolton Wanderers, could do a lot worse than turn to O’Kane as a way of meeting his new chairman’s target.

Certainly, the 27-year-old’s record since joining from Bournemouth a little under a year ago points towards him being something of a talisman for Leeds.

In 25 league and cup appearances last term, O’Kane finished on the winning side an impressive 15 times and lost only six.

That two of those half dozen defeats came against Newcastle United and Liverpool, while another saw him play just the final eight minutes of last February’s derby at Huddersfield Town, suggests United were a much better team with him on the field.

Then head coach Garry Monk clearly had other ideas with his August capture from Dean Court making just eight starts after Christmas and spending a six-game run in April confined to the bench as Leeds’s play-off ambitions blew up in spectacular fashion.

“Extremely disappointing,” is O’Kane’s verdict, albeit after stressing how he and Monk had parted on good terms when the latter walked out of Elland Road earlier in the summer.

“I had an injury problem around Christmas time, which kept me out for two months. But then to come back and be fit when the team was going through a bad run of form – and not be given the opportunity to turn that around – was frustrating and really difficult.

“Who knows? I would like to think that I could have helped in some way, but, at this point, it is purely speculation.

“It is not my decision to pick the team. I can only do what I can when I am given the opportunity. It is not something I can hold on to and be bitter.

“But it can act as motivation this time. It was hugely frustrating for me, but, if I am given the opportunity to show what I can do (this season) then, hopefully, we won’t have too many of those frustrating runs.”

United’s attempts to go at least one better than last term’s seventh place finish starts tomorrow at the Macron against Phil Parkinson’s newly-promoted team.

The identity of who will captain the side is not yet clear, Christiansen having held a vote among his players to decide who dons the armband.

It is an unusual approach, especially as many of the new signings have come from abroad and are likely to need time to settle amid the hurly-burly nature of the Championship.

An early taster of what can be expected will come via Bolton, whose direct style will ask searching questions of the new imports.

O’Kane, for his part, is eager to get the season under way. “Excitement is the main feeling around the club,” said the midfielder who helped Bournemouth into the Premier League two years ago.

“The amount of change that has happened is all very exciting. We are more than capable (of being successful). We have managed to keep the majority of what we had last season.

“Only one or two have gone that we may have wanted to keep, but we have added a lot more quality to the squad, a lot more depth.

“The changes like we have had here are something I experienced before at Bournemouth. You have a new owner coming in and he invests money in the club.

“It is all very exciting and we know how that ended up for them. Hopefully, we will be playing against them next season.”

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was last night reportedly taking a medical ahead of a season-long loan move to Leeds from Manchester United.