Leeds Utd v Reading: All bar elite would want to lead United, claims ‘long-server’ Steve Evans

Leeds United head coach Steve Evans (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
Leeds United head coach Steve Evans (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe).
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STEVE EVANS need only cast a glance to his left today at 3pm towards the away dugout for proof of how precarious life at the helm of Leeds United can be.

Brian McDermott, back in West Yorkshire this afternoon as Reading manager, was sacked not once but twice during the early months of Massimo Cellino’s involvement at Elland Road.

Even by the revolving door policy that has seen four head coaches come and go since, this is a statistic that stands out.

The first of those dismissals for McDermott came on the final day of the January transfer window in 2014 only to be reversed a couple of days later when it emerged Cellino, who despite having agreed terms on a deal with then owners GFH Capital to buy a majority share in the club it was yet to complete, and he had jumped the gun.

Four months later, McDermott went for good, the relationship between manager and owner – Cellino having finally completed his takeover the previous month after overturning in court a Football League ruling that had initially blocked the sale – having broken down completely.

Dave Hockaday, Darko Milanic, Neil Redfearn and Uwe Rosler have all been and gone since then, but Evans remains hopeful of bucking this ‘hire and fire’ trend by earning a contract extension beyond the summer.

Today, the Scot will become the longest serving coach of Cellino’s reign when he takes charge of his 34th game. Considering two of his predecessors managed just half-a-dozen apiece before being dispatched, this is no mean feat.

Whether Evans will get the opportunity to lead United into next season remains to be seen but, for his part, the focus remains on finishing 2015-16 strongly, starting with the task of ensuring McDermott’s return ends in disappointment for the 55-year-old Royals chief.

“Who would not want to be manager of Leeds United?” queried Evans when asked about his own future. “Most in football, all bar the elite.

“This is one of the biggest clubs in British football and we all know the level the club wants to be at and deserves to be.

“But, right now, my focus is on Reading. What I do know is if we beat them to move into the top half, then we will play Wolves (on Tuesday) to be in the top 10. That is a big incentive for the dressing room.”

A top-10 place was the target set by Evans’s predecessor Rosler in August. The German, though, lasted just 11 games before being axed to continue the managerial merry-go-round under Cellino that had begun in high farce with the sacking-that-never-was involving McDermott.

His apparent removal on what descended into Leeds’s own ‘Mad Friday’ triggered a chaotic chain of events that, by morning, had seen the club’s acting chief executive sacked, the managing director resign and the club captain clumsily wade into the row live on national television.

Cellino’s attempts to leave Elland Road that night were also held up by angry supporters chasing a taxi round the car park in an attempt to prevent the driver collecting his fare.

Even by United’s standards, it was a head-spinning turn of events that merely continued over a weekend that brought a resounding derby win over Huddersfield Town amid supporter protests plus an SOS call from GFH for McDermott to return.

He answered that plea by driving back into Thorp Arch on the Monday morning and, although the reprieve proved only temporary, he remains a popular figure among supporters.

“Brian is a good man and I have known him a lot of years,” said Evans when asked about McDermott, who famously handed over a 50 euros note to a small group of fans who had cheekily been calling for the Leeds manager to “get the beers in” during a pre-season tour of Slovenia.

“We welcome Brian and I would think he will get a good reception from the Leeds United supporters. They are fantastic towards ex-coaches.

“I had it recently at Rotherham (when Evans was applauded on his first return since being sacked earlier this season). That reception is something I will always remember and be something I will be touched by until the day I pass this world. It was very humbling.

“Brian will get a nice reception, but we don’t want to give him anything more. We want to give him no points because we want to bounce into the top half of the table.

“A good man is coming with a lot of good players, but we have to meet that challenge head on.”

Leeds go into today’s meeting on the back of an encouraging week. Last Saturday may have brought a 1-0 defeat at Burnley, but Evans’s side matched the promotion hopefuls for most of the afternoon.

That was followed up by the win at Birmingham in midweek that saw Stuart Dallas net twice to lift United back to within touching distance of the top half.

With back-to-back home games in the next four days, Evans admits Leeds have a great chance of pushing on towards that pre-season target set by his predecessor back in August.

“We have to be ultra-professional,” added Evans, who is without the suspended Alex Mowatt. “By Saturday night, we want another three points. If we play as well as we have done in our last two games, we will have a real chance.

“Reading are a good side, but, if we get that win, we will have done a big part of making sure we are part of the Championship. And then we look at the objective I mentioned a few weeks ago.

“The league table never lies come the end of the season. If we can get in the top 10, it would be something nice to build on for next season.

“I see us as three or four players short of being a squad very capable of challenging at the top of the league. Talk is cheap and it is harder to deliver.

“But if I am here next season, we will challenge for promotion.”