Leeds United aiming to home in on top half

Lewis Cook, whose display against Bolton impressed head coach Steve Evans.
Lewis Cook, whose display against Bolton impressed head coach Steve Evans.
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Leeds United boss Steve Evans wants his players to put their fifth round FA Cup trip to Premier League Watford to the back of their minds as they get back to the business of trying to get the Whites up into the top half of the Championship.

United’s reward for their 2-1 victory at Bolton Wanderers last Saturday is a tough tie in the last 16 at Watford and they will be relishing the chance to test themselves against top flight opposition for the first time this season.

But before the match on February 20 they face back to back home games in the league against Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough as they look to stretch their unbeaten run beyond the current six games at Elland Road and climb up from their present 15th position.

Quite how they have managed to avoid defeat at home since November is anyone’s guess as results have certainly outweighed performances. But one pattern has emerged – the better the opposition, the better Leeds have played in the last six Elland Road matches.

The best displays since United lost at home to Rotherham have come in a win against current leaders Hull City and a fully deserved draw against fifth-placed Derby County.

Against bottom half teams the Whites have struggled so it should suit them on this basis that their next two games are against an upwardly mobile Forest side and a Boro outfit that has rarely been out of the top two all season.

The first of the games comes this Saturday against a Forest team managed by former Leeds player Dougie Freedman who are building a reputation as one of the toughest teams to beat in the division.

With a tight back four and a tactic that sees them sit deep and aim to catch the opposition on the break they average less than a goal a game conceded and have only lost eight of their 29 league matches.

Leeds and their fans therefore are likely to have to be patient and a goal fest does not look on the cards with the Whites having only netted 29 goals in 29 league games and only 12 of those at Elland Road.

There were encouraging signs of better attacking play in the cup win at Bolton as United went with two up front and created plenty of chances to score more than the two they ended up with, courtesy of Souleymane Doukara and new signing Toumani Diagouraga.

The display certainly gave encouragement to head coach Evans.

He said: “I thought it was as good a performance as we’ve had in a while.

“I thought the team carried out the plan that we’ve worked on since Wednesday. I thought they executed it really well.

“We switched off for their goal and there were a couple of nervy moments towards the end, but that’s the magic of the FA Cup.

“The goals were well worked and it was great to see big Souley score again. He’s a player I’ve taken in and loved. I think if we’d signed him from a Premier League team for five million, the fans would be saying ‘what a signing’.

“There were many players at the top of their game, but I go home in full knowledge of why Lewis Cook is worth the millions people are prepared to offer for him.

“I’m just blessed as a head coach that I can have the opportunity to work with him. He does things that are sensational on a football pitch.”