United ready for Premier test in FA Cup

Leeds United striker Souleymane Doukara gets a header in against Middlesbrough.
Leeds United striker Souleymane Doukara gets a header in against Middlesbrough.
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With their league season seemingly drifting to another disappointing conclusion Leeds United head back into the FA Cup on Saturday with head coach Steve Evans more than keen to make his own piece of club history.

The Whites have not reached the quarter-finals of the famous competition they once won since 2003, but have the chance to reach the last eight when they go to Watford.

With no real need to hold players back for the league even though they have a game at home to Fulham next Tuesday, Evans will field his strongest possible side and hope to take advantage of any complacency on Watford’s part now they are looking an established Premiership outfit.

The hosts will clearly start as big favourites, but Evans is relishing the chance for his players to test themselves against opponents from the top flight.

He said: “It’s a big game. I’ve been reading all sorts of statistics when Leeds United were last in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

“It would be great if we can bring them back to Elland Road. We want to go there, advance and go through, but to bring Watford to Elland Road with 30,000 here trying to get us through would be great.”

United had midfielder Alex Mowatt back after injury for the Middlesbrough game last Monday and are close to getting two more back, but the cup tie may come a bit too early for them.

Evans explained: “Chris Wood, our main man, has been badly missed. It’s maybe a stretch too soon but we’ll give him until Thursday.

“He’s 50-50. We’ve looked at it every two or three days and there’s been a marked improvement. We didn’t take a risk before but I got criticism for not starting him in a game (against Bristol City at Elland Road). We went to Brentford, introduced him from the start and it was disappointing to be missing him again.

“Gaetano Berardi is training with the full group for the first time this week.

“He’s done two weeks of intensive training on the grass, twisting, turning, kicking, tackling. We’ll find out how fit he is. We know how big an asset he is coming back.”

Evans was pleased with the way his tactical plan for the Middlesbrough game played out and may opt for the same diamond formation for the trip to Vicarage Road.

Mowatt will be pushing for a place in the starting line-up after looking lively when coming on as a substitute, but it is unlikely Evans will want to leave out Lewis Cook to accommodate him or drop one of his two January signings, Toumani Diagouraga or Liam Bridcutt, who have formed a double defensive midfield combination in recent weeks.

Up front is where Leeds are still looking light and Evans knows he has to find a way of improving a scoring record that shows just two goals in the last five league matches.

But Souleymane Doukara impressed against Middlesbrough and came mighty close to scoring after being given more of a central role than in the previous game.

His strike partner, Mirco Antenucci, however, was taken off after looking ineffective again. He earned praise for his work rate from his head coach, but he has not scored since the Huddersfield Town game on November 7 and it looked that way as he seemed to lack confidence. If Wood remains out, though, he looks likely to be given the nod again with only the raw Lee Erwin as any kind of competition.