The Monday Profile: Tom Lees
Reaching that significant milestone at such a young age is an outstanding achievement for any player and it’s testament to Leeds United’s unwavering belief in their own youth system. It’s a youth system so good, that when players aren’t breaking through on a regular basis, Leeds fans descend into uproar and our lovable chairman sacks half the staff.
But since we famously reached the Champions League semi-finals with kids, Leeds United’s philosophy hasn’t really changed. Aidy White is currently enjoying his fourth season as a professional at the ripe old age of 19, Zac Thompson and Charlie Taylor made their professional debuts this season, and our biggest success story of recent years, Jonny Howson, is now in his sixth season as a professional, with over 200 appearances to his name and our current club captain – the longest serving member of our squad at the tender age of 23.
Add Thorp Arch bred escapees like Fabian Delph into the mix, and the emergence of another young starlet starts to seem like par for the course.
And in many ways it is. But we love nothing more than a homegrown hero capturing the fans imagination here at Elland Road. After his player of the season winning contribution at promoted Bury last year, Lees has returned as an old head on young shoulders.
Making his breakthrough at right-back in a struggling Leeds United defence, Simon Grayson switched the youngster to his preferred centre back position and the gamble paid off with Leeds United going on to record back-to-back clean sheets for the first time in a year against Portsmouth and Doncaster, with Lees scoring his second goal of the season in the latter.
Tom Lees quickly established himself as a strong, no-nonsense centre back who positions himself well and can recover quickly with a decent amount of pace when he gets caught out. He’s also quite intimidating for a youngster, although that could be because he never smiles – makes you think he’s about to headbutt someone.
But Leeds’ new defensive setup was dealt a huge blow as the steady hand between the sticks, Andy Lonergan – a contender for player of the season so far alongside Adam Clayton – was ruled out for six weeks with injury. His replacement Paul Rachubka cost Leeds a third successive clean sheet and victory with an embarrassing stoppage time fumble in the box that led to Coventry City’s equaliser in the 1-1 clash at Elland Road.
That was followed by a 3-2 victory away to Peterborough, a game in which the defence and goalkeeper appeared to lack understanding about who was going to deal with high balls into the box. That result does undermine my case for an improved Leeds United defence a little, but the understanding Paul Rachubka and Leeds’ defence currently lack always takes a few games and overall, we’re still looking stronger at the back than we did previously – and Tom Lees has been the biggest factor in that improvement. I hate to over-hype youngsters and add additional pressure to reach the unrealistic levels of expectation we place on them, but Tom Lees seems to be the kind of player who won’t be affected too much by the hype – and maybe that’s the key to becoming more than an exciting young prospect? As always, only time will tell I guess…