AS current head coach Neil Redfearn proved during his own playing career, a goal-scoring midfield player can make all the difference in the race for the Premier League.
In the season that Barnsley won promotion to the top flight, the Dewsbury-born midfielder netted 17 times in the league. To illustrate how vital those goals were to the aspirations of Danny Wilson’s team in 1996-97, only John Hendrie with 15 also managed double figures that season.
No wonder, therefore, that Redfearn, as initially Alex Mowatt’s Academy coach and now his first-team chief, has been preaching to the teenager the importance of being able to find the net on a regular basis.
The words have hit home, the 19-year-old now regularly spending time after training practising the art of goal-scoring – the value of which has been underlined in the past week.
After briefly giving Leeds hope of an unlikely point at Cardiff City last Saturday with a well-taken goal, Mowatt produced two more wonderful strikes in the midweek draw at home to Charlton Athletic.
“My aim at the start of the season was to play matches and add goals to my game,” said Mowatt when speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home game with Blackpool.
“I felt I’d had a good season (in 2013-14) but I knew I had to build on that. Goals were one of those things I wanted to add.
“To help me, I have been staying behind in training and worked on my finishing.
“I go out and practise firing into the net. I curl free-kicks in and things like that.
“That practice means that when I get chances like against Charlton, I stand a much better chance of scoring. It comes more naturally.
“To be fair, I had scored goals like those two against Charlton in training and knowing that gave me the confidence to try and score when the chances came along. Last season, I would have probably laid the ball off – especially for the first one.
“Instead, I wanted to have a go. I felt confident after scoring at Cardiff so, when the ball came to me, I knew what I wanted to do. It came to me on my right foot but I wanted it on my left.
“I realised there were a few of the lads on the edge of the box who I could have laid it to. But I fancied my chances once it was on my left foot and I was pleased with the finish.
“Then, for the second one, it came to me and I knew that I had to have another go. I thought that was even better than the first one.”
Mowatt’s view about the quality of his two goals was certainly shared by the 18,698 crowd at Elland Road on Tuesday night.
Redfearn, too, was proud of a player he has seen plenty of since first working with the United Academy in 2009.
Asked about the teenager during the build-up to today’s game, the United head coach said: “Alex’s finishing was out of the top draw, absolutely outstanding.
“He is a midfield player that I believe can get double figures, and I know from my own experience as a player that midfielders who can score goals are like gold dust. They can turn an average season into a promotion season.”
Judging by United’s lowly 17th place in the Championship, expecting Mowatt’s goals to spark a promotion push this time around is pushing things.
There can, though, be little doubt that in the Doncaster-born midfielder, Leeds’s youth set-up has unearthed another gem.
Comfortable on the ball, Mowatt also loves a tackle and with goal-scoring potential now having been added – four have been bagged this term, three more than the youngster managed from 29 league appearances in 2013-14 – he is now surely among the first names on the Elland Road team-sheet.
For his part, the England Under-19 international admits to enjoying his football this term and, in particular, playing for Redfearn.
He said: “The training has been very good since Redders came back in. It is sharp and that means when a game comes round, we feel ready. He knows me and I know him, and it works well.
“He has faith in a lot of the young lads and that has really helped my own confidence, which is high at the moment. That is vital to any player. When it is going well, you just expect things to drop for you.
“Whereas, when you are lacking in confidence, things like the ball dropping to me against Charlton and me having a go are not what you expect.
“In my career, I can’t think of any that were better than the second goal. I enjoyed scoring at Cardiff but it probably wasn’t as good a goal as this one.”
The clumsy foul by Giuseppe Bellusci that earned the London club a point on Tuesday means the Italian will sit out today’s game due to collecting five bookings.
Jason Pearce, banned for the Charlton game, will partner Liam Cooper at the heart of the defence as United go in search of a first win since Huddersfield were beaten at Elland Road on September 20.
Leeds were yesterday served with a winding-up petition.
Solicitors Ford & Warren launched proceedings in the High Court over unpaid costs relating to a case involving ex-Leeds chairman Ken Bates and one-time United director Melvyn Levi. Ford & Warren are claiming fees in the region of £150,000 and the case is due to be heard on January 13.
The claim involves a case in which Levi and one of his business partners, Robert Weston, were accused by Bates of dishonest dealings.
That allegation was struck out in court, leading Ford and Warren to seek costs from United.
Bates sold Leeds to Gulf Finance House in 2012 and control of the Elland Road club passed to Massimo Cellino when the bought a 75 per cent stake from GFH in April of this year.
United faced a series of winding-up petitions – including at least one from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – earlier this year, around the time that Cellino was negotiating his purchase of the club from GFH.