AUTUMN is nigh and Tom Lees has a spring in his step once again.
A crazy second half of last season at former club Leeds United proved challenging in the extreme.
Some torrid on-pitch episodes were interspersed with a sense of disorder off it.
The ownership of the club turned into a major saga, players’ wages were deferred and Brian McDermott was sacked and then reinstated.
It was a club fraying at the seams, where each passing week, if not day, brought further developments that left people shaking their heads in bewilderment.
Plenty of good people have moved on to pastures new since, with Lees among that number.
He has found his own sanctuary just 30 miles down the M1 at Sheffield Wednesday and his new-found sense of ease was self-evident in his utterances to the press at the Owls’ Middlewood Road training ground this week.
It does not half help when you start a season with a six-match unbeaten run.
Lees, who has been solidity personified since making his debut in the Owls’ opening-day Championship win at Brighton, said: “It is nice to just focus on football, really, coming to Sheffield Wednesday.
“I heard Attey (Atdhe Nuhiu) do an interview in the week about feeling that everyone is as one going forward, whether it is the fans, staff, even the people in the kitchen and training ground.
“The spirit here has been fantastic and it has been really easy to settle in and I am really enjoying the way we are all working really hard for each other.
“We have an honest group here who give everything.
“I thought we had a good dressing room (at Leeds). But there’s always things going on, isn’t there?
“It is just nice to get your head down and focus on the football and take away all the rubbish.
“It has just been a refreshing change. Sometimes you can be somewhere a while, maybe a bit too long. It’s really good to come out and test myself.
“It has been a really good start and it helps when the team are playing well, also. It’s been good, I could not be more grateful for how the club has welcomed me and all the players and staff.”
For Lees, up to present, it has been the most seamless of starts to his Wednesday career and the defender would be forgiven for thinking to himself, ‘Where’s the catch?’.
Six games played, no defeats, four clean sheets, just one goal conceded in open play, with perhaps the biggest tribute to Lees’s form being that he has the look of someone who has been playing in the famous blue and white striped jersey for years and not weeks.
Lees is the first to admit back-five continuity has helped matters. The elevation of Kamil Zayatte to the starting line-up at Burnley on Tuesday – to protect captain Glenn Loovens, who is currently on four bookings – was the first change to his backline made by head coach Stuart Gray this term.
Yet 23-year-old Lees is savvy enough to appreciate you are only as good as your next game – which in the unbeaten Owls’ case is a juicy televised assignment against another head-turning Championship act of 2014-15 in Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough this lunchtime.
Lees, whose partnership with Loovens is likely to be restored today, said: “When I was at Leeds, the defence was chopped around quite a bit and I never had anyone I played alongside for a season.
“That could have been down to us not playing well regularly or keeping our form. I cannot blame that and things could change here; people can get injured or form could drop.
“But I cannot speak highly enough of the lads in this team, the lads around me in the back four and the people in front of us, protecting you. We all know we can rely on each other.
“We are working from the front, pressing up high to force mistakes. We keep good possession, which helps as well.
“We have defended when we have had to, which is something we need to keep doing and can’t get complacent. We need to concentrate on doing all the dirty defensive moments, whether it’s set-plays, blocks or last-minute interceptions. We can be pleased and definitely build on it.”
Offering his thoughts on the Forest game, he added: “We must go into it thinking it is a good opportunity for us to put a good marker down and show what we are about. These are the sort of games where we can gauge how far we have come.
“If we can still be unbeaten, that will be massive.
“I don’t think anyone would have really expected that, looking at the start we have had with a lot of difficult fixtures, especially away, which has been pleasing.
“We just need one big push before the international break, then we can regroup and, hopefully, get a few of the injured players back and we go again.”
The last time the cameras rolled into Hillsborough on a Saturday lunchtime and Lees was involved in a game at S6 was an occasion to make him wince.
It is fair to say he is well aware of that fact heading into the Forest encounter.
On January 11 this year, Lees and his then Leeds colleagues bore the brunt of visiting supporters’ ire – they were also lampooned by many fans of a non-Whites persuasion across the country – after a calamitous 6-0 derby defeat.
Lees, who played on the right-hand side of the three-man central defence, was substituted at half-time in a game that no Owls fan is likely to forget in a hurry, or Leeds for that matter, and he admits experiencing the flip side of the coin would be appreciated today.
He said: “The gaffer doesn’t stop reminding me about that.
“It was a bad day, but I have to look at it positively in terms of that is what Sheffield Wednesday can do. Hopefully, I can be part of something like that this time.”