Leeds academy graduates firmly in the first-team picture

Alex Mowatt scores the only goal of the game which gave Leeds United victory over Millwall last Saturday (Picture: Simon Hulme).
Alex Mowatt scores the only goal of the game which gave Leeds United victory over Millwall last Saturday (Picture: Simon Hulme).
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WHEN the final whistle blew at Elland Road shortly before 5pm last Saturday, Leeds United were back in the top half of the Championship after a four-month absence.

Considering where the club had been at the turn of the year – a point clear of the relegation places in football’s second tier and seemingly sinking fast – it represented a quite remarkable turnaround.

No wonder, therefore, that all but the 200 Lions fans left the ground in buoyant mood.

Within a matter of hours, a photograph from that afternoon’s game had gone viral on Twitter to further swell the feel-good factor that has suddenly enveloped Leeds in 2015.

Depicting Alex Mowatt sliding along the turf in celebration of his winning goal, the shot also featured Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor chasing after their fellow Academy graduate to share in his moment.

If ever an image summed up how youth is fuelling United’s revival right now, it was this and Neil Redfearn, now head coach but Academy manager when the four youngsters were making their way through the system, admits the photograph is one to treasure.

“Those four are the only ones in the picture because they are the quickest,” joked the Leeds head coach at first when asked yesterday about the image when speaking to the media at Thorp Arch.

“No, seriously, it is a great picture. Great for the Academy, a real shot in the arm for everyone, and a reward for years of work by a lot of people.”

Byram, at 21, is the most senior of the quartet in both age and experience.

He was the club’s Young Player of the Year in 2012-13 and is back to his best after a difficult second season that was blighted by injury.

Mowatt, meanwhile, was given his head last term by Brian McDermott and has really kicked on this time around.

Cook, who celebrated his 18th birthday a little over a fortnight ago, and Taylor owe their chances this term to Redfearn and he believes that the blossoming talents of the quartet point towards a possibly bright future for Leeds.

He said: “The football club are very proud of what these young boys are achieving.

“They have great careers in front of them, I am sure of that.

“And the great thing is they are pulling this club with them, making this club successful with them.

“The ideal scenario is we keep them all together and supplement them with better players, and then you go on and become successful with them.”

Leeds, of course, know all about developing hugely talented players and seeing them blossom elsewhere.

Whether the current crop can be any different remains to be seen, especially with Byram and Cook contracted until only the end of next season.

The current instability at the top of the club cannot help in terms of providing the environment that would make committing long-term futures that bit more attractive.

This said, all four are clearly loving their football at the moment with Redfearn believing bonds formed as youngsters have played a massive part.

“I see these lads as a big cog in the machine,” he added.

“They are very close as a group, after coming through together. I have had them five years, since they were under-16s.

“That gives them a closeness – and there are three or four underneath that group, all trying to get in as well.

“I am, though, mindful of their development and how we use them.

“You look for the signs that they need to come out, be that tiredness or lack of form. But there is neither, they are all playing well.

“They are also all fit and strong. There is no obvious signs of fatigue and these lads are a major part of what we are doing.

”At this moment in time they are looking good.”