By Steve Barras
A score-draw against Nottingham Forest today was the latest result this season for Leeds u21 team, a Kalvin Phillips brace and a Brian Montenegro goal earned the youngsters a credible 3-3 draw. Dario Del Fabro was sent off for flailing a leg at a Forest player midway through the match whilst Leeds were 2-0 up and Forest clawed their way back into the game and levelled before Montenegro gave Leeds a 3-2 lead. Forest got a last minute equaliser however and despite playing well with only ten men throughout the second half, we had to settle for a point.
The game saw Phillips score his third and fourth goals of the season for the u21’s, his first and second coming against Cardiff and Barnsley and he has also netted for the u18 squad during a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United. The game also saw Montenegro score his fifth goal in seven outings and both are no doubt pushing for a place in the first team squad this season (Montenegro has already made two cameo appearances).
This will be the only time that I will mention ‘off-the-field’ antics during this column. Massimo Cellino has hinted at the closure of our state-of-the-art (twelve years ago) academy complex at Thorp Arch and to be honest when there were minor rumours during the summer I was worried. Thorp Arch for me is the very essence of Leeds United’s future, the loss of it would be catastrophic and crippling to the lifeblood of the club. Since then I have had a slight change of heart.
For those who aren't familiar with the history of our ‘Youth Academy and Training Facility’ here is a quick lesson.
When Howard Wilkinson (Manager 1988-1996) took over Leeds we were training behind the West Stand on Fullerton Park and Wilko wanted a purpose built training facility. Leeds subsequently moved into Thorp Arch in 1994. At the time Thorp Arch consisted of a number of full size pitches and a facility known as ‘The Grange’ but at the turn of the millennium Leeds moved out of ‘The Grange’ and started work on Thorp Arch as we know it today, ‘The Barn’ opened in 2002 and has largely remained the same since. Whilst Wilko recognised that Leeds needed a state-of-the-art base his successors and owners used but didn’t upgrade and we have been overtaken by a number of clubs in this country. We have the best academy in Yorkshire but not in England anymore.
Cellino’s main argument for closing down Thorp Arch is that it is thirty miles from Elland Road and young potential players from the poorer communities find it difficult to get to and from it. One story doing the rounds is that Fabian Delph had to catch three buses before he even glimpsed the complex.
Thorp Arch is actually twenty-two and a half miles from Elland Road but the fact still remains that the poorer families will struggle to justify the cost of sending their son on three buses for the slim hope of him having enough ability to break through.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not a Cellino-ite, I don’t look at his antics through rose-tinted spectacles but if he can find a site closer to Elland Road and build a facility that will continue to produce as well as it has been doing lately then I’m all for it. After-all our academy products who led us to the Champions League semi-finals developed at ‘The Grange’ not at ‘The Barn’.
Anyway, back to the present. Before today’s match against Forest, Leeds u21’s were sitting in 2nd place, a point behind leaders Forest and a point in front of Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday.
Pos Team P W D L GD PTS
1 Forest 10 6 0 4 +4 18
2 Leeds 10 5 2 3 +3 17
3 Huddersfield 9 5 1 3 +6 16
4 Sheff Wed 10 4 4 2 +4 16
Saturday morning our u18’s were defeated 3-1 at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday, Frank Mulhern got our goal. Before that game we were in 7th place, twelve points adrift of 1st place Coventry and two points clear of bottom club Crewe.
Pos Team P W D L GD PTS
6 Forest 11 3 2 6 +1 11
7 Leeds 11 3 2 6 -3 11
8 Barnsley 10 3 2 5 -14 11
9 Crewe 9 2 3 4 -2 9
Some of our academy players have been recognised on the international level as well. Eric Grimes has been called up to the Republic of Ireland u21 squad for their two friendly games against Russia and USA. Eoghan Stokes will also join up with the Republic of Ireland but at u19 level for their UEFA Qualification Tournament games and Callum Nicell will join up with the Republic of Ireland u16 squad for their games at the end of November.
Other Academy products currently with the first team who have been called up for their international teams are Alex Mowatt (England u20’s) and Lewis Cook (England u18’s).