TOM LEES admits the 2013-14 campaign has been an up and down one from a personal perspective – but he is confident things are turning for the better.
The 23-year-old, in his third season as a fully-fledged regular at United, says his early form represented something of a disappointment, with the centre-half known to place high standards upon himself and one who analyses his own performance levels somewhat assiduously.
Slowly but surely, Lees feels his form is getting back to the levels of 2011-12 and 2012-13, which culminated in him representing England in last summer’s Uefa European Under-21s Championships in Israel.
Coincidently, in his last three matches in a United jersey, the club have not conceded a goal and Lees, operating on the right-hand side of a central defensive trio, is hoping it’s a sign of things to come.
He said: “It’s been an up-and-down season for myself really. I had a long summer playing, although I am not using that as an excuse. (Although) maybe I was a bit tired coming back from that tournament in the summer.
“I wasn’t at my best for the first five games; it’s as simple as that. I spoke to the manager and he told me what he wanted me to do. I’ve just tried to keep my head down really.
“I spoke to him and he told me what he wanted from me. Fair play, he gave me my chance again and I came back in and I am doing all I can to be the centre-half he wanted me to be.
“I think he has got very strong views on how he wants us three to play at the back. Our job at the moment is to keep clean sheets and luckily enough, we got one this week and last week and against Wigan. We have got to keep doing that.”
He added: “I don’t think I’ve been awful, but I have high standards for myself. In the first games, I wasn’t reaching those levels.
“I think in the last few games, I’ve come back into a bit of form.
“I am really enjoying it.
“I came out of the team and since I have come back, I have been trying to do everything I can to hold onto my shirt. I am just going to try and hold onto my spot now for the rest of the season and do what I can to keep improving; like I do all the time.”
McDermott’s employment of a 3-5-2 system with three central defenders has yielded fruit since the last international break, with Marius Zaliukas providing a reliable middle man either side of Lees and the rejuvenated Jason Pearce.
Wootton is in the fray again following an ankle injury sustained in last month’s victory at Charlton Athletic and if the ankle problem which Zaliukas picked up in the latter stages of Saturday’s derby draw with visiting Barnsley clears up, boss Brian McDermott will have three centre-halves chomping at the bit and fighting for three places.
Other mini personal battles to claim a United jersey are taking place across the park and Lees is of the view that the competition can only be a good thing.
He said: “There’s a lot of competition. People saw that on Saturday when Pelts (Lee Peltier) came off for Sam (Byram). Maybe that’s because the manager thinks that might give us a bit more coming forward.
“The manager is fair enough, he is going to pick what he thinks will win. At least, he’s not afraid of saying if you are playing well or not playing well, then you are going to be in or out. You’ve seen with people like Danny Pugh this season, who has come in and done fantastically well when he’s had the chance.”
Despite the disappointment of a bumper crowd not witnessing a home win last weekend, Lees says United’s cup should very much remain half-full – especially with the side moving up a place to fifth despite being pegged back by the Reds.
He added: “We came off after getting a draw against the bottom of the league and went up a place.
“It just seemed the longer the game went on, we had more and more chances. But it didn’t seem like we were going to get one. But we were pleased to keep a clean sheet at the other end and that’s all we can do at the back.”