Leeds United: Talented duo press for first team spots

Chris Dawson
Chris Dawson
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Midfield Aces: Chris Dawson has been attracting rave reviews in the Leeds development squad, while Adryan is also making waves. Phil Hay reports.

Diminutive, skilful, only 20 years of age and still to be fully exposed by Leeds United. That is Chris Dawson in a sentence, just as it describes the status and potential of Brazilian midfielder Adryan.

United are closer and closer to blooding Adryan and might finally do so in Rotherham this Friday but the search for more imagination could as easily turn elsewhere. There are players at Leeds who crave time on the pitch and more involvement in the club’s season – Adryan, Steve Morison, Billy Sharp, and others – but Dawson is the footballer whose talent has been championed in the 10 days since a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday.

Buoyant in an Under-21 Cup tie against Doncaster Rovers last week and the difference in Monday’s development-squad win at Bristol City, the 2014-15 season is bringing Dawson back into form and back into vogue. This time two years ago he was in the same position – pulling up trees as a playmaker at youth-team level and tempting the senior backroom team to take him on. The breakthrough was only temporary.

United’s coaching staff spoke of him back then as the pick of the academy crop and a certain first-team debutant. He was 18 and continuing in the mould of an early starter who received a scholarship at Leeds as an Under-15. But between a nasty shoulder injury and reluctance on the part of Brian McDermott to field him in competitive fixtures, Dawson found himself drifting towards the end of last season. As recently as last week he was talking about the possibility of moving elsewhere on loan.

Leeds have shown no interest in trimming down their squad, however, and Dawson is unlikely to be offered around to other clubs in the Football League. He has the faith of Neil Redfearn, United’s academy manager, and news of his performances in the international break has trickled back to owner Massimo Cellino who is presently abroad in Italy. It remains to be seen if head coach Darko Milanic takes him to Rotherham United later this week.

Dawson is training with the first-team squad at Thorp Arch and has done so for much of this season. He featured in the group taken by former head coach David Hockaday to Italy for pre-season training in July but worked predominantly with the Under-21s until Hockaday’s sacking at the end of August. A fixture with the club’s development squad, his form has been reminiscent of the contribution he made to the Under-18s title-winning year in 2012-13.

That campaign was the catalyst for Dawson’s senior debut, albeit in difficult and unrewarding circumstances. He started the last game of Neil Warnock’s tenure as manager in April 2013 but completed only 57 minutes of a 2-1 defeat. Warnock and United parted company later that night and Dawson has not played since.

Shoulder surgery held him back at first and Warnock’s replacement, McDermott, did not see a place for him in United’s line-up. Alex Mowatt was given his debut by McDermott and Sam Byram continued to play when his fitness allowed but Dawson never featured. Lewis Cook, United’s prodigious 17-year-old, has overtaken him in the past few months and summer-signing Adryan is the same sort of player as Dawson, vying for the same sort of position.

Adryan has played in several development-squad fixtures this season but did not travel to Bristol City on Monday, suggesting that Milanic has plans for him at Rotherham on Friday. Dawson appeared as planned and scored both goals in a 2-1 win, moving Leeds to the top of their professional development league. Redfearn called him the game’s “outstanding player”, for the second time in eight days.

Dawson is plainly aware of his form and his own need for another crack at the first team. More than a year has passed since his last call-up to the Wales Under-21 squad, despite coach Geraint Jones’ high opinion of him.

Speaking last week, Dawson said: “If I can’t get first-team football here and I’m not considered then I’d have no choice but to try to impress elsewhere, hopefully come back and play in the first team here.

“I’m ready to push on a bit further now and hopefully get first-team football. If it’s not here then hopefully on loan for a month. It needs to be the next step now for my career.

“It can be frustrating as in the (past) year I’ve been overlooked a little bit. But I am very pleased with my form. It’s definitely getting better every game.”

At 5’6” tall, Dawson has been prone to predictable questions about his size. He attempted to “bulk up” after a debut against Derby which earned him “a bit of stick” about his physique and his suitability for the Championship. But in United’s academy they see his frame as an advantage. Marking him, according to Redfearn, is like “trying to catch smoke”. From somewhere in their squad Leeds are looking for a midfielder of that ilk to consistently feed their frontline.

Adryan is another potential route to more creativity and the Brazilian’s debut is pending a month-and-a-half after his move on loan from Flamengo. Unlike Zan Benedicic – the 19-year-old from AC Milan who as yet has made very little impression on anyone at Leeds – Adryan has been creeping gradually towards his first senior appearance. Contractual issues were blamed for the delay in using him but the midfielder has been registered since the international break in September. Different staff all agreed that he wasn’t quite ready.

Both Adryan and Dawson are putting their hands up with the Championship season 11 games old.

The trend is set at Elland Road after a fortnight in which Morison and Sharp asked publicly for more opportunities. Milanic named Adryan on the bench for Leeds’ draw with Sheffield Wednesday and urged him to be patient, saying: “We have enough games.

“He will take his chance.”

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