His manager saw him and Alan Tate as the difference between the extension of a very miserable month and the revival which began at Leeds United three games ago.
But Neil Warnock has revealed how Jerome Thomas apologised to the rest of the club’s players for his performance at Huddersfield Town last weekend, berating himself openly at the end of a rousing win.
Warnock laughed Thomas’ reaction off today, saying he had “nothing to be sorry about” after Leeds’ 4-2 victory, but the United boss is closely monitoring the winger’s fitness as Ryan Hall waits in hope of a starting place at Derby County on Saturday.
While Thomas’ hour-long appearance at Huddersfield left him visibly frustrated and strangely apologetic, Hall’s introduction as a second-half substitute was a match-winning decision from Warnock.
His deliveries from the left wing created the chances which David Norris and Luciano Becchio dispatched towards the end of a lively Yorkshire derby and he left Warnock with a dilemma about who to play on the left wing from the outset at Pride Park.
Thomas turned out for the third time in eight games last Saturday, a run of games which has ended a spell of almost seven months without a competitive appearance. Peripheral for so long at West Bromwich Albion – the club who loaned him to Leeds on November 22 – he admitted on Twitter after the victory at Huddersfield that “my body is in bits and I need two new hamstrings.”
“He’s a little bit stiff at the moment,” Warnock said. “I think that’s to be expected.
“He’s played more football in the last week or so than he has all season and he’s going to feel the effects. We’re being careful with how much he trains this week. It’s a big ask, three games in eight days, when you’re out of the habit.
“It was funny on Saturday because he was disappointed with himself. He actually apologised to the rest of the lads for his performance. You can’t fault him for being so honest but I think he’s being a bit too critical of himself.
“He wasn’t the best player on the pitch but there was nothing to be sorry about either. He did what we asked him to do, running at their full-back and pulling their defence out of position.
“I’ll see how he’s feeling before deciding about Derby but Ryan did well when he came on at Huddersfield. He’s given me something to think about.
“He was a bit like Jerome in a way – short of fitness when he first came here. He’s worked hard to sort that out and he’s someone I know I can rely on now.”
Hall’s circumstances upon joining Leeds were different to Thomas’ but the effect of a spell without any competitive football was much the same.
The winger – signed by Leeds on loan from Southend United in October with a view to a £150,000 transfer next month – fell out with Southend’s manager and chairman as the prospect of a transfer from Roots Hall increased towards the end of August, and he was left to train alone in Birmingham after a proposed move to Blackpool fell through.
Warnock secured him on loan ahead of United’s Yorkshire derby at Sheffield Wednesday but barely involved him in their Championship season during the earliest weeks of his time at Elland Road. Hall was put through an intensive conditioning programme with fitness coach Chris Short and made his first start for Leeds at Millwall last month. He is firmly in contention for a second opportunity at Pride Park this weekend.
“His fitness was a long way short when he signed,” Warnock said, “and I doubt whether he’s ever trained this hard. Chris put him through a lot of hard sessions and we let him play in a few Under-21 games. It’s been worth his while being patient.
“He’s grasped the nettle and he’s done little bits of extra work here and there. I wanted to get him up to or close to the same level as every other player before throwing him in and I think he understands why. He’s a real talent but the only way to get the best out of that talent is for him to be 100 per cent or thereabouts.”
Hall and Warnock worked together previously during Warnock’s spell as manager of Crystal Palace. It was the 63-year-old who decided to release Hall from Selhurst Park after losing patience with the winger’s attitude and off-field issues.
Southend dragged him out of the wilderness of non-league by taking him on after a season with Bromley but Hall’s ability was considered by most who knew him to exceed the levels of League Two.
“It’s okay saying that,” Warnock said, “but there’s a difference between saying you’ve got talent and proving you’ve got talent. And there’s a reason why he was playing in League Two when we signed him.
“By going into non-league and then to Southend he learned what it takes to be a professional footballer and how important it is to live the right lifestyle. He’s really taken his chance here. He’s the sort of player you look to to influence games, like he did coming off the bench at Huddersfield. I want to see him getting at the full-back, creating chances, putting crosses in. You need players who give you all that.”
For much of the season, Warnock has looked to El-Hadji Diouf to provide the creativity he craves but the forward is United’s main injury doubt for the clash with Derby having suffered a groin strain before the victory at Huddersfield.
Diouf was named on the bench last Saturday in a psychological move which obscured the fact that he was nowhere near fit enough to play any part. Warnock merely hoped that his inclusion would lead Huddersfield to think that United’s squad was stronger than it was.
“I couldn’t really have used him at Huddersfield,” Warnock said. “I just thought that mentally it would be a different proposition to look at our bench and see Dioufy on it.
“He was never going to play and he hasn’t trained this week but the bench looks different with him on it, doesn’t it? It looks stronger. He’s the sort of player the opposition think about.
“He’s still a bit sore and if he’s not properly ready for Derby then I won’t be risking him.
“We don’t need to do that, especially now that Ross (McCormack) is fit.”
Warnock has Luke Varney returning from suspension this weekend, three games after the former Portsmouth forward was dismissed for violent conduct at Millwall.