Neil Redfearn said Leeds United’s young midfield had proved again why he rates them as “the best in the Championship” by driving the club to a 3-0 win over Fulham on Wednesday night.
United’s head coach repeated his claim that the talent among his midfielders exceeded that of any other club in the league and said the development of the group was a major reason behind his desire for an extended contract at Leeds.
The recall of winger Sam Byram at Fulham gave Leeds a midfield with an average age of 21, with four of the five players used behind Billy Sharp generated by United’s academy.
Redfearn managed Byram, Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor for several years in his role as academy coach and all four of those players are established as first-team regulars. Cook’s contribution this season was recognised by a call-up to the England Under-19 squad on Tuesday, 24 hours before the Football League shortlisted the 18-year-old for its Championship apprentice-of-the-year award. Mowatt was selected yesterday for two England Under-20 friendlies against Mexico and the USA next week. Byram, meanwhile, scored the opening goal in Wednesday’s 3-0 win at Craven Cottage having returned to the side after a two-game absence through injury.
Despite watching Leeds ride their luck in the first-half, Redfearn insisted he was always confident that his team would take hold of the game eventually. He said: “I mean this hand on heart, and football’s all about opinions, but I do think we’ve got the best midfield in the Championship. There’s no two ways about it for me. The average age is 21 and it’s got legs and energy. It’s got goals in it too and the more the game wore on at 0-0, the more I felt we’d get on top of Fulham in that area. These young lads have been together for a while now and they’re really finding their feet.”
Redfearn is out of contract in the summer and is yet to be offered an extension, though he revealed on Wednesday that he had been asked to plan pre-season and said “all the signs are there” that he would remain in charge next term.
“I’ve been here for six years now and a lot of these young players came through under me,” he said. “It’s all coming to fruition now. I’ve got the lads playing together and I’ve got them enjoying what they’re doing. They understand the division now. I don’t think we understood the Championship before but we do now.”
Leeds are 12th in the table after Wednesday’s win – their first at Fulham for 30 years – and the club remain in contention for a top-10 finish having sat a point above the relegation zone in December. Leeds visit bottom-of-the-table Blackpool tomorrow.
“If we can finish top 10 from where we were and the mess we were in then we’ll have done well,” Redfearn said. “This is a really young side, they’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to get beat at times but we’ve got a real togetherness at this moment. That’s apparent when they’re out there They pull for each other and they’re prepared to put bodies on the line. There are good signs.”