As debuts go, it couldn’t have been scripted better for 20-year-old left-back Tyler Denton, and the dream-come-true nature hasn’t been lost on the Dewsbury-born Thorp Arch product. Phil Hay reports.
Old enough is good enough, so managers always say, and Leeds United applied that policy to Tyler Denton from the very start.
The Dewsbury-born left-back was 15 years old when Leeds blooded him in their reserve team in 2011, 12 months before Denton began his scholarship at Thorp Arch. Described back then as “mature” and “capable”, United’s coaching staff put him in the same bracket as so many of their academy footballers – a first-team player in waiting.
Denton took another five years to make his senior debut, in Tuesday night’s League Cup win at Luton Town, but his sparkling goal on 23 minutes – a strike worthy of his agent and former Leeds left-back Ian Harte – made the wait worthwhile. As the 20-year-old admitted afterwards, a deft finish with the outside of his left foot was as much of a landmark as his debut itself.
“It’s my first goal since the under-10s,” he said. “I had a tweet from one of the lads saying that I don’t even do that in training!”
Denton, who studied at Mirfield Free Grammar School, is like the majority of the prospects who Leeds generate for their first team – a local boy and a supporter of the club who was attending games at Elland Road before United’s academy picked him up 13 years ago. Pictures of his celebration at Kenilworth Road told a story of extreme delight, not only in Denton but in players like Alex Mowatt and Kalvin Phillips who followed the same path and mobbed him on the touchline.
“They said at the start ‘if you score, what are you going to do?’” Denton said. “I said I was going to go to the Leeds end but it was too far to run so I just went over to them. We’ve all grown up together and that bond’s like a family.
“Literally words can’t describe the feeling. To grow up from the age of six and my parents taking me week in, week out – it could not have got any better.
“Before the game all the lads were saying play it simple in the first 10 minutes and ease my way in. To (score) is a dream come true and after that I relaxed and got more into the game.
“The goal was a blur. My eyes just lit up and I thought ‘why not?’ I was going to swing my right peg but I thought the shot might go into the stands so I changed my mind at the last second. Thankfully it went in.”
Denton’s appearance on Tuesday was not exactly a bolt from the blue. Garry Monk took him to Ireland for Leeds’ pre-season tour and was always minded to use him at Luton, in amongst 11 changes to United’s starting line-up. Denton replaced established left-back Charlie Taylor but is likely to make way for Taylor at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, as Leeds attempt to close out August with back-to-back Championship wins.
Taylor’s future has been in doubt for some time, doubt increased by the transfer request submitted by him last month, but United are presently standing firm on their refusal to sell him. As the club’s player-of-the-year, Taylor – a defender who became a first-team regular aged 21 – is a sizeable object in front of Denton and a player who Monk has clearly installed as first choice.
United’s head coach dampened suggestions that Denton might threaten Taylor’s place in the short term, saying: “Come on, he’s only played one game.
“It was a fantastic debut but he’s still growing. Given time he’ll be a very good player. He’s an exciting prospect but at this moment he’s still learning.”
Denton said: “I’ll bide my time. It’s a team game and we all have the same aim – to be in and around it at the end of the season. Charlie’s a great player and he’s helped me out through the years. He’s helped me massively.
“I thought I’d been doing well in pre-season but I maybe knew I wasn’t going to start the season. I’d kind of prepared myself for it and I don’t think there’s time to be disappointed because there’s always another game you might be involved in.”
Denton was told by Monk that he would be starting at Luton 24 hours before the second-round tie.
“He spoke to me on the bus and said ‘prepare yourself well and get the right amount of sleep’,” Denton said.
“I rang my family straightaway and the lads were kind enough to lend me some of their tickets to get more of my family in. They’ve brought me to training week in, week out over the years so it was vital for them to get down. I can’t thank my family enough.”
They talk at Leeds about a “pathway” for young players, about realistic chances for players in their academy, and Monk supported that message in his very first competitive game in charge by handing a full debut to teenager Ronaldo Vieira.
Vieira’s chance was another reason for Denton to hope that the door might open for him.
“He (Monk) has had me in with the first-team boys from day one,” Denton said. “Even just to be around and training with them is a great experience. I think what’s good is that he doesn’t see me as a young player. He sees me just as a player.
“Learning every day is the first thing for me. If I’m not going out (on loan) and getting games, to be around the first-team environment is really important.
“Maybe this has come a bit later than I hoped but I always look at Charlie Taylor who’s different class.
“Everyone knows how good he is and I’ve learned a lot from him.”
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