Teenage striker Lewis Walters is set to play a part in Leeds United’s Championship run-in after completing his comeback from a serious knee injury.
Head coach Neil Redfearn revealed last night that the 19-year-old is back in full training at Thorp Arch and will compete for a first-team debut during the remainder of United’s season.
Walters was in line to make his breakthrough at the beginning of the term after featuring in the club’s pre-season schedule but he injured a knee in a friendly at Mansfield Town in July and underwent surgery soon after.
A lengthy rehabilitation programme ran into the new year but Redfearn said Walters was fully fit and had featured without problem in a recent practice match.
“He’s been back with us for a couple of weeks now and he’s looking good,” Redfearn said. “He’s a young lad still but it’s a bonus having him available because he gives us another dimension.
“He’s quick, he runs at people and he can play out wide if we need him to and that’s something we don’t have too much of in our squad.
“I used him in a game we played amongst ourselves last week and he got through 50 minutes without any complaints. It’s been a difficult time for him and his injury was pretty horrific but he’s fit now and he’s someone I’ll look to use in the games we’ve got left.”
Wingers have been in short supply at Leeds all season, and Sam Byram – a right-back for most of his professional career – has been used as a right-sided midfielder since the turn of the year. Alex Mowatt played on the left during recent wins over Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town.
Redfearn wanted to sign players in that position during the January transfer window but interest in Millwall’s Martyn Woolford and Rotherham United’s Ben Pringle came to nothing. He is also thought to have looked at the possibility of recruiting Hull City’s Tom Ince – now on loan at Derby County – and Queens Park Rangers Matt Phillips.
Walters, meanwhile, has been on the verge of a first-team debut for 12 months but is still waiting to follow Byram, Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor from the academy into the senior side.
He has been a leading player in United’s youth-team ranks for several years and featured in the Under-18s side who won their league title under Richard Naylor in 2013.
“Had it not been for his injury he’d have had his chance by now,” said Redfearn, Leeds’ former academy boss. “He’s been ready for a while and this held him back.
“I’ve no fear with the young lads and the kids who’ve been playing for the first-team this season – Cook, Byram, Mowatt and Taylor – are justifying the confidence we’ve got in them. I’ve got the same confidence in Lewis.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is a bit of a freak – so many youngsters coming through at exactly the same time. We’ve got take advantage of it.”