The level of competition in Leeds United’s midfield leaves no room for sentiment and Kalvin Phillips’ match-winning performance at Bolton Wanderers asked for none.
Thomas Christiansen was bold in pairing Phillips with Eunan O’Kane as Mateusz Klich, Ronaldo Vieira and Liam Bridcutt looked to start but Phillips marked his territory with two goals and a display which should protect his place when Preston North End come to Elland Road this Saturday.
Phillips’ fledgling career has ebbed and flowed through 53 appearances but Leeds’ confidence in him has been proven by repeated offers of new contracts.
On Friday the club extended his deal to 2021, in line with the length of contracts offered to some of their bigger signings this summer. A first-half brace at Bolton on Sunday was the perfect way to follow the extension up.
O’Kane, United’s Republic of Ireland international, said last week that the range of midfielders available to head coach Christiansen would keep every one of them “on their toes” and both he and Phillips emerged with credit from an eventful first weekend of the season.
“Obviously the competition is very tough but as a young player I think you should thrive off it,” Phillips said.
“That’s what I do. I thrive off competition to play and hopefully I can keep on playing.”
Phillips’ first goal at Bolton – a sharp finish from Pablo Hernandez’s seventh-minute corner – came via a move which Christiansen had worked on in training and the United boss said he was looking for goals from midfield after a barren campaign in that area last season.
Phillips scored only once in a 3-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest, converting a long-range free-kick, but both efforts at Bolton came from open play and asked if he thought he could aim for double figures this season he said: “I’d say so yes but I don’t know if I am going to get that. The manager wants me getting forward and scoring goals.”
United’s performance and victory at Bolton contrasted sharply with the opening weekend of last season, which ended in a sorry 3-0 loss to Queens Park Rangers.
Leeds recovered from that result and poor first month to mount a sustained bid for a play-off place but Phillips believes that the influx of 10 signings this summer will give the club a stronger chance of promotion under new m0an Christiansen.
“I believe so,” he said. “A lot of talent has come in and they’re ready to get to grips with the games.
“We spoke before (Sunday’s) game about how important it was to get the win and to get ourselves moving on the right track at the start of the season. I’m glad we’ve done that.”
Phillips and others could be rested tomorrow as Leeds begin their Carabao Cup campaign at home to Michael Brown’s Port Vale.
Leeds reached the quarter-finals of the competition under Garry Monk last season, eventually losing to Liverpool, and Phillips said: “It’s really important.
“Last year we got to Anfield and that lifted the lads’ spirit. Hopefully we can get as far as possible.”