At the end of his Leeds United debut on Tuesday, Bailey Peacock-Farrell was asked to put his season into words. “It’s escalated quickly,” he replied, avoiding the cliches favoured by players of his age.
That it has. In August last year Peacock-Farrell was the club’s fourth-choice goalkeeper; fourth choice at best with Eric Grimes, a Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, alongside him in the academy. It will surprise the 19-year-old as much as anyone that the months in between have opened the door to a full first-team appearance.
Academy keepers at Leeds rarely make that step. Before Peacock-Farrell’s outing in United’s 1-1 draw with Queens Park Rangers, Scott Carson was the last product of Thorp Arch to start a competitive fixture for the club. Peacock-Farrell’s chance came very quickly this week but when it did, the teenager looked ready. Only the deadliest of penalties denied him a clean sheet.
Peacock-Farrell knew from Saturday onwards that he would play against QPR, destined to be promoted from the bench after Marco Silvestri’s red card at Rotherham United.
“I just had to prepare mentally,” he said. “That was the biggest job. But once you’re in a game, football’s football. You can’t let nerves get to you. I was fine.
“I probably felt worse on the up-and-coming days but on matchdays you just have to go about your routine.
“As a footballer you’ve got to make your debut somewhere and it was great to do it in front of all these fans at Elland Road.
“It was nice to get into the game early and settle the nerves. I felt fine on the pitch. It’s like any game and that’s how you have to see it.
“I thought I did all right. I did the simple things well. I’m gutted not to walk away with a clean sheet but overall I enjoyed my night. Some things you can’t save – and that (the penalty) was one of them.”
United’s defence protected Peacock-Farrell diligently, limiting QPR to speculative shots from long range until Giuseppe Bellusci clipped the heels of Sebatisan Polter and conceded a penalty on 87 minutes. QPR substitute Tjaronn Chery took it and picked out the top corner with a sweep of his left foot, levelling an earlier goal from Chris Wood.
“It was a good finish to be fair to him but it’s a shame that we didn’t walk away with a clean sheet,” Peacock-Farrell said. “Every goalkeeper sets out to keep a clean sheet, so does the defence and the team, and it hurt us to go 1-1.”
It is, still, a game that the teenager will remember with natural fondness. He got his shirt signed at full-time on Tuesday, ready to be framed and hung on the wall.
Circumstances have worked for the former Middlesbrough player this season, starting with Ross Turnbull’s broken ankle in October, Charlie Horton’s departure for America in November and Silvestri’s red card last weekend. When the season began, Peacock-Farrell expected to be fighting with Horton and Grimes for development-squad appearances but head coach Steve Evans has named him in his matchday squads ever since the club agreed to sever Horton’s contract. Peacock-Farrell said: “I was with the 21s at the start of the season and I’ve been pretty lucky with how things have gone – injuries and people departing.
“You just have to take your chance when it comes and hopefully I did that.
“When you first sign here you know about all the young players who’ve come through from the academy.
“There’s a pathway here and it gives you confidence that you can do the same.
“Those other players have gone on and played a lot more games so that’s a target for me. But making my debut is a massive thing. It’s great to play for Leeds.
“I’d like to play some more games (this season) but there’s no target there. I’ll see how it goes.”
Evans said after Tuesday’s match that Peacock-Farrell would feature again before the end of the Championship term. Leeds have seven fixtures remaining. That promise was tempered by Evans’ very firm statement that Silvestri, United’s first choice for the past two years, remained at the top of the pecking order.
Leeds head to league leaders Burnley on Saturday and Silvestri is available again after serving a one-match ban. Peacock-Farrell admitted that he would struggle to feel happy about a return to the bench despite realising that Silvestri’s recall is likely.
“No, I wouldn’t but whoever plays Saturday that’s down to the gaffer and the coaching staff,” he said.
“I’ve done it (been a substitute) throughout the season but every goalkeeper wants to play, whether you’re 19, 25 or 35. You always want to play.
“Competition’s good but I would never want to be back-up. Every goalkeeper wants to play and that’s in my mindset. I’d like to play for Leeds United for a long time. I’ve been here for a good three years now.”
His future at Elland Road depends on on-going negotiations about his contract. Peacock-Farrell’s deal, his first professional contract, ends in June and rumours of Premier League interest in him have been swirling for a while.
Peacock-Farrell declined to speak at length about his future, saying: “I’m just happy to make my debut. We’ll see how it goes.”