Leeds United head coach Neil Redfearn is aiming to re-invent Sam Byram as an out-and-out winger in the second half of the season, believing the 21-year-old can go through the same transition as Gareth Bale.
Byram took up a new position in a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday and his convincing display in front of Gaetano Berardi will earn him a run of appearances in a more attacking role.
Leeds have used Byram as a regular right-back for most of the season – his third as a professional at Elland Road – but his move up the pitch helped to accommodate the 4-2-3-1 formation which Redfearn is implementing.
Byram won a third-minute penalty when he drew a foul from Bolton goalkeeper Andy Lonergan and Rudy Austin dispatched the spot-kick to put Leeds on course for a badly-needed league win.
Veteran Bolton striker Eidur Gudjohnsen equalised with a penalty of his own early in the second half, forcing a draw and edging United down to 21st in the Championship.
Redfearn, who oversaw some of Byram’s development during his time as academy manager, said he had joked with Byram about following the example of Bale, who started out as a left-back at Southampton but converted himself into an attacking asset who Real Madrid paid a world-record transfer fee to sign in 2013.
“Sam Byram is one of them where we’ve got to open his eyes to what he’s actually capable of,” United’s head coach said. “He can play right-back stood on his head but there’s more to him that than. There’s more strings to his bow.
“We jokingly mentioned to him last week about Gareth Bale and about how he started out as a left-back. It was a similar sort of performance from Sam in the sense that he was attack-minded and carried the fight for us well.”
Redfearn took several major decisions at the Macron Stadium, dropping top scorer Mirco Antenucci to allow Steve Morison to start up front and leaving out Alex Mowatt, a midfielder whose form in November earned him the Football League’s young player of the month award.
Bolton dominated much of the first half but Leeds came back into the match in the second and Byram and Luke Murphy had clear chances to snatch a winner. Byram was denied late on when Lonergan got fingertips to his close-range chip.
Redfearn chose to dispense with the midfield diamond – a strategy which the club have employed throughout the Championship season – after a 2-0 defeat at Derby County last month and he was encouraged by the performance against Bolton, despite Leeds’ run without a league win extending to six games.
“We looked more balanced with and without the ball and we looked a threat going forward,” Redfearn said. “Sam and Lewis Cook were excellent and Morison played his part. He led the line well, ran the channels and got hold of the ball. There were lots of plusses.
“In this system, Steve’s the ideal type. He’s a target man who you can go into and make runs off. Cook’s effort to get up there with him was spot on and it worked for us.”
United are two points above the bottom three after Millwall’s defeat to Blackpool on Saturday and the club face two difficult home games next with in-form Birmingham City due at Elland Road on Saturday and a rearranged clash with league leaders Bournemouth scheduled for a week tomorrow.
But Redfearn took hope from United’s result at Bolton, saying: “The good thing is that all the players have played their part.
“This season, for all that we’ve gone through – a lot of change and uncertainty at times – the attitude and togetherness has been exemplary.
“Berardi got a black eye, Byram got a sore head and that’s what it’s about – sticking your head in and doing your bit to get results.”