Leeds United: Young Charlie’s been the talk of the Town

Charlie Taylor.
Charlie Taylor.
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Charlie Taylor has given his United first-team chances a shot in the arm with a successful loan spell at Fleetwood town. Phil Hay reports.

More than two years have passed since Simon Grayson – minus an available left-back and in need of a result – threw 17-year-old Charlie Taylor into his league debut against Crystal Palace.

That sudden call to arms might have repeated itself this weekend with Brian McDermott and Leeds United short in the same position but Taylor is otherwise engaged, pulling up trees with League Two leaders Fleetwood Town.

McDermott’s concern about the left side of his defence is an irony since United’s squad is awash with left-backs, but Stephen Warnock is injured and Adam Drury has been fighting a calf strain for much of the season.

Taylor and Aidan White are absent on loan with no immediate right of recall and central defender Jason Pearce was fielded as an emergency wing-back against Yeovil Town on Saturday. Danny Pugh, who last played for Leeds exactly 12 months ago and was placed on the transfer list in 2012, has unexpectedly come into the reckoning for this weekend’s game at Charlton Athletic.

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As and when he returns to Elland Road, Taylor’s form in three short weeks at Fleetwood might give him the chance of similar consideration. Reports from the west coast speak highly of the 20-year-old and none higher than those given by Graham Alexander, the Fleetwood manager who was driven to signing Taylor last month by a selection crisis of his own. Injuries to Alan Goodall and Stephen Jordan created a sizeable hole in his team.

“We’d watched Charlie play for the under-21s at Leeds and I got really positive feedback about him from Brian McDermott and Neil Redfearn,” Alexander said. “They spoke very highly of his ability.

“I’d lost a couple of left-backs to injury and you’ve got two options in that situation – go for an older player, someone who’s been around the block a bit, or take on a young lad who’s desperate to get his career going. I think a lot of Charlie as a player but I can’t say enough about his attitude either.

“We’re going along nicely at the moment but I didn’t see putting him in as a risk. People asked me that on the day I signed him because we had a big game at Southend later that week but to me it’s a game of football and Charlie’s a good footballer. We’d done enough homework to be confident about him and he hasn’t let us down.”

The loan to Fleetwood was Taylor’s fourth, following on from spells at Bradford City, York City and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. His Leeds debut against Palace was highly creditable, featuring an assist for the first goal with a deep cross from the left wing, but he did not gatecrash United’s team in the way that Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt have. In total, his appearances for his parent club number four.

He was nevertheless taken on Leeds’ pre-season tour of Slovenia earlier this year and is no longer the slightly-built teenager who ran the left side of the pitch against Palace in September 2011. His first two outings for Fleetwood ended in defeats to Southend and Scunthorpe but victories over York and Newport County have positioned the Lancashire club at the top of League Two after 15 games.

“He’s got all the attributes you’d expect of a modern full-back,” said Alexander, a retired defender who made more than 1,000 professional appearances and knows that position better than most. “He can get down the wing, he can cross and create chances.

“But apart from anything else, he knows how to defend and no matter what people expect from full-backs these days, the key point about good full-backs is that they’re good defenders. That’s always what I look for first and foremost.

“I’ve only had him for three weeks so I’m not going to get into predictions about how good he can be or how far he can go, especially because he’s already at a massive parent club. Most players would be very happy to make it at Leeds United. But I think a lot of it will be down to him. He’s got the right temperament and plenty of talent.”

Stepping into Fleetwood’s team last month was not an easy invitation. The club are one of League Two’s dominant sides and are slightly short of an average of two points a game.

Speaking after his move west, Taylor said: “I thought it would be a great opportunity so I didn’t take too much convincing. I looked at the table and saw where they were in the league.

“With them winning games, the spirit’s high and everyone’s enjoying their football. Being at the top of the league is a great place to be.”

Taylor’s initial loan at Fleetwood was due to expire during the forthcoming international break, giving Leeds the opportunity to recall him, but United extended the agreement until January yesterday. White, meanwhile, joined Sheffield United for two months last week and is committed to remaining at Bramall Lane for at least 28 days under the terms of his emergency deal.

United, in the meantime, are monitoring the fitness of Warnock and Drury, who was due to return to full training this week. Warnock’s substitution during Saturday’s win over Yeovil and his departure from Elland Road with one foot in a cast did not suggest that he would be ready for the club’s visit to Charlton.

After many months in the wilderness, Pugh’s return to favour was made plain by recent appearances on United’s bench, and McDermott is seriously considering using him as the left-sided wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation at The Valley. The former Stoke City player kept his fitness up by completing 120 minutes of an Under-21 cup game at Barnsley last Tuesday.

In spite of McDermott’s dilemma, Alexander was hopeful that Leeds would allow Taylor to stay in League Two for the run-up to Christmas and United granted his request for an extension yesterday morning.

“It’s always the same with loan players,” Alexander said. “If they come in and struggle, you send them back. If they come in and do as well, you want them to stay. But you know that their parent club might choose to recall them and the decision is down to somebody else.

“We’ll look after him properly for as long as he’s here and we’re updating Leeds on his progress regularly. I’d like to think that he’ll look back on this as a great experience.”

BOSS MCDERMOTT’S LEFT BACK DILEMMA

Leeds United are not devoid of left-backs. They are simply the victims of a perfect storm in that position:

Stephen Warnock – an ex-England international and boss Brian McDermott’s first choice at left-back. Suffering from a foot injury.

Adam Drury – as experienced as Warnock in many respects but hasn’t played since August because of a calf strain. Now closing in on a comeback.

Aidan White – joined Sheffield United on loan on October 29 and is required to remain at Bramall Lane for at least 28 days under Football League rules.

Charlie Taylor – Fleetwood loan extended until January yesterday. Couldn’t have been recalled this week anyway.

Danny Pugh – peripheral for months but might be the answer at Charlton on Saturday. Last played for Leeds in November 2012 but McDermott says he’s “up to speed.”

Jason Pearce – capable of playing on the left side of defence. We just didn’t realise it until his cameo against Yeovil Town.