Alex Mowatt looks set to be omitted from Leeds United’s squad for the second game running tomorrow with manager Brian McDermott anxious to protect the young midfielder from burn-out.
McDermott said he was considering leaving Mowatt out of United’s game at Nottingham Forest after ending the 18-year-old’s run of six consecutive starts against Blackpool on Boxing Day.
Mowatt did not feature in United’s line-up for their 1-1 draw at Bloomfield Road and was also excluded from the bench after McDermott chose to rest him on the back of a tired performance against Barnsley last weekend.
The club’s former Under-18s captain is halfway through his first senior season at Leeds and has been a regular in McDermott’s team for the past three months. United recently responded to his impressive form by tying Mowatt to a new three-and-a-half year contract but McDermott said the teenager was in need of “a break and a rest” – and admitted he was wary of exposing Mowatt to the demands placed on Sam Byram last season.
Mowatt’s progress has hallmarks of the impact made by 20-year-old Byram, another academy product who emerged unheralded in the summer 2012 and went on to win multiple player-of-the-year awards in his first term as a professional.
But the right-back suffered a hip injury in April and has spent much of 2013 recovering from the problem and regaining his match fitness.
Having been virtually ever-present last season, Byram has started only four league fixtures since August.
McDermott said: “I felt it was important to rest Alex. He was tired against Barnsley and I spoke to him about it afterwards. To be honest I think he was happy to get that rest.
“Sometimes you can over-play young players and you have to be careful not to do that.
“He’s 18 years of age and that’s the thing.
“That’s the key. You forget he’s an 18-year-old boy because he’s done so well.
“Sam Byram played an awful lot of games last season and he was very young.
“You have to look after your youngsters and Alex need’s a rest. He needs a break.”
Mowatt’s position is complicated further by the yellow card he received against Barnsley, his fourth of the campaign.
The youngster would incur a one-match ban with a fifth booking at Forest tomorrow, ruling him out of United’s New Year’s Day game at home to Blackburn Rovers. The Football Association’s mandatory punishment for five cautions applies until the turn of the year and Mowatt is the only member of United’s squad at risk of suspension this weekend.
Luke Murphy breached the five-booking threshold against Barnsley and sat out of United’s stalemate at Blackpool but he is in contention to start at the City Ground.
Asked if he would use Mowatt at Forest – a crucial match against the team directly above Leeds in the Championship’s top six – McDermott said: “Possibly not.
“I’ll talk to him and I’ll talk to the physios as well and we’ll see how we’re looking. You’ve got to remember he’s one booking away from suspension so that comes into my reckoning as well.”
McDermott turned to his most experienced midfielders for Thursday’s visit to Blackpool, fielding Michael Brown and Michael Tonge alongside Rodolph Austin.
He also named new signing Gboly Ariyibi on the bench but declined to use the former Southampton winger towards the end of a tight match.
“I just didn’t feel it was right to play him,” McDermott said. “If it had been right then I would have done. Possibly at home might be better but when the time’s right he’ll get that chance.
“You don’t use substitutes for substitutes’ sake and towards the end (at Blackpool) I thought we were going to win.”
United’s game at Forest is their second away fixture in four days but McDermott said: “It’s tough for everyone at this time of year. We’re certainly not moaning. If you consider our away form last season we’re definitely getting better and in this league you have to keep the results ticking over. We got another one at Blackpool and now we have to find a way to win at Nottingham Forest.”
Aidan White’s loan spell at Sheffield United has been cut short after the full-back suffered a twisted ankle in the Blades’ 1-1 Boxing Day draw at home to Oldham Athletic. He is expected to be out for two to four weeks.