Paul Heckingbottom said Bailey Peacock-Farrell had put himself in control of the goalkeeper’s jersey at Leeds United after another eye-catching performance against Reading.
Peacock-Farrell followed up a creditable display in a 3-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers last Wednesday with an influential contribution at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, helping United claim a 2-2 draw.
Heckingbottom turned to the 21-year-old just five games into his reign as head coach amid growing doubts about the form and confidence of previous first-choice, Felix Wiedwald.
Wiedwald, who Leeds signed from Werder Bremen last summer, was dropped after a weak showing in a 3-0 loss to Middlesbrough, bringing academy product Peacock-Farrell back into United’s team almost two years after his senior debut.
The youngster’s opportunity came with Andy Lonergan, Wiedwald’s understudy for most of this season, hampered by a neck injury and Lonergan looks set for an extended spell on the sidelines having aggravated the problem on his return to training on Friday.
Peacock-Farrell started for the second game running at Reading and was beaten after 16 minutes by striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, but he pulled off three fine stops from Bodvarsson, Mo Barrow and George Evans to prevent Jaap Stam’s side from establishing a 2-0 lead before the break.
Pontus Jansson and Pablo Hernandez took advantage by turning the game on its head with strikes either side of half-time, before a Eunan O’Kane own goal on 58 minutes ensured a stalemate.
Asked if Peacock-Farrell had established himself as United’s number one for the time being, Heckingbottom said: “I wouldn’t say that. The shirt is his as it stands, but I’d want him to know that he’s got to earn and keep his place.
“He’s got goalkeepers breathing down his neck, but the players know I’m fair with that and he’s in the driving seat.
“He was better than he was against Wolves.
“I was really pleased with him on the pitch against Wolves because his demeanour impressed me.
“I thought he looked confident. If I’m critical he should have stayed at home for the third goal (in the defeat to Wolves), which he knows, but he’d already made some big saves before that.
“Today he made saves when he had to make saves. His kicking was good and his handling was good.”
Peacock-Farrell, who came to Leeds’ academy from Middlesbrough in 2013, has been highly regarded at United for some time, but went without any Football League appearance for almost two seasons following his debut against QPR in April 2016.
He has already trained with Northern Ireland’s senior squad, however, and would have been an outside candidate to travel to this summer’s World Cup had Michael O’Neill’s team come through the qualification play-offs in November.
Heckingbottom, meanwhile, revealed that club captain Liam Cooper would be missing for the foreseeable future with a leg injury suffered against Wolves.
Cooper sustained a dead leg in the first half of that loss and was unable to make the trip to Reading having been sent for a scan on the damage.
Heckingbottom said: “Liam’s badly swollen and there was lots of bleeding.
“Time will tell but with the size of it and his lack of mobility at the minute, I can’t see him training for a while.”