'There's no point in sheltering them' - why Leeds United's young prospects need exposure

Leeds United's future stars musn't be sheltered if they are to take the pathway to first team football at Elland Road, says Mark Jackson.
Leeds United Under-23s head coach Mark Jackson. Pic: Bruce RollinsonLeeds United Under-23s head coach Mark Jackson. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
Leeds United Under-23s head coach Mark Jackson. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

The Whites fielded a young side full of rising academy prospects for a Premier League Cup Under-23s clash with Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night.

Just four development squad regulars in Sean McGurk, Kris Moore, Dani Van den Heuvel and Charlie Allen were named in the line-up to take on the Latics in York.

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The rest of the United side was made up of mostly Under-18s or below in a planned bid to expose Thorp Arch's rising stars to a pressurised environment.

Among the names was 15-year-old Archie Gray - relative of club legend Eddie, grandson of Frank and son of Andy - as well as Keenan Carole, son of former player Sebastien, who came on as a substitute.

Leeds were edged out 2-1 by their counterparts in the Group E clash, putting in a battling performance against their older opposition and even took the lead through skipper Moore.

The game, though, provided just what Jackson and the academy staff were searching for.

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"Wigan have been very successful at academy level, so we knew it was going to be tough but that's what we want for our players," Jackson told the YEP post-match.

"There's no point in sheltering them and protecting them. We need to test them and see what they're like under pressure against older players and in this fantastic environment [at York's LNER Stadium] with a crowd.

"It gave us different challenges and as a group of staff there's loads of positives we can work on. It shows the players are on the right track.

"We had it in our minds at the start of the year that this could potentially be a competition we could utilise to challenge the Under-18s players. I think it proved we have players who are young and hungry to play the Leeds United way."

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Jackson also reiterated the importance of players learning and developing from the outing through feedback from the coaches.

"That's the process all the time," he added about the youngsters progression.

"Marcelo [Bielsa] does that with the first team - the feedback to the players is constant on a daily basis from training and games. We try and replicate that. We have Scott Gardner, Rob Etherington and Joe Stead from the Under-18s staff with us today [against Wigan] and that's credit to them.

"What we're trying to do as a club is align throughout, so the 23s align with the first team and the 18s try to align with the 23s.

"It shows we're going in the right directions. It's not easy to do overnight and that's a work in progress for us as academy staff. We want to prepare the players as best we can."