Well it’s fair to say, it’s an end to what has been a hugely underwhelming season for Leeds United. The beauty of football is that those associated with the club can draw a line under this season, and start again refreshed in August with yet more renewed optimism.
While finishing in the unlucky 13th position is not what Leeds fans would have wanted on the back of last season’s promotion push-and after their superb start to this campaign- there have still been fillips of positivity.
The end of season dead-rubber fixtures have enabled Heckingbottom to play youngsters who have been more than capable when proving the future is bright at Elland Road.
The latest youngster to be welcomed into the first-team set-up was 16-year-old striker Ryan Edmonson, who came on for the last 16 minutes in the 2-0 win over QPR. Coming on to a fantastic ovation from the home-crowd will give the teenager a huge boost of confidence, and he was unlucky to see his strike from inside the area deflected off target moments after coming on.
— Leeds United (@LUFC) May 6, 2018
After the likes of Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor, Jonny Howson and Fabian Delph have emerged from the youth-team fold, the conveyor belt of talent is continuing to work well.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell has been immense since he came into the side, and looks far more composed than Felix Wiedwald. For a baby-faced 21-year-old, Peacock-Farrell is an authoritative presence in the Leeds goal.
Tom Pearce has also broken into the side, and has been wholly committed and unafraid to get stuck in-something Leeds fans would expect to be in the DNA of home-grown products. Pearce was initially taught his trade by Neil Redfearn after the left-back was released from Everton as a 16-year-old.
Four years wiser, and Pearce has proven he can handle himself at Championship level, scoring a memorable goal in the 2-1 over Barnsley with a driving run and drilled effort into the bottom corner, and being able to defend resiliently to match.
It is essential a new contract is offered to Pearce as soon as possible with his current one set to expire.
Paudie O’Connor has also looked accomplished, despite an unfortunate own-goal versus Barnsley, and is another young talent who has been eased into the line-up for the climax of the season.
While Ronaldo Vieira and Kalvin Philips have struggled for much of this season, they are continuously developing themselves as players who will learn from this disappointing campaign. Despite the frustration, Philips has scored seven goals and assisted three from midfield, while Ian Holloway described 19-year-old Vieira as “a different class” after the win over QPR.
The two young midfielders will now need to produce effective performances on a more consistent basis now they both have another season of regular first-team experience under their belts.
Leeds supporters will not be wanting the emergence of young players to be a consolation to cover up a disappointing season, as it was in 2014-15 when Cook, Mowatt, Byram and Taylor were the faces of the club. Nevertheless, it is still a major positive to be able to promote academy products.
Not only is it cost-effective, it is always nice to see young players giving their heart and soul to the club on the pitch. Inevitably mistakes will be made as they adjust to a new tempo of football at first, but there is certainly promise looking to the future.
With plenty of academy players in the squad for the controversial tour to Myanmar, it will be a further chance for the likes of Edmonson to mingle and learn from the likes of Luke Ayling. Many unknown faces have been included in the squad, but it presents a good opportunity for the coaching staff to get a decent look at the ability of the youngsters.
The question on many Leeds fans minds will be whether Heckingbottom will be nurturing such players next season. It has been extremely disappointing under the former-Barnsley boss with it almost becoming customary to lose under him-yet he should be given credit for throwing the likes of Pearce, Peacock-Farrell and Edmonson into the fray.
Such experience will be invaluable for their development, and for that they can be grateful to Mr Heckingbottom himself, whether he remains manager or not.
Buzzing with the win today, even happier to make my debut for Leeds 🙌⚽😆 pic.twitter.com/VFgeft54K6
— Ryan Edmondson (@Ryan_edmondson9) May 6, 2018
— Tom Pearce (@Tompearce98) April 21, 2018