Leeds United’s U-21 side – made up entirely of players aged 15-18 – were beaten 4-1 by League Two Tranmere Rovers in their opening fixture of this season’s EFL Trophy.
The competition which pits 48 League One and Two teams against each other and 16 Category One academy sides, can be a test of young players’ resolve as the Whites found out at Prenton Park.
Despite conceding three times in the first half, the hugely inexperienced Leeds United team did not waiver or break from their footballing philosophy.
Centre-forward Max Dean had the thankless task of leading the Whites’ press from the front for the entire 90 minutes – his efforts going largely unrewarded.
Nevertheless, the 17-year-old who scored twice in this competition last season did not throw in the towel, chasing down Tranmere’s experienced central defenders well into the closing stages of the match.
He was aided by his equally youthful teammates in hassling and harrying the wily fourth tier opposition who have scored twice and conceded three in seven league games this season.
After the match, U-23s boss Mark Jackson spoke of the task ahead following defeat in their first of three matches, hailing the adaptability of his young players who were called up to this fixture at short notice.
Jackson told LeedsLive he does not want to ‘quash’ Max Dean’s ‘fiery character’, after the teenage striker earned a late booking for forcefully striking the ball against an advertising hoarding when a decision did not go his way.
Given the task facing Dean yesterday evening, which was facing up to 39-year-old Peter Clarke and 34-year-old Nathaniel Knight-Percival in central defence, Jackson was impressed with the youngster’s perseverance.
“You don’t have to prepare it with Deano. Deano’s a fiery character, I don’t like to quash that in him. He’s got an edge to him and how he plays – and I like that in his personality.
“Yes he gets frustrated at times and we have to curtail it but his hunger to press and work hard and his hunger to score goals is really apparent.
“When he probably feels he doesn’t get those chances or have the balls he needs then he gets a a little bit frustrated, but he knows he’s got to manage that.
“Overall I was pleased with how he played, how he pressed and I’m not too worried about him getting frustrated.
“Listen, I like his character – I always have done since we signed him from Everton and I think it can only get better,” Jackson finished.
While Dean did not quite have the opportunities to get his name on the scoresheet at Tranmere, he will no doubt back himself to find the net in the near future after his impressive display versus West Ham United’s U-23s at Thorp Arch last weekend.
Next up for Leeds’ U-21s in the EFL Trophy is a trip to Oldham Athletic at the end of this month, before they face Salford City in their final group game.