Who is Leeds' best breakthrough player this season?

Leeds United

In a campaign where Leeds' youngsters have been at the forefront of Neil Redfearn's thinking, we take a look at who's been the top breakthrough performer.

Although Leeds United have seemingly been stuck in a continual cycle of mediocrity in recent seasons, rotating ageing journeymen, unfit loanees and questionable free transfers, they have also been quietly blooding a procession of young players and scattering the first team squad with a decidedly home grown flavour.

In 2012-13 Neil Warnock pushed Sam Byram in to the limelight and the right-back was heavily-utilised in an otherwise average campaign. Last season Brian McDermott couldn't resist giving Alex Mowatt a chance, and the Doncaster-born midfielder's performances demanded that he retain a place in another average season for the Elland Road men.

The 2014-15 Sky Bet Championship campaign has seen the production line continue to bear fruit. Charlie Taylor started an early-season League Cup tie against Accrington Stanley but had to wait until Stephen Warnock was sold in January before cementing a first team place. Taylor has been noted for his doggedness and awareness on the pitch and has barely put a foot wrong in the left-back berth. In recent games he has been moved further up the pitch and has performed admirably in a wide midfield role.

Other Academy products such as Kalvin Philips, Lewis Walters, Chris Dawson, Lewie Coyle and Alex Purver are all expected to see first team action before too long - in Dawson's case he has already made one start and some brief sub appearances - but as the stand out breakthrough performer this season, there really is only one contender.

When Lewis Cook was taken on the pre-season training trip to Italy last August by then head coach David Hockaday, nobody could foresee the impact he would have on the upcoming campaign, and assumed he was there to make up the numbers as Leeds looked to add flesh to what was then the bare bones of a squad.

Cook had excelled for the England Under-17s as they won the European Championships last summer and has carried on that form and grown immeasurably during this campaign. It is telling that Cook did not start a league game under Hockaday and also missed selection for two of the six games that Darko Milanic took charge of. Cook's league debut for Leeds was Neil Redfearn's first game as Caretaker Head Coach against Bolton in August, a 1-0 win.

Since then Cook has been a central figure in Redfearn's formation, particularly when it was changed to 4-2-3-1 in January. Many have questioned whether Cook would suffer burnout, as he has amassed 33 starts in a gruelling campaign, but Redfearn has never suggested he was about to rest him in crucial games - only in the FA Cup defeat at Sunderland.

In the remaining games of the season, however, it may be that Redfearn takes Cook away from the limelight, particularly with the probability that the 18-year-old will be selected for England Under-19s if - as expected - they qualify for the summer's European Championship tournament in Greece.

Irrespective of that, there is no doubt that Cook is the best breakthrough performer for Leeds this season. 

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