LEES IS LOOK­ING TO CLEAN UP!

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Luke Baker

TOM LEES knows bet­ter than most about fall­ing just shy of mak­ing last­ing mem­o­ries in his two full sea­sons at Sh­effield Wed­nes­day.

But the de­fender has bad news for the rest of Cham­pi­onship: he says he’s not about to make it a hat­trick of dis­ap­point­ments come the end of his third cam­paign.

Since ar­riv­ing at Hills­bor­ough on a free trans­fer, Lees has been part of a de­fence that equalled the club record for league clean sheets in each of the last two sea­sons – match­ing the 17 shut-outs Jack Charl­ton’s class of 1978-79 man­aged on both oc­ca­sions.

How­ever, the 26-year-old, who came through the ranks at Leeds be­fore mov­ing to South York­shire, has fallen short of writ­ing his name in the club’s record books. That elu­sive 18th clean sheet just eluded him on both oc­ca­sions.

And last sea­son proved to be dou­bly dis­ap­point­ing as Mo Di­ame’s goal for Hull City in the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal at Wem­b­ley meant Lees would not achieve an­other aim of get­ting back into the Pre­mier League.

Fast for­ward to the present day, how­ever, and the Owls are once again look­ing up. They spent Christ­mas in the fi­nal play-off spot.

Set­tled

And, with three clean sheets on the bounce be­fore the New Year’s Eve clash at Pre­ston North End, Lees is hop­ing to make it a dou­ble cel­e­bra­tion for the Owls come the end of the sea­son.

“We’ve had a bit of change of per­son­nel de­fen­sively through­out the sea­son. We haven’t had what you might call a set­tled back four yet,” said Lees, who helped Sh­effield Wed­nes­day to nine clean sheets in their first 23 Cham­pi­onship games this sea­son.

“Lately, it’s started to get a bit more set­tled and there’s that de­sire to work as hard as you can and keep the ball out of the net.

“Some­times, it’s that men­tal de­sire to see it through for 90 min­utes that is more im­por­tant than tac­tics or any­thing like that.

“That’s some­thing we’ve been good at in the last few sea­son, so we want to re­gain the stan­dards we’ve had for the last two or three years.

“We want to im­prove and get bet­ter each year.

“We’ve matched the club clean­sheet record in the last two sea­sons and we want to go one bet­ter.

“We’ve left our­selves a bit of work to do for that with the start we’ve had. We’ve not had as many clean sheets as we would like.

“We’re start­ing to keep a few now, though, so we’ll be look­ing to break that record if we can.

It’s im­por­tant to keep clean sheets in this league be­cause, more of­ten than not, the teams who keep them con­sis­tently end up go­ing up.

“We’re feel­ing good. We’ve won a few games lately and we’re in an OK po­si­tion go­ing into the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

“I wouldn’t say the con­fi­dence is fly­ing be­cause we’re not at that point yet where we’re con­sis­tently win­ning ev­ery week.

“We’ve not hit the heights yet in terms of per­for­mance, so we’re still look­ing to get bet­ter and im­prove.

“Last sea­son, we didn’t en­ter the play-offs un­til the last two or three weeks of the sea­son, so we’re pleased now to be in that po­si­tion early on. But we know it doesn’t mean any­thing yet.”

Wed­nes­day’s run to Wem­b­ley last sea­son was some­what of a sur­prise as Car­los Car­val­hal led the Owls to sixth spot in his first sea­son in charge, hav­ing not man­aged that since leav­ing Is­tan­bul BB three years ear­lier.

But that didn’t make the pain any more bear­able for Lees and Co come the fi­nal whis­tle.

It’s some­thing the de­fender is ea­ger to ban­ish from his mem­ory this term.

Feel­ing

“With the un­cer­tainty of hav­ing a whole new team, a new man­ager and new own­ers at the club, I don’t think we were ex­pect­ing to go as far as we did,” he added.

“So, in terms of that, it was re­ally good to get all the way to the play-off fi­nal.

“But los­ing it is prob­a­bly my worst mo­ment in foot­ball.

“It was a hard sum­mer get­ting over it, but ev­ery­body has kept that feel­ing we had at the end of the game at Wem­b­ley in the back of our minds to some ex­tent. It will re­mind us that we never want to feel like that again.

“We can get rid of that feel­ing by go­ing one step more. We’re ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined, but it’s go­ing to be tough and there is a long way to go with a lot of good teams in the Cham­pi­onship.”

PIC­TURE: ProS­ports

SUR­PRISE: Car­val­hal BAD MEM­O­RIES: Wed­nes­day de­fender Tom Lees is anx­ious to ban­ish a re­peat of last sea­son’s heart­break BEN Steven­son is a bright spark in strug­gling Coven­try City’s sea­son so far as the lat­est man off the academy pro­duc­tion line.

Ge­orge Thomas, Cian Har­ries and Dion Kel­lyE­vans all grad­u­ated into the first team last term, and Steven­son, 19, fi­nally got his chance this cam­paign.

The mid­fielder says he owes a debt of grat­i­tude to former boss Tony Mow­bray, for his be­lief that he could per­form at the high­est level.

“I had a meet­ing with him at the end of last sea­son and he told me he was quite im­pressed with my per­for­mances for the Un­der-21s,” he said.

“He said to come back in the best shape pos­si­ble and hit the ground run­ning.

“With Ro­main Vincelot leav­ing, too, I knew I just had to take my chance.

“We were all dis­ap­pointed when Mow­bray left. We all felt quite emo­tional be­cause we felt as though we let him down. He had a big im­pact on my ca­reer.”

Af­ter two won­der goals in 21 ap­pear­ances be­fore a three-match sus­pen­sion, ru­mours have been swirling that Coven­try may cash in on Steven­son.

But the star­let is only fo­cused on pick­ing up where he left off.

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