LEES IS LOOKING TO CLEAN UP!
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.
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.
“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.”
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.