United’s development squad boss Neil Redfearn is hopeful careful management of Sam Byram’s injury will get him back to fitness. Phil Hay reports.
The ice pack worn by Sam Byram on Monday was no cause for concern among Leeds United’s coaching staff, contrary to the fears of the viewing gallery at Elland Road. It rather showed the way in which Leeds are tackling an injury which neither they nor their player of the year want to surrender to.
Byram sat in the dug-out with his right hip strapped after completing 65 minutes of United’s development-league win over Derby County but the message from his body language as he ran through the warm-down was that the evening had gone as planned. Leeds are managing any discomfort in the optimistic belief that time and training will provide a cure.
The 19-year-old defender has been under observation for months, both at Thorp Arch and in medical circles, and Leeds are yet to be told that surgery is the only way. Byram played in the first half of an Under-21 game at Huddersfield Town last week and made a good enough recovery to take part in Monday’s meeting with Derby, his second appearance in eight days.
The call for an ice pack as United substituted him highlighted the fact that Byram’s long-standing hip complaint has not disappeared completely. His comeback is different to those made by players who concentrate solely on restoring match fitness as quickly as possible. There is still no timescale on the teenager’s expected date of return, five months after the injury occurred.
“It’s one of those situations where we’re seeing how he goes,” said Neil Redfearn, United’s first-team coach and development squad manager.
“His injury’s not going away quickly but we’re managing it and at the moment we seem to be managing it well. You take a lot of advice about these things and we’ll do right by him whatever that involves but he’s made good progress in the last few weeks.
“We’re not in a scenario where his injury’s gone and he’s working on his match fitness. He needs his match fitness to improve because he’s been out for a long time but this is still us looking at getting him 100 per cent right.
“He’s learning to manage the injury and what we’re all hoping is that he’ll be able to cope with it, work on it and strengthen it over time. We’re hoping that in time he’ll get over it completely.
“But the ice pack was only a precaution and the bottom line is that he feels good in himself. He had a smile on his face after the game and you can tell if there’s a problem from a player’s body language. He’s doing well.”
Derby fielded a particularly young side at Elland Road and used no overage players in their line-up but Byram’s performance at right-back reminded a small crowd of the talent United’s senior squad have been missing.
He created the winning goal in a 2-1 victory by exchanging passes with Alex Mowatt, cutting through Derby’s defence and teeing up an easy chance which Lewis Walters couldn’t miss. Against raw opposition, his poise on the ball and his strength and pace gave watching manager Brian McDermott good reason to be cheerful.
Redfearn was similarly impressed, saying: “He played 45 minutes against Huddersfield and looked short of match fitness but he was much more measured against Derby.
“To be fair he’s been out a long time but he’s playing the way he always does – swashbuckling, getting forward and getting back. He ran out of legs in his first game but he looked match-fit on Monday. His injury didn’t seem to bother him.
“To have him available for first-team games would be great news for us, really great news.
“At the same time we’ve got to be realistic and honest about the fact that it might not work out. But you can’t help but be positive when you see him looking like the Sam Byram we saw last season.”
United have grown increasingly hopeful about the fitness of their £8million-rated right-back since sending him for an injection in his hip at the beginning of the last month.
The bout of treatment was seen as a final attempt to avert surgery amid limited expectation at Thorp Arch that Byram’s injury would respond positively. But he returned to full training soon after and his involvement at Huddersfield was his first game of any sort since United’s senior team lost 1-0 at Birmingham City on April 20.
Redfearn said: “Don’t get me wrong, if he needs an operation then I’m sure he’ll have an operation and our duty would always be to the player first and foremost. One way or the other he needs to be right.
“We don’t want to lose him because he’s such a big asset. We’ve gone through the first month of the season without someone who a lot of people would rate as a multi-million pound player.
“But you’re always guided by medical advice and we’re listening to what we’re being told.
“The player comes first and if surgery’s the answer then it’s the route you go down. But we know and he knows that surgery would mean a lot of time out and weeks spent recovering so if there’s another way – and at the moment he’s looking pretty good – then we’re going to try and take it.”
Byram’s absence has afforded former club captain Lee Peltier with an opportunity to start the season with an extended run at right-back, his preferred position but one in which he has played infrequently since joining Leeds from Leicester City last year.
“To be fair to Lee, he’s been in great form so far,” Redfearn said. “He’s been really comfortable in that role.
“We all know how good a talent Sam Byram is but it would be nice to be in the fortunate position where we’ve got two quality right-backs available.”