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Leeds United’s Defensive Dilemma: Is Conor Shaughnessy the answer?

The young Irishman gave an impressive display against Fulham. 

General Views of UK Football Stadiums Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

When the team-sheet for the side to face Fulham was released on Tuesday night, the inclusion of Conor Shaughnessy at centre-half exposed Leeds United’s threadbare defence. With Gaetano Berardi, Liam Cooper, and Everton loanee Matthew Pennington all side-lined due to injury, Thomas Christiansen was forced to bring in 21-year-old Shaughnessy alongside the immovable Pontus Jansson. Facing up against one of the most potent attacking forces in the division and arguably playing out of position in his first league start for the club, many were worried that the young Irishman was in for a long and stressful night.

His performance, however, proved them wrong.

Considered a defensive midfielder during his academy days at Reading FC, Shaughnessy adapted to the centre-half role extremely well with his strong tackling, composed passing and quick movement capping a display that many fans and pundits deemed worthy of Man of the Match status.

Key blocks against Kamara and Johansen in the first and second halves respectively were shining examples of Conor’s defensive capabilities that merited him at least an 8/10 rating for Tuesday’s match.

This was a big night for Shaughnessy, who after this performance, and given the injuries to Cooper and Pennington, may now be knocking on the door of the first team.

With many fans pressuring the Leeds board to make a Bartley-style signing and really bolster Leeds’s back-line, could Shaughnessy be the answer to Leeds’s defensive frailties?

OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is likely that Shaughnessy would only act as cover for the first team when Pennington and Cooper are back, as one solid performance doesn’t make him the next Paolo Maldini. He is young, inexperienced, and not a fully formed centre-back yet, however Tuesday’s display has evoked enough confidence to suggest that he is in fact cut out for The Championship.

Using Shaughnessy as cover for the first team, Leeds might not need to splash the cash on another centre-back, as Jansson, Cooper, Pennington and Shaughnessy would rotate selection when the disruptive force of injury strikes back, or when Christiansen feels the need for a change.

I would welcome another top-class, experienced centre-back into the club to give our defence solidity throughout the long Championship season, but if this wasn’t to happen, Leeds fans shouldn’t be alarmed. Conor Shaughnessy turned a corner on Tuesday night, and with the help of Thomas Christiansen and his backroom staff, should develop into a reliable and commanding player very, very soon.