News broke earlier today that Matthew Pennington had extended his contract with Everton, meaning that the 23 year-old defender will not be returning to Leeds United after his loan ended at the end of the season.
While it was a tad disappointing to see another young player depart the club after a loan spell, Pennington did not do enough to warrant a place in the long-term future at Leeds. Whatever funds that Leeds would have spent on securing a permanent spot for Pennington can instead be used to shore up other areas of need in the club.
Very grateful for his efforts at Leeds during a difficult campaign, but equally thankful the club haven't signed him. Honestly believe he has a bright Premier League future if he works hard, but fell very short of being the dependable defender the club so desperately require. https://t.co/AKlLPUxWfC— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) May 11, 2018
Chris at @LUFCDATA is correct in saying that Pennington’s efforts were appreciated at Leeds this season, he simply wasn’t consistent enough to justify a starting spot. And given the overall disaster that was the Leeds defence this season, that alone speaks volumes.
Additionally, when Liam Cooper went down injured, Pennington had an opportunity to grab the starting spot, but was unable to stake a claim to the spot, leading Paul Heckingbottom to play both Gaetano Berardi at central defender and bring up Paudie O’Connor from the U23s when Pennington went out injured. O’Connor was impressive enough for many fans to wonder why Pennington, rather than O’Connor, was kept in the starting lineup after Liam Cooper came back from injury for the last few matches of the season.
In the beginning of the season, after Pennington’s dream debut for Leeds was ruined by an injury, Conor Shaughnessy was pressed into duty for a few matches at central defender. Shaughnessy impressed so much that he signed a new contract in September. When Shaughnessy went down with injury in January, the club did not sign another defender in part because of the faith they had in Shaughnessy going forward, not wanting to add another defender to the mix that would require playing time going forward.
O’Connor is 20 years old and Shaughnessy is 21 years old and both of them have already proven themselves in the Championship. While both have had limited experience in the first team, both have been above average at their position, especially considering their ages and level played at before. Pennington has played in the first team at Everton, and also has spent time out on loan getting plenty of first team football before coming to Leeds back in August, and while he’s shown flashes of quality, he’s also been less impressive overall than both O’Connor and Shaughnessy who have played much less first team football.
At 24 years old, Pennington’s time is now. If he can’t nail down a starting spot when Cooper or Jansson have been out with injury, then the club dodged a bullet by “missing out” on making his deal permanent. Leeds need to bring in an experienced, quality central defender to play with Pontus Jansson in order to challenge for promotion, but as for young defenders, O’Connor and Shaughnessy have it covered.