Walsall Head Coach Brian Dutton has praised defender Tom Leak after his impressive performance on his senior debut.
The 20-year-old played 90 minutes as the Saddlers played out a 0-0 draw against Southend United.
Having played very little football this season, Dutton was delighted with how Leak performed at Roots Hall and felt the defender looked like a season professional out on the pitch.
“If we’re talking about positives then Tom Leak,” Dutton said.
“His EFL debut in the biggest game of the season and he looked like he played 500 games, he was phenomenal.
“He’s a credit to his family. For him to come in a high pressure situation and be the man of the match, just like Sam Perry at Bolton against top players, with these young players we’ve got coming through, we’re in a good healthy place as a football club for the young pups. It’s the rest of the group that needs a reality check.
“Tom hasn’t had a loan this season other than when he went out at Bath. Tom and Sam Perry are coming in from the cold.
“They’re rusty and not sharp so for him to put that performance in, just like Sam Perry last week, I’m lost for words.
“It’s staggering how these young lads can give me that much, it makes me very proud. Credit to the academy staff and everyone putting in the work with these young pups.
“I’m a manager that wants to promote youth, especially fearless youth like these lads.
"It’s sometimes the lads that have had careers, they’re hamstrung by fear and don’t want to get on the ball but these lads don’t have fear, move aside and let me show you what I can do and they are showing me what they can do in abundance so I’m delighted with the young lads and the older boys – Sinco and James Clarke, we can’t not mention them, they’ve been phenomenal as well.”
Leak has had to be patient and wait for his opportunity in the first team.
Dutton revealed that the defender has been doing a lot of extra work in the background and that additional time on the training field has now been rewarded.
“After training while all the lads were getting food or getting showered, I’d be out there with Tom Leak for 45 minutes, an hour or an hour and a half at times just working on things with him,” added Dutton.
“He’s got that character inside of him, he’s got that fire in his belly, he wants to be a professional footballer and he’s going to do everything to make it happen.
“You need that hard work and work ethic and if you’ve got the talent, that’s a bonus. He’s full of work ethic and character so I’m absolutely delighted for him, I’m delighted for Sam Perry and I’ll be delighted for the next crop that comes through.”
Dutton’s side now turn their attention to Saturday’s trip to Grimsby Town. Watch the game live on iFollow – match passes available here.