COMMENT By Richard Parks
Maybe Victor Orta is not quite the hopeless recruitment chief he has been painted as by Leeds United following his first year in charge of transfers.
The Leeds United director of football has been mocked, pilloried, slaughtered, and worse, by fans in recent months as the senior side’s season has gone from good to middling to wretched.
His massive overhaul of the first team has yet to pay dividends – or anywhere near – but at age-group level it is more than starting to bear fruit.
Leeds Under-23s ending a hugely encouraging Professional Development League campaign in some style with a 4-0 Monday night demolition of Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
It follows a series of other convincing wins for Carlos Corberan’s side, and comes after the club’s Under-18s secured the Professional Development League north title at the weekend.
Orta and his recruitment team can silence their many critics if one or two of their more youthful signings can establish themselves as first team stars.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Paudie O’Connor and Tom Pearce have made huge progress after grasping their opportunities in recent weeks following a slew of senior injuries.
The evidence is growing by the day that Sam Dalby can not only graduate into Paul Heckingbottom’s side but can nail down a regular spot.
The striker, 18, was prised from non-league outfit Leyton Orient in the January window for a fee of around £250,000 and has made a major impact for United’s Under-23s.
He has scored at the rate of virtually a goal a game since his transfer, adding to his growing collection with dinked finish that put Leeds 2-0 up at Ashton Gate.
But it is not just the goals, or the quantity. It is the manner and variety of them that has stood out and should excite anyone with the club’s interests at heart.
There have been the sort of tower headers of which Andy Carroll would be proud as well as technically superb finishes with both feet. He has demonstrated strength, composure and tight technique as well as proving he can mix it up with goals straight out of the classic English number nine playbook.
Dalby is a genuine star in the making. Standing at 6ft 2in, he is a strapping front man who broke into the Orient team last season aged 17 and scored on his full debut against Crawley.
Prior to joining Leeds, his appearances had been strictly rationed this season to protect his maturing body, but it is a measure of his calibre that he trialled for Palace earlier this season and has been targeted by the Championship big hitters as well as plenty of others in the Football League.
If Dalby continues to develop and keeps his feet on the ground, he can turn out to be Leeds’ shrewdest signing since Robert Snodgrass – who we rate as the club’s best capture since their Premier League relegation – and be the answer to the team’s prayers.
In other Leeds United news, the 11 players fighting to save their jobs are REVEALED after Heckingbottom points the finger.