Coming up against a side languishing near the foot of the table, all expectations no doubt would have been of an easy Sheffield Wednesday victory on Boxing Day. Stoke had won just five Championship games all season, whilst the visitors were looking to keep pace with the front two, West Brom and Leeds.
Instead, in a major upset, Garry Monk’s side fell to a dramatic 3-2 defeat to the Potters, courtesy of two goals deep into injury-time from Tyrese Campbell and Sam Vokes. Wednesday had essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and questions will undoubtedly be asked of the Owls’ rearguard. But one man amongst that whose application and commitment to the cause cannot be questioned, is skipper Tom Lees.
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As well as scoring the goal that made it 2-1 for his side, Lees led by example throughout the game, and was certainly undeserving of being on the losing team. The fact he did so, is more a damning indictment of the rest of his teammates, than any particular criticism of his own performance. As per Sofascore, his 8.1 match rating was the best of any player on the pitch, and when looking at the underlying numbers behind his display, it is easy to see why.
In a mammoth performance that delivered a textbook lesson on how to be a centre-back in the cut-throat world of football in the Championship, the 29-year-old won an incredible 15 of his 20 total duels – the most of any player on either side. Not only did he win the 50/50s on most occasions, but he was also there to make last-ditch tackles and vital goal-saving actions.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, he made an impressive nine clearances (with one of them coming off the line), two tackles and one blocked shot. Whilst Monk will pore over his side’s late defeat in the days to come, one man whose performance cannot be debated is Lees’. His captain led from the back like a true leader, and the defeat to Stoke was down to his teammates letting him down.