YOUNG defender Lloyd Kelly has established himself as a leader amongst the Cherries senior group despite being just 22 and says: “I’ve definitely embraced that character since we came back.”

Kelly will now lead his side and take on the armband in the opening fixture of the 2021-22 Championship season tonight, against recently relegated West Brom.

The former Bristol City prospect captained Cherries during pre-season and against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup season opener, which finished 5-0 to the good.

Kelly has matured beyond his years after going into foster care and being separated from his mother during childhood, before being picked up by City’s academy playing local football.

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The considered young man insists he’s always tried to set an example on the pitch, while still trying to learn and develop his own game at both full-back and centre-back.

Speaking to the club website, he said: “I’ve definitely embraced the character as a leader since we came back.

“I’ve always been a leader on the pitch whether it’s by example or with my voice but especially since we’ve come back I’ve stepped into that role, and I want to use it to help the boys as much as I can on the pitch, using my voice and my experience to push the boys on.

“Everyone’s starting to buy into the gaffers new philosophy and what he wants to do. I think the gaffer’s philosophy is hard work on and off the ball.

“It’s clear he wants us to play with a tempo with the ball but at the same time when we lose the ball or aren’t in possession he wants us to hunt teams down and win it back as soon as possible.”

At 22, Kelly has already made 98 senior appearances for City and Cherries, including 81 in the Championship – experience that will be vital in Cherries’ efforts to make it out of the division this season.

Having been a ball-boy at Ashton Gate, the starlet made his debut in 2017, aged 18.

To support his development on and off the pitch, Kelly is a keen reader and likes to study the mentality side of elite level performance.

He added: “What I’m reading at the moment is Tim Grover book called Winning, it’s the second one. It’s a second edition to Relentless.

“It gives an insight into the elite athletes in the world, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wayde and others in the NBA. It’s an exciting one and kind of gives you an insight into what their mindsets are.

“I read regularly when I can, settle down and take an hour or so to get through a couple of chapters.

“I’m definitely getting more into it. The best book I’ve ever read is probably Relentless or The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, it’s a bit different but I do enjoy that one.”