Leeds United face ‘calculated’ call on Patrick Bamford for ‘club’s biggest league game in three years’

IN the early days of his Leeds United tenure, Jesse Marsch is facing a huge call ahead of tomorrow’s monumental relegation ‘six-pointer’ with Norwich City.

Namely whether to further ease striker Patrick Bamford back into the fray from the substitutes’ bench after just over half an hour of Premier League game-time in three months.

Or hand him his first start after his injury ailments since way back on September 17.

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Leeds certainly need something in arguably the club’s biggest league game in three years against the team who are currently propping up the table, but who can move within three points of them with victory.

United's head coach Jesse Marsch. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

After United’s appalling performance in Marsch’s first home game in charge against Aston Villa on Thursday – something akin to a no-show in a grim 3-0 reverse – changes are a certainty.

The main talk revolves around one-time Norwich loanee Bamford, who was sidelined for virtually all of the winter.

He first sustained a hamstring injury while celebrating his late equaliser for Leeds in his comeback game against Brentford at Elland Road on December 6.

The England international then suffered a setback in training before the FA Cup clash at West Ham in early January before picking up a separate foot injury ahead of the home game with Newcastle United later that month.

United's Patrick Bamford back in action. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

It has been an injury-ravaged campaign for the 28-year-old, who damaged his ankle in the reverse fixture with the Magpies in mid-September.

But with Leeds’s defensive ills unfortunately being complimented by issues in the goalscoring department – United have not scored in their last four matches and have found the net just twice in their last six games – the temptation to start with Bamford, whose return from the bench was greeted with raucous cheers on an otherwise awful night against Villa, will be strong.

Head coach Marsch said: “We all know how important the game is. We have to be calculated.

“We’ll look at how he is and make an educated decision about what is best for him. He looked great this week, we could be optimistic but we also have to be intelligent.”

One enforced change will see Stuart Dallas switch to left-back after Junior Firpo – who had a torrid night on Thursday – was stretchered off late on with a knee injury which is set to sideline him for a spell, quite possibly for the rest of the season.

Joe Gelhardt is also being tipped to be handed a start in place of Rodrigo, with the big money buy producing a desperately disappointing first-half performance against Villa before being replaced. He was by no means alone, that said.

Marsch acknowledged: “It wasn’t his best performance. I like him a lot, his character, the type of player he is. I’ve asked him to play more as a striker rather than a 10. He is a good young man.

“We will need him as we move forward. I have to figure out the best way to use him and how to fit him into the tactics that we’re doing.”

On Firpo, Marsch continued: “It will be costly. Any time you lose a player, it is tough.

“We will have to play Stuart at left-back, he can manage that, it’s probably his best position.

“He is incredibly intelligent (and) he can manage it. We have to find a way with adversity to get better.”

It will be a significant test of character for Leeds and Norwich tomorrow, with both heading into the game on identical morale-sapping six-match losing sequences. Another defeat for either could potentially be a fatal wound in their season.

Leeds preview: Page 3