FOR the first time since becoming Leeds United’s most expensive signing for 17 years in the summer, Patrick Bamford spent Tuesday night watching his team-mates like a fan.
Out for four months with a knee injury, he had no choice but to sit back and enjoy the attempts of Marcelo Bielsa’s men to extend the Championship’s only unbeaten record at home to Preston North End.
United did just that with a 3-0 victory that saw Tyler Roberts, handed his chance thanks to injuries to both Bamford and top scorer Kemar Roofe, net twice to keep the Yorkshire club at the summit. Bamford admits to being blown away.
The £7m summer arrival from Middlesbrough said: “Afterwards I said to my dad: ‘You know when I was on the pitch or I came on as a sub, did it look like we were running around as much as that?’ He said ‘yeah’.
“He then said there had been a couple of games where it looked like we had stepped off it but that, generally, what I saw against Preston was what it looks like .
“I was like, ‘Wow!’ Looking out from the stands, it is actually unbelievable how much everyone runs, the effort that is put in and the confidence on the ball.”
Even though that is a long time, as soon as I found out I thought: ‘Thank God it is not a long, long injury’. Now it is just about keeping me mentally all right.”Patrick Bamford
Bamford was right to be impressed. Leeds, top this time last year, fell away so badly in the second half of last season that but for the good start under Thomas Christiansen the club could have been dragged into the relegation scrap.
To go from those struggles to the exciting brand of football espoused by Bielsa is nothing short of remarkable, not least because it has been achieved with more or less the same personnel.
Barry Douglas, signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer, has started all eight league games but, otherwise, the team has largely comprised those who found the famous white shirt so burdensome from Christmas onwards last term.
Even Bamford, the club’s most expensive outlay since Robbie Fowler joined for £11m in 2001, struggled to break into the starting XI before suffering his injury in an Under-23s fixture against Bristol City during the international break.
It came as a big blow to the 25-year-old, though he does admit to fearing it could have been even worse after landing awkwardly on his knee.
“It is going to be a while,” he said. “I landed with my knee bent, straight on my knee. And it felt funny. Not hurting, just heavy. It was weird.
“I did hear a click. I also remember Lew (Baker) shout: ‘Come on Pat, get up’. But I knew something was wrong.
“When the physio came over, he tested my ACL. I asked if it felt all right and he said: ‘Yeah yeah, that feels fine’. I just thought: ‘Thank God, as that is the one I didn’t want’.
“We went in and the head of the department had a look and said it was probably the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). It is a weird accident to get in football because normally it is seen after a car crash, from the dashboard.
“It is an impact injury so a strange one to get. Just unlucky, I guess.
“At first I feared it was going to be six to nine months and I would need an operation. Fortunately, that is not the case so it is four months.
“Even though that is a long time, as soon as I found out I thought: ‘Thank God it is not a long, long injury’. Now it is just about keeping me mentally all right.”
The support of family and friends will be crucial as Bamford takes the road back towards full fitness. United’s loanee midfielder Lewis Baker, like Bamford someone who started his career at Chelsea, has been doing a sterling job so far of keeping his team-mate occupied.
“Lewis lives literally 30 seconds drive from me so I hang out with him a lot,” said the striker. “We had a games night this week at Lew’s house, we played a game called ‘Linkee’.
“Everything me and Lew do is so competitive. We are like two brothers, always arguing about irrelevant stuff. But they’re funny arguments and we’re always competing against each other, whether it is on the Play Station or just silly things.
“Things like that are a good laugh, things that will take your mind off it. It keeps me entertained anyway.”
Bamford was back at Elland Road on Thursday, welcoming pupils from Beeston Primary School for a sports-themed physics lesson.
Having gained an A* GCSE in the subject, the striker was a good choice for a joint community initiative between United and San Francisco 49ers, whose owners have a minority shareholding in the Championship club.
He will be back in the stand this afternoon as Birmingham City manager Garry Monk returns to the club he managed for one season in 2016-17.
“Every game is tough but it is one of them where we need to keep it going and maintain the momentum,” said Bamford, who prefers not to set a timeline for his return to first-team action.
“I don’t want to curse it but I think it is key to try and stay unbeaten for as long as we can.
“It is unrealistic to ask us to go unbeaten for the whole Championship but I think staying unbeaten for as long as we can will be important.”
As for the style that so impressed Bamford on Tuesday night when watching from the stand, he is backing United to produce more of the same.
“I love how we are not scared to play out from the back,” he added. “The manager obviously doesn’t want mistakes but I don’t think he will penalise you if you are trying to play the right way or trying to do things that, ultimately, will help us succeed.
“The fans will probably think it is risky sometimes. But, as you saw a couple of times the other night, when you do get it right you have eliminated five or six of their players and you are on to their back four.
“So it is worth it. If we can keep improving then we will see what happens.”