TUESDAY evening proved a wholly cathartic experience for young Leeds United striker Tyler Roberts.
Behind the teenager’s beaming smile as he basked in the glow of his first two goals for Leeds – who provided another beguiling Championship moment in a classy 3-0 win over Preston – there was a bit of a story.
After suffering a cruelly-timed season-ending injury in his first full training session with the club after joining in a £2.5m move from West Brom in January, nights like Tuesday will have seemed a fair way off not so long back.
A cracked shin prevented him from wearing the famous white shirt for the first time competitively until last month and, after being a frustrated onlooker at home games in the second half of 2017-18, few would begrudge Roberts his place in the limelight in midweek.
His full league debut at Elland Road was crowned by an instinctive 74th-minute lob in front of the Gelderd End to put Championship leaders United 2-0 in front, with his celebrations in the teeming rain being something to behold.
Having got the taste for it, Roberts soon headed home his second and United’s third, with a stand-out September suddenly getting a whole lot better for the 19-year-old.
It (Tuesday) is definitely up there and the feeling was one of the best I have had. Just hearing the noise was just great.Tyler Roberts
On his special night, Roberts, who made his senior Wales debut earlier this month after coming on for Gareth Bale in the UEFA Nations League game with the Republic of Ireland, said: “It was a dream come true. Literally, as soon as I saw somebody score here, it was just: ‘Wow, imagine scoring in front of however many fans come here each week.’
“Just being here at the games and taking in the atmosphere before was hard to take. As a footballer, you just want to play, so you just have to keep strong and positive.
“The injury was the first time I have really been through a long time out, so to have that happen as soon as I joined Leeds was mentally tough and it was a disappointing thing.
“Everyone was great in terms of the people around me, my mum, my agent and my dad and all my family were great. I think I was blessed to have those people around me.
“It (Tuesday) is definitely up there and the feeling was one of the best I have had. Just hearing the noise was just great.”
With Patrick Bamford sidelined for an extended spell and Kemar Roofe also currently unavailable, the performance of Roberts – handed the responsibility he craved in a central striking berth – gave Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa some welcome food for thought.
Bielsa is the first to admit that he needed persuading by the youngster that he was worth a chance up front, the Argentine having previously utilised him on the right flank – which he considered to be his natural home.
A supreme teacher of players, Bielsa is also clearly flexible and democratic in his approach, with the 63-year-old’s adherence to the wishes of Roberts bearing fruit on Tuesday and marking his card in a positive sense for the weeks and months ahead.
Roberts added: “I feel more comfortable as a striker, but I have worked on my game and think I can play out wide. If that is where I am going to get my opportunity, then it is something I will have to take.
“I have learned so much from him (Bielsa) in a short space of time and, with the things that he asks me to do, I am learning and getting better at them. These things I will keep improving at.”