Leeds United (1) v Derby County (0)

Elland Road


Our goal on Saturday was one of those finishes where the celebrations have already begun before the ball hits the net. Those out-of-body experiences where the wheels are already in motion before the event has occurred.

These goals invariably come from a crossed ball. The anticipation as it sails towards its target and the unfortunate defence scramble in futile panic is divine. These moments are so few, so exquisite, that every football supporter recounts them merely as a forewarning symptom to the explosive nirvana that follows.

For me, Robbie Keane against Oliver Kahn in the 2002 World Cup, Jermaine Beckford at the Stretford End in 2010, Becchio v Millwall in 2009 and more recently Robbie Brady’s Euro 2016 header in Lille and Chris Wood heading home Charlie Taylor’s cross in front of the South Stand in 2017.

Jack Harrison feeding Kemar Roofe against Derby in May 2019 now lies among them.

So you can imagine the collective grimace among Leeds fans this afternoon as Marcelo Bielsa gave his pre-match press conference, breaking the news that Kemar Roofe will miss Wednesday’s Championship Play-Off Semi-Final 2nd Leg.

With an apologetic-looking Liam Cooper at his side, the Argentine broke the news that Saturday’s match-winner was suffering from a calf problem and, along with Adam Forshaw, would be unavailable for the upcoming game.

Forshaw and Roofe join Tyler Roberts, Gjanni Alioski and Barry Douglas on the list of injured first-team players, while Bielsa explained that Pontus Jansson would train tomorrow in an attempt to prove his fitness.

“It is a reality demanded by the competition.”  – Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds have racked up a truly astonishing injury record this season, Bielsa’s high-octane game pushing the squad to the limits of their endurance. Luckily for the home side, those waiting in the wings have continually proven their aptitude for quality, intensity and application.

Thrown in once again at midfield on Saturday, Jamie Shackleton provided attacking impetus from midfield that the more reserved Forshaw normally wouldn’t.  The 19-year-old sparkled in his cameo role at the weekend and is likely to be needed from the start on Wednesday.

Bielsa mentioned in today’s press conference that he judges young players partly by the reaction of the seasoned professionals to their presence. Like the thousands watching on, he has no worries when it comes to Baby Shack.

The other selection call that the manager will have to make is a more difficult one. Gaetano Berardi deputised admirably for the injured Pontus Jansson at the weekend, his early block on David Nugent preventing the early goal that The Rams required to fulfil their only semblance of a game plan.

They didn’t get it. The Swiss Army Knife of the Leeds defence flung himself headlong, you imagine with a sadistic grin, to turn the ball away. He never shirked his responsibility for the full 90 minutes, providing the kind of defensive shut out of which you can ask no more.

Should Swedish House Maverick Jansson be fit to start, the call may come down to Derby’s own selection choice up front. Waghorn’s physicality may pose more of a problem for Berardi, either outmuscling the Swiss, or worse, provoking him into committing second-degree murder.

Up front, there is surely no more clinical understudy in the Championship than the languid Patrick Bamford. The summer signing’s season has been blighted by injury, but when Roofe fell to his original ailment, Bamford picked up the slack.

Since his return from his second injury of the season, Bamford has hit the net 9 times in 16 games, only losing his place through suspension after that albeit shameful dive against Aston Villa. Captain Liam Cooper spoke of his “weird confidence” at the press conference this afternoon.

“He’s got this unbelievable confidence about him. If he missed chances he always knows he’s going to score. It’s a weird confidence but it’s a good one to have in the team.”

Having apologised to the squad for his frankly embarrassing misdemeanour, ‘Pat’ will be even more determined to prove a point. He found himself in a similar position against Preston earlier in the season, when he fired home a brace (and did me out of about £300 with that late miss!!) in response to criticism.

Roofe fits seamlessly into the aggressive, high-tempo game favoured by Bielsa. His running takes him into good positions and draws defenders into areas with which they are unfamiliar. Bamford’s movement is there but we are yet to see that aggression that sets Roofe apart.

Elland Road will be raucous, loud, abrasive and intimidating. Midweek games in the balmy summer air carry a certain mystique.

As the light fades behind the John Charles Stand and the floodlights gradually light up the green rectangle, you can almost see Ian Harte rifling the ball past Cesar Martin or hear the faint echo of the Champions League anthem floating on the Yorkshire breeze.

Bielsa was typically philosophical when talking about the emotion involved, referring to it as “an ingredient that allows you to use your skills better.” Bamford undoubtedly can finish, let’s hope that emotion can allow him to use those skills to the best of his ability.

As supporters, this is our opportunity, our responsibility, to push the atmosphere, the emotion to boiling point. The chants, the quips, the roars will be indistinguishable. The noise will be raw and clear for all to hear. Derby’s charges need to be under no illusion as to the task facing them.

All managers of all clubs talk up their supporters. It is quite simply good PR. A cynic might say it would buy you an extra week when your time is running out. Bielsa doesn’t need to spout emotionless clichés about the ‘best fans in the world’. He analyses. He philosophises:

“What makes Leeds fans special is they don’t answer to things that you ask them to do. They don’t need to be asked to do things. I have nothing to ask them, they already give what we need.”

Make sure we bring it with us on Wednesday.