Patrick Bamford is on a run of five goalless games, but it’s the way he’s playing means Leeds desperately, desperately need a striker…
For any fans of the Bourne films, there’s a gloriously silly new spin-off on a well-known tax-dodging streaming service at the moment, called Treadstone. In the opening scene, a handsome, muscular man is being interrogated by some dastardly foreign type, and is instructed to shoot a bunch of people who are covered with sheets. He doesn’t know who they are, but presumably this is some sort of test, like with Bourne in the original films, that he will follow orders when they’re issued, no matter what they are. The look on his face as he’s preparing to do it is as you might expect: terrified, horror-filled, unsure whether he can do it, both literally and ethically. In short, he looks as if he’s about to vomit at the prospect of what he’s about to do.
The other place that look could be found recently was on Patrick Bamford’s face as he stepped up to take a penalty for Leeds against QPR at the weekend. Bamford’s face was ashen, moving saliva around in his mouth, presumably as he felt the gorge rising inside, eyes all over the place. It genuinely looked like he would rather have been shooting a gun at an unknown stranger than a ball at Rangers’ goalkeeper Liam Kelly.
Unlike the guy from Treadstone, Bamford missed. Or, if you’re feeling generous, Kelly saved, but it was not, to say the least, a tricky operation for the goalie.
All of which seemed to sum up Bamford’s form at the moment. Bamford has ten goals from 29 appearances this season, a relatively respectable figure but nothing more than that, especially in the team he plays for.
It wouldn’t be particularly harsh to expect another striker – a top class Championship-level striker – when afforded the opportunities that Bamford has been presented at Leeds, to double that. But it’s not even really about the numbers, more the importance of the chances that Bamford has missed, and the common theme that runs through them.
Take his last five, goalless games: before the penalty miss at QPR he was put clean through, but snatched at a chance and shanked it into the crowd; against Sheffield Wednesday he had a chance near the edge of the box, with space to shift onto his favoured left foot, but again he snatched at it and dribbled an effort straight at the keeper; Leeds would probably have beaten Arsenal in the FA Cup if Bamford hadn’t dithered over a couple of opportunities, although he did hit the bar; against West Brom he shot from a tough angle when teammates were in better positions; against Preston he only had one shot, which missed.
It almost feels churlish to point out that in a game he missed in among all those, away to Birmingham, Leeds scored five.
Most of those missed chances have something in common. Firstly, they look like a striker who isn’t a natural finisher, which might be weighing on his mind, only exacerbating the way he snatches at a few of those opportunities, reeking of a man trying too hard, knowing that his record should be much better and is desperately attempting to do something about it. It’s a deeply human thing to do, but it doesn’t help, goals-wise.
His decision-making seems like it’s taking a hit, too. For a man whose strength, if he’s not scoring goals, is to bring the best from his colleagues, he’s shooting when he should pass far too often. Obviously that is linked to his desperation to score, but if he’s thinking clearly then the aim should be for Leeds to score, not just him.
The other, more ephemeral thing to note about some of those misses, particularly at Elland Road, is the noise from the crowd. It’s the noise of frustration, of irritation, of the profound sense that they have grown weary of this happening again. It was a bit like the noise that greeted every Ade Akinbiyi miss during that spell at Leicester. It’s grim, and you can’t help feeling sorry for him.
Of course, Bamford is not terrible. It’s ‘only’ been five games (although he did have a ten-game barren spell earlier in the season), and he could get a hat-trick in his next game. He offers more than just goals, his workrate, hold-up and link play highly prized by Marcelo Bielsa.
It’s also not entirely his fault that Leeds are soiling the bed in a troublingly familiar manner, seemingly dragging West Brom down with them over the last few weeks. Back in the middle of December those two stood astride the top of the Championship, level on points but a whopping 11 clear of third place. The pair of them have won only twice since and if Nottingham Forest beat Reading on Wednesday evening, the gap will be two.
But how many of those winless games might have ended differently with a more clinical striker? A better finish here, a more sensible decision there, and they could have a few more points. West Brom’s wobble should have presented Leeds with a chance to pull away, but as it is they’re both struggling.
There’s a week or so left of the transfer window. Leeds are being linked with any striker with a pulse, but it’s vital that they get one. Otherwise, there’s a real danger that these two glorious seasons under Bielsa could end with nothing tangible to show for it.
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