When Leeds paid Valencia £27 million ($37.2m) for Rodrigo, he was Spain’s No 9 and they were presumably expecting rather more goals from their record signing. If he spent his debut campaign in the shadow of Patrick Bamford, they had to wait until the 94th minute of his 11th appearance of the season for a first strike since May. When it came, however, it assumed an importance.
Rodrigo’s nerveless penalty spared Leeds defeat when it seemed that, having already lost the injured Raphinha, they would lose 1-0 for the second successive Saturday. Their troubled start to the season, their worst since 1988, was on the verge of getting worse. As two clubs seemed headed in opposite directions, Wolves were closing in on a fourth consecutive victory, something they had not mustered in the top flight since 1972, and a berth in the top six.
And then Rodrigo’s fellow rescuer intervened. Joe Gelhardt joined alongside the Spaniard in 2020, but to rather less fanfare. He was signed from Wigan, cheaper because they were in administration and suffering from relegation. This was just his second cameo in the Premier League. He was a ball of energy, drawing one fine save from Jose Sa, lifting another shot over the bar, before tumbling under Nelson Semedo’s challenge.
“Very soft,” said Bruno Lage, objecting to the award of the penalty but it was hard to halt Gelhardt. “In the last 15 minutes he was causing danger constantly,” said Marcelo Bielsa. “Not only the penalty but a few occasions he could have scored.”
The 19-year-old’s dramatic impact represented a reward for him: a theme of Bielsa’s long managerial career has been a willingness to trust young players and, in Gelhardt and Crysencio Summerville, he turned to two teenagers while leaving England’s Euro 2020 finalist Kalvin Phillips on the bench.
It was a very Bielsa comeback in another respect. Wolves, who had been comfortable, were worn down by relentless running. “Our insistence started to fatigue or waste their defence,” Bielsa said. A flurry of chances came late on; Leeds showed a spirit that boded well, given they had spent much of the first half in the relegation zone.
Rodrigo had glanced a header wide before Leeds trailed. They have a solitary clean sheet this season and, within 10 minutes, it was apparent they would not secure a second. Semedo picked out Raul Jimenez. His deflected shot fell obligingly for Hwang Hee-Chan to prod in the fourth goal of a productive loan spell.
They lost all three league games before he was able to debut, failing to score in each, but this was another indication he has added the finishing touch they lacked. He has proved a fine fit in other respects; nicknamed “Bull” in South Korea, that moniker that makes him a still more fitting recruit for Molineux. He is still some way behind Wolves’ record scorer Steve Bull but he has relieved the burden on Jimenez. “For Hwang and his numbers and the opportunities he creates we are very happy with his work,” said Lage.