If Patrick Bamford’s importance was apparent when Leeds United missed him, it was equally obvious on his return. Some 25 minutes into his first match since September, Bamford was wheeling away in celebration, his shirt whirling around in his hand as he marked an equaliser that left Brentford feeling understandably frustrated.
“This moment, my feeling is definitely not to celebrate,” said manager Thomas Frank. His team were seconds away from a win that would have come in adversity. They had lost their premier striker, with Ivan Toney sidelined by coronavirus, just as Leeds welcomed his counterpart back. Brentford nevertheless led courtesy of a comeback and an auxiliary striker, in Sergi Canos.
Then Raphinha whipped in a 95th-minute corner, Luke Ayling flicked it on and the substitute Bamford kneed it in. He got 17 league goals last season; just his second of this was a reminder what predators can do. “Patrick scored a goalscorer’s goal,” said manager Marcelo Bielsa. “The players that are used to scoring normally are in the right place at the right moment. What you value about this goal is the opportunism of it.”
That it was Ayling’s first game back after he, like Bamford, was out for almost three months, made it a comeback in more ways than one and for two different players.
Leeds nevertheless lost two others, with Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips going off injured, and they could face other consequences. The Brentford goalscorer Sergi Canos was struck by something thrown from the crowd and Leeds may face sanctions if the FA investigate. But Canos, who has spent the season at right wing-back, proved an inspired choice to replace Toney up front.
“When you have the lowest budget, it hits harder when you are missing key players in key positions,” added Frank, but he found a way. “Sergi paid back the trust I gave him.”
It was a game that revolved around specialist strikers and the men who deputised in attack. Tyler Roberts’ versatility appeals to Bielsa but, with Bamford starting on the bench, he began with a solitary Premier League goal. His belated second was nonetheless taken with predatory expertise, a sliding Roberts converting Raphinha’s inviting cross.
Infused with confidence, Roberts had a rising shot pushed over the bar by Alvaro Fernandez. He played a hybrid role, part striker, part false nine. Bielsa had selected him ahead of the club’s record buy, Rodrigo, and his faith was rewarded.
But from then on, with Roberts and Raphinha excelling, with Brentford scarcely threatening in the first half, Leeds were on course to register back-to-back wins for the first time this season and three consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first since 2002.
Then came a comeback amid seven minutes of mayhem for Leeds. The first capped a rise from footballing obscurity. Shandon Baptiste was on loan at non-league Hampton & Richmond Borough in 2018. He struck in the Premier League in 2021, angling in a shot after Canos’ cross struck Diego Llorente and rebounded into his path.
He played his part in the second, too. It amounted to a terrific, slick move, with Baptiste feeding Bryan Mbeumo, who pierced the Leeds defence with a reverse pass. Canos ran on to it and fired his shot in. Having missed a fine chance a minute earlier, he responded well. “Sergi gave a fine performance,” said Frank.
But Leeds’ plight would be worse if they could not score injury-time goals and a second in a week left Bielsa rationalising: “Before the game, it wasn’t a good result. After the first half it wasn’t as well but when the game finished we need to value what we got.”