Leeds United fans were relatively pleased when they saw the starting line-up against Burnley on Sunday, barring one absentee – Patrick Bamford.
The England striker and the Whites’ leading marksman for the last two campaigns has missed the majority of this season through injury and last featured against Brentford at the start of December.
In that game against the Bees, Bamford came off the bench to play his first game for two months after injuring his ankle against Newcastle in September – forcing him to miss nine league matches.
And despite scoring a last-gasp equalizer at Elland Road on that cold December afternoon, it was more misery for Bamford as he injured his hamstring in celebrating the goal and he has since missed a further six games.
In a somewhat more difficult second season back in the top-flight for Leeds, Bamford’s lack of matches has showed with manager Marcelo Bielsa struggling to fill his void up front – leading to calls for the Argentine boss to sign another striker in the January transfer window.
But, as luck would have it, the former Chelsea and Middlesbrough striker is edging towards a return again as Bielsa’s side look to pull themselves clear of the relegation zone after a morale-boosting 3-1 victory over Burnley.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 5) sees Leeds’ U23 side host Sunderland in the Premier League Cup at York City’s LNER Community Stadium, and Bamford is expected to feature ahead of a potential first-team return for Sunday’s FA Cup tie at West Ham.
Bielsa has used the U23’s throughout his time at Elland Road to allow injured players to improve their match fitness and sharpness, rarely throwing a player back into the first-team after spending time on the sidelines.
And it will be the same for Bamford who will be eager to get back on the pitch after a frustrating season, with the United fans equally excited to see their number nine return with the hope it will be for a more sustained period this time around.
It has been a season of injuries at Elland Road and the one to Patrick Bamford has arguably hit us the hardest.
The lack of a natural no.9 up top has stood out so it’s important Leeds don’t rush back ‘Paddy’, because he’s key to our survival.
Bielsa’s approach of easing players back in can be frustrating, but it is the best approach in this scenario.
Let’s hope he has a decent run out for the U23 team tomorrow and we can start to see him back and performing to his best before the business end of the season.