Kemar Roofe is putting in the kind of performances for Leeds United that make the £3m the Elland Road club paid Oxford United for him back in July as something of a bargain. Phil Hay reports.
Suddenly Kemar Roofe is finding that everyone wants a ticket. He will be close to his home turf in Birmingham tomorrow and friends and family are queuing up for seats at Aston Villa.
Many of them would have turned out to see him in any circumstances but Leeds United are rapidly regaining an aesthetic appeal.
The club shifted more than 5,000 tickets for their Boxing Day win at Preston North End. Their away allocation for Villa Park sold out a fortnight ago. Tomorrow’s game is televised but Roofe’s phone has been ringing anyway.
“There’s a panic for tickets,” he joked.
It is, on paper, as attractive a fixture as the Championship will throw up this season, the epitome of a match between two clubs punching well below their historical weight. It is also an evening on which Leeds have the chance to wound one of the teams who might beat them to a top-six finish.
United and Villa are six points apart after 23 games, with Villa five places behind in 10th. A margin of nine points would look like clear water.
Leeds took three from Villa at the start of his month, inflicting a 2-0 defeat on the Birmingham club at Elland Road on December 3.
The result was significant not only in underlining Leeds’ promotion credentials but in condemning Villa to a first loss since Steve Bruce took over as manager.
It was Roofe’s second-half header, his first goal for Leeds, which set that victory in motion.
Roofe is honest enough to say that over 90 minutes against Villa, United’s display could have been more convincing.
The match saw few chances prior to his flying finish but Villa had the best of them before that moment when Albert Adomah shot wide with only Rob Green to beat.
“You saw when they came to our place that it was one of our hardest games,” Roofe said.
“They matched us and they killed our flow but we’ve been working on that and we’ll work on it again in the next few days.
“I think it’ll be a similar game but hopefully we’ll perform better and use the ball better.
“I didn’t think we did that as much as we could have done at Elland Road but that’s probably one of our strong points.
“We’ve got that desire – the willingness and the desire to win.”
United’s league record bears that attitude out. Monk’s side have won eight of their last 10 games, a spate of form which is almost unrivalled in the Championship.
Roofe had a big hand in Monday’s 4-1 defeat of Preston, scoring the first goal with a close-range header and setting up the second for Hadi Sacko with a clever one-two outside North End’s box.
The victory was Leeds’ biggest of the season and Preston’s heaviest at home, a sign of United growing in strength at a time when players are returning from injury and the January transfer window is about to open.
Pablo Hernandez and top scorer Chris Wood were used as late substitutes by Monk at Deepdale. The pair combined for Hernandez to tuck away the fourth goal on 88 minutes.
“That would be up there as one of our best results,” Roofe said. “We knew it was going to be a fight and a physical battle but we matched them and we managed to play some good football.
“If we’re going to be critical then we could have got more goals but we’re happy with 4-1.
“You look at the whole squad and see people coming on from the bench as people who could be starting and should be starting.
“Obviously everyone has to put in a performance every time they put on a shirt.
“We’ve had injuries which is a bit unfortunate but we’re getting everyone back now and that’s an advantage for us.”
Roofe is causing head coach Garry Monk as much of a dilemma as anyone. Hernandez was Leeds’ preferred number 10 before he suffered a hamstring strain last month but his injury cleared the way for Roofe to occupy a more central role. Little by little, the 23-year-old has started to look like good value at the price of £3m which Leeds paid Oxford United to sign him in July. Monk is unlikely to leave out a fit Hernandez for long but Roofe is ready to adapt.
“To be honest I just see myself as a striker, wherever that is,” he said. Whether that’s running in behind, it’s just football at the end of the day.
“It’s not Subbuteo and people don’t have to stay in one position. As long as I am playing that’s all I want.”
A blast of three first-half goals against Preston allowed United’s huge away crowd to dominate the atmosphere at Deepdale. Villa, who sold out their stadium for the first time in five years for Saturday’s meeting with Burton Albion, have allocated Leeds just 2,400 tickets in a ground which holds around 42,000. A late Ross McCormack goal gave Villa a 2-1 win over Burton. Steve Bruce described his side as “very fortunate” afterwards.
“Our fans will make the most noise in the stadium as usual and fill it out,” Roofe said.
“It’s going to be a massive game and it’ll be like a Premier League game. Every game we go into we look to win. Whatever happens happens, but every game we think we can win.”