Following his impressive display at Anfield on Tuesday, Kemar Roofe has admitted he’s feeling really settled at Leeds United and is confident he will soon start finding the net. Phil Hay reports.
When the dust settled on Tuesday’s League Cup defeat at Anfield, Kemar Roofe was able to find his sense of humour despite failing to find the net. He addressed Twitter with the simple plea: “Can someone please release me from this goal curse?”
It must feel like that to Roofe: briefly credited with an effort at Wolverhampton Wanderers in October, only for the strike to be marked down as an own goal, and denied against Liverpool by the post which kept out a glorious, curling finish on 53 minutes. Roofe scored 26 times for Oxford United last season. At Elland Road he cannot dig out a single goal. But that blank is a small black mark for a rapidly improving player.
Roofe was the pick of the players at Anfield, the livewire in Leeds’ unfortunate quarter-final loss. His shot which rattled the woodwork came with the tie goalless and proved to be a defining moment which Liverpool made the most of.
The 23-year-old came to Leeds from Oxford United for £3m in July and was described as a forward with the capacity to play almost anywhere up front but his finesse at number 10 against Rotherham United last Saturday and again on Tuesday left no doubt that head coach Garry Monk will get most from Roofe in a central role.
Roofe said he was starting to feel “really settled” in Leeds and had reached the point where his fitness had risen from the standards of League Two, up to the level required in the Championship. United and Monk for their part are starting to see a return from their summer investment.
If the loss of Pablo Hernandez to a hamstring strain recently felt like a major handicap for Monk, Roofe’s form in the same position might prevent any sleepless nights.
Over the past 24 hours, Roofe must have replayed his 53rd-minute chance – a finish which left Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet standing – countless times in his head.
“I did feel the shot was going to hit the post and go in,” he said. “Unfortunately it didn’t. Things just aren’t happening for me in front of goal but I’m happy with my performances. If I can keep doing this, the goals will come. I do feel really settled now.
“It takes time at a new club, especially when there are as many new faces as we had last summer. People have to get used to each other’s style and that takes time. My fitness also had to go up to Championship level as well. But I do feel I have that now.”
As a team, United’s displays at Rotherham last weekend and at Liverpool on Tuesday were chalk and cheese; overly relaxed and a little directionless in South Yorkshire but disciplined and brilliantly competitive at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s manager, fielded a weakened team but his line-up still had room for Saido Mane, Emre Can, Lucas and Mignolet. It took two goals in the last 15 minutes, from Divock Origi and teenage sensation Ben Woodburn, to see the Premier League club into the semi-finals.
For Leeds, the loss was their fourth in 15 games. Monk looks evermore like a coach in control. “We took the game to Liverpool,” Roofe said.
“That’s what we’re about. Our mentality as a group is to be positive. We want to make it a battle and take the opposition to the trenches, to see who really wants to win the game.
“I feel like it’s coming together as a team now. Every performance is getting better and the results are coming. There were a lot of positives to take out of the Liverpool game, even though we lost.
“We gave it everything and people can see that. It was unfortunate that we ended up going out.”
Leeds return to the Championship this weekend, albeit to a game which was once as much a fixture in the Premier League as United versus Liverpool. Saturday’s meeting with Aston Villa at Elland Road is also the type of game which will dictate the make-up of play-off positions which both Leeds and Villa are competing for. United hold fifth position. Villa are 11th and rising.
The Birmingham club remain unbeaten after seven games under Steve Bruce, the manager brought into pick up the pieces after Roberto Di Matteo’s short and sharp reign. Having floated around in the bottom half of the table for as long as Di Matteo survived, Villa now look like a serious threat to the top six.
“Villa are going well but so are we,” Roofe said. “Every Championship game’s massive because it is such a tough league so we just see it as another tough game.”
It will be said that Leeds-Villa is a game made for England’s top flight, just as the same was said about Newcastle’s visit to Elland Road last month and Leeds’ appearance at Anfield on Tuesday.
Monk spoke after his side’s League Cup defeat of wanting to “make this type of fixture more regular.”
Roofe came away from Liverpool with a similar feeling.
“One of the comments we made in the dressing room before the game was that we want to go to places like Anfield every week,” he said.
“Next time we want to play them in the Premier League. That’s the stage we want to be playing at.
“I hadn’t played at Anfield before and I enjoyed it. The stadium’s good but if I’m honest, I don’t focus on anything like that.
“The pitch is my sole focus because I wanted the win.”