By this stage of last season Kemar Roofe had nine goals behind him and headlines devoted to him. On Saturday he appeared to have scored his first for Leeds United, answering scepticism about those headlines after three barren months. Sadly for him, television replays intervened and the crucial moment at Molineux went down as an own goal.
The clarification figured. When the ball burst from a crowd of players, straight into Wolverhampton Wanderers’ net, it was Hadi Sacko – the source of a low cross which Wolves could not defend – who United’s players mobbed, and Wanderers’ defender Silvio who hung his head, suspecting the final touch was his. The wait for Roofe goes on but even he might not mind. Leeds rejoined the straight and narrow at Molineux and playing like this, the forward’s maiden goal will arrive before long.
At £3m, Roofe was Leeds’ most expensive signing of the summer transfer window. He cost as expensive as most players who had come and gone in all of their post-Premiership years. The weeks since then have been spent waiting for the goals, the assists and the form of League Two’s player-of-the-year to emerge but even without the satisfaction of a winning strike, Saturday was a line in the sand for him; the first time that Roofe has looked at home at Leeds and at home in the Championship.
Leeds have looked at home in the Championship ever since their players and head coach Garry Monk got the bit between their teeth after a 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town but a relatively small squad gives Monk no room for passengers. Roofe found himself at Wolves and Ronaldo Vieira, on his first start for several weeks, compensated brilliantly for an injury to Pablo Hernandez. The common criticism of Hadi Sacko – that the winger is all pace and no final ball – was quelled on 70 minutes when he pounced on a bad error by left-back Matt Doherty and drove the ball into an area where Silvio was doomed to concede with Roofe breathing down his neck.
Sacko needed that, as Leeds and Monk needed that, but it was Roofe’s contribution which felt most notable. Monk said that a rare start in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic would do the 23-year-old “the world of good”. The experience of Molineux should do more again. “I actually thought it was Kemar’s goal,” Monk said. “You’ll have to correct me if that’s wrong but I thought it was his. But he’s contributed really well in the last two games.
“It’s never easy to jump up two leagues in standard. He’s at a new club with a lot of new players and a new manager with new ideas from what he was doing before. It’s a lot to take on board but we’ve got great trust in him – trust in his ability and what he’s going to be.
“I said all along that he’ll be important. It was my job to help him into the team and to improve him. There’s some massive potential here.”
In the grand scheme there seems to be. It is early in the season to be discussing Leeds’ proximity to the play-offs or any other part of the Championship but United’s streak is 16 points from eight games; a certain kind of form and nothing like the feeble fashion in which Monk’s players got their campaign going.
Wolves, managed by a coach in Walter Zenga who crossed Massimo Cellino’s radar in the summer, are beginning to look feeble and for all that they had chances on Saturday, there was a sense of fragility around the ground which began to bite in the second half. It told when Doherty, who had been worried about Sacko’s pace throughout, allowed a long ball from Bartley to bounce off his heel when a simple clearance into touch would have done. Sacko picked up possession, went for the kill and a tight game was won. Unlike Tuesday’s demoralising draw with Wigan, there was no late equaliser and no dissection of Monk’s substitutions. Set alongside Zenga, the careful persistence of United’s head coach in applying his methods consistently feels like a far safer bet.
“In the second half I wanted a bit more quality on the ball, to be a bit crisper with our passing, and with that I thought we could do something,” Monk said. “You could see that we looked dangerous on the break.
“Like Tuesday night they started to come at us after that but its expected away from home. They had one shot on target all game. That shows how well we are. They had other half-chances and so did we. But our character shone through.”
As is United’s way, there were moments which Wolves rued as badly as Doherty’s error. Nouha Dicko failed to tuck away an early lob after a dreadful header from Eunan O’Kane – the only error from a midfielder whose industry was exceptional – and Rob Green pulled off a point-blank block to deny Joao Teixeira. Charlie Taylor’s sliding tackle in front of goal denied Helder Costa a tap-in but when Leeds eventually offered a threat in the final minutes of the first half, Wolves’ hide was quickly exposed. Sacko chipped an effort against the crossbar after outpacing Doherty and Roofe was inches away from glancing home a header at the end of Taylor’s 40th minute cross.
As play raged through periods of entertainment and periods of abject scrappiness, referee Stuart Attwell came under the cosh from the home crowd. He stood up, all the same, to three penalty appeals from Leeds, one of which – a sliding tackle by Danny Batth on Chris Wood – looked very convincing. Wolves broke their transfer record to sign Ivan Cavaleiro from Monaco and when Zenga sent him on a substitute on 63 minutes, the game swung quickly in their favour. But just as Wood was becoming isolated up front, Doherty blundered and Silvio put through his own net. Wood was inches from drilling a volley beyond Carl Ikeme long before Costa slammed a last-gasp sitter over Green’s bar.
As Monk said afterwards, goals change games and Silvio’s concession portrayed Wolves in a poor light; loaded with signings who suitability for the Championship is far from proven. In the final minutes, Batth abandoned his defensive post and played as a centre-forward, the only die Zenga had left to roll. Mindful of the attention which was paid to his substitutions against Wigan, Monk reserved his for the last few minutes.
“I thought we saw the game out quite comfortably,” Monk said. “A win away from home, a clean sheet – you’ve got to be happy. We’re really competitive and it’s never easy coming away from home. We’ve done really well at home but we wanted to make our away record better. It was a typical Championship performance where you have to dig in. “Gradually we’re getting there. If we can keep picking up results then that gives confidence and we should start looking above, trying to claw teams in.”
In a packed twilight zone directly below the top six, his squad are sticking around.