Bolton Wanderers 0 Leeds United 1: Phil Hay's verdict - Patrick Bamford back with a bang as life after Samuel Saiz begins

There were glimmers of sunshine in Madrid over the weekend and temperatures of close to 10 degrees so no-one who felt the lash of freezing rain at Bolton Wanderers would tell Samuel Saiz that he should stay for the weather.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 16th December 2018, 9:26 am
Updated Sunday, 16th December 2018, 9:33 am
Leeds United's Patrick Bamford celebrates his opening goal at Bolton.
Leeds United's Patrick Bamford celebrates his opening goal at Bolton.

Comfier conditions and comfier surroundings, in the city where he grew up and the city he knows best: that, it seems, is the trade-off for Saiz as he abandons a season which could earn him all the kudos he ever craved. He was back in Spain on Saturday and, without another sudden twist in this story, is ready to join Getafe on loan on January 1. The least fashionable of Madrid’s footballing institutions are giving him the feeling of home that Leeds United cannot.

Leeds will miss his swagger and his cultured touch, the off-the-wall persona which always promised something, but the view taken by the club last week was that they would not miss it much if the alternative was forcing an unsettled, unenthused Saiz to mope around Thorp Arch.

Bolton Wanderers 0 Leeds United 1: Phil Hay's player ratings as Patrick Bamford starsMarcelo Bielsa played dumb after a 1-0 win at Bolton, claiming to be unaware of the midfielder’s precise motivation for asking to leave, but United’s head coach admitted that football was not behind it. “My job is football,” Bielsa said, “and I have to explain things when it’s my decision. This situation has to be explained by the club and Samuel Saiz.”

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Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa watches on at Bolton.

There is nothing about Bielsa which suggests he would tolerate being so out of the loop and it seemed implausible that the Argentinian had been in the dark when discussions about Saiz were going back and forward last Thursday. There is nothing about him either which suggests he would welcome the retention of a player who has had his fill of England and the Championship.

The repetitive theme during Bielsa’s tenure at Leeds has been of one door closing and another opening, and the narrative of Saiz’s moving out overnight at Bolton was doused at Bolton by Patrick Bamford scoring with his first chance and first touch, on his first appearance since injuring a knee in September.

There is no like-for-like correlation between Saiz and Bamford - a number 10 and a full-blown striker - but Bamford’s 66th-minute goal against a club who stink of decay reiterated the fact that Leeds are the antithesis of a one-man team.

Bielsa survived the best part of four months with an injured Bamford beyond his reach and despite him describing Saiz as “the most skilled player in our team”, he will look at Saiz in much the same way: talented, appreciable but - up until Thursday - merely one of the boys, and now not even that. Bielsa always was a socialist.

Leeds United's Pablo Hernandez is action against Bolton.

"Back with a bang!" - Patrick Bamford and Leeds United's players react to Bolton victoryThere is, in any case, a Spaniard at Leeds who carries more clout: the older, calmer head of Pablo Hernandez which so often gives Bielsa’s team clarity of thought. Hernandez stepped into Saiz’s zone in the second half at Bolton and came up with the feather-light pass which nutmegged Jack Hobbs and found Bamford lurking 12 yards from goal. Bamford gave Ben Alnwick the eye, sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and swept the ball low to his right.

He reacted by giving the away end a glowing smile but ran quickly towards the bench where Rob Price - Leeds’ head of medicine and performance - was waiting to meet him with a high-five. Bamford spent most of the first half of this season in Price’s hands, working through a severed knee ligament, and a unique bond exists between injured footballers and physio staff; the relationship which saw Harvey Sharman carried round Elland Road on the shoulders of United’s players when he left for a job in Major League Baseball in 2015. Coaches are paid to make judgements on footballers. Men like Price are there to carry them at their most despondent.

The beauty of Bamford - a £7m signing who scores goals in the Championship, including a hat-trick against Leeds on a night at Middlesbrough in March which was even colder than Saturday’s game at Bolton - is that Bielsa has taken Leeds to the top of the division whilst scarcely using him. “He could be very important,” Bielsa admitted, with Leeds a game away from the halfway point of the season. On Saturday he was decisive.

The match needed some elevation, for the sake of those who were sitting in the bitter air and for the sake of a squad who know they have to win fixtures like this. Bolton last recorded a victory in September and there is an undercurrent in their crowd which seems sceptical about the likelihood of them winning a game again.

Leeds United's Patrick Bamford and Pablo Hernandez celebrate.

Leeds United's victory over Bolton and THAT Patrick Bamford goal in picturesThere have been crises behind the scenes and on Friday the club banned the reporter from the local newspaper, which always helps. Their players scrapped and scrambled and appealed for an 83rd minute penalty - a “stonewall penalty” Phil Parkinson called it after Kalvin Phillips’ tackle on Craig Noone - but none of that was enough.

“The difference can sometimes be a £7m player coming off the bench,” Parkinson said. “In those tight game, a bit of quality can separate the teams.”

Bielsa empathised with that view, saying Leeds had done enough to tip the balance their way but not with much aplomb. Lewis Baker stepped forward to replace Saiz from the start but for the second time in a month was taken off at half-time and is drifting in the way that he drifted at Middlesbrough last season, despite his belief that Bielsa’s football would suit him better than Tony Pulis’.

Hernandez took up the baton in the second half but the goal aside, Bielsa watched an afternoon of labour. “It was a hard win,” he said. “A deserved win but a hard one. We had the possession we needed but we didn’t create enough chances.”

Bolton Wanderers 0 Leeds United 1: Samuel Saiz future is out of my hands, admits Marcelo BielsaBolton, for their part, created none and Alnwick twice denied Mateusz Klich with diving saves, one in the first half and another in the final 10 minutes, diving to tip the ball wide. Leeds journeyed home in the sleet with five successive wins on their record and no manager has been able to say that since Simon Grayson in 2009. The club were top of their division at the end of that run too.

Slowly, their pace is dragging the top six out. Norwich dropped back on Saturday evening and a margin of six points to third place is a tangible cushion. A gap of 11 to seventh-placed Nottingham Forest, who play Derby County on Monday evening, is mammoth difference after 22 games.

It is all there for Bielsa and it was all there for Saiz, if only the possibility of promotion with a club who would offer him their eternal gratitude had been enough to keep him in the ring. Perhaps he will regret leaving at this juncture. Perhaps the surety of Madrid and Spanish life is what he, his pregnant partner and his family needs.

Either way, Leeds are moving on.