Big match verdict: Kemar Roofe takes centre-stage as Leeds United defeat Oxford United

Kemar Roofe opens the scoring against Oxford United.
Kemar Roofe opens the scoring against Oxford United.
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KEMAR ROOFE had already played an integral part in Leeds United’s pre-season friendly against Oxford United, even before the match began.

After all, the fixture was only arranged as part of the deal to bring the winger to Elland Road from Oxford last summer.

Stuart Dallas celebrates his goal against Oxford United.

Stuart Dallas celebrates his goal against Oxford United.

A player pivotal to the fixture then proved pivotal to its conclusion as both Roofe and Leeds as a whole offered hope that the forthcoming season might be even better than the last. Any better will take Roofe and United into the Championship play-offs.

The quest to atone for last season’s near miss will begin next Sunday at Bolton Wanderers and it was clearly with both eyes on that fixture that head coach Thomas Christiansen selected his side to face League One visitors Oxford. Pontus Jansson, the rock of United’s defence, was an unused substitute despite being fit with the Swede not playing in light of being suspended for United’s first two games of the forthcoming campaign.

A club already short on centre-backs will be even lighter in that department for the Championship trip to Bolton and the first round Carabao Cup tie at home to Port Vale the following Wednesday.

Liam Cooper was subsequently selected to start alongside 22-year-old Everton loanee Matthew Pennington and the duo produced a strong showing that kept Pep Clotet’s Oxford at bay without too much cause for alarm. Oxford had their chances but they were few and far between with Ryan Ledson going closest in the second half when a deflected effort sailed narrowly over the bar. Some particularly strong tackles from Pennington mopped up danger on a few occasions. Christiansen, though, is not short of options in other departments, a fact highlighted by the presence of 16 substitutes for the club’s final pre-season friendly.

Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen shakes hands with Oxford United boss Pep Clotet.

Leeds United head coach Thomas Christiansen shakes hands with Oxford United boss Pep Clotet.

One of them, teen star midfielder Ronaldo Vieira, failed to make an appearance despite seemingly being fit and ready to play. Instead, Eunan O’Kane was selected to partner Kalvin Phillips for the two defensive central midfield roles and O’Kane produced a stellar display that made him most people’s idea of man of the match.

And after an uneventful beginning, it was O’Kane and Roofe who combined to net United’s first goal of the game.

Roofe had already caught the eye by terrorising Oxford’s back line down the right flank by continually linking up with right-back Luke Ayling to good effect.

A fine pass from the onrushing O’Kane then afforded Roofe space in the penalty area and the winger needed no second invitation to cut inside before producing a calm finish to give his men a 35th-minute lead. United were causing plenty of problems out wide be it through Roofe or new Macedonian winger Ezgjan Alioski who started on the left flank but then swapped sides with Roofe. Fellow wingers Stuart Dallas and Hadi Sacko had to make do with places on the bench but Dallas proceeded to provide Christiansen with food for thought ahead of his wide men selection when coming on in the second half.

Hernandez – given the nod over another new foreign recruit in Samuel Saiz – produced the odd moment of magic such as a fine cross early in the second half which looked destined to allow targetman Chris Wood to double United’s lead. Oxford keeper Simon Eastwood, though, had other ideas and produced a smart save at close range. Less impressive from Hernandez was the strange cross-field volley in the first half that ended up travelling in the opposite direction to the one that was surely desired and back towards his own goal.

A crowd of 13,295 – including 314 from Oxford – were left a little perplexed. Both the South Stand and West Stand were shut for home supporters but it was United’s fans who were given the most to cheer.

Elland Road threatened to boil over when right back Gaetano Berardi – producing a good showing playing out of position at left-back – charged forward in the 74th-minute and unleashed a shot from 35 yards that Eastwood just about dealt with. Berardi has never scored for Leeds and when he does there will be wild scenes.

Yet after the introduction of seven United substitutes it was Dallas who bulged the net that Berardi had attempted to hit as the Northern Ireland international produced a divine finish with seven minutes left. Dallas and Hadi Sacko were brought on for Alioski and Roofe respectively with another new signing in Mateusz Klich and club captain Liam Bridcutt replacing the excellent O’Kane and Phillips in centre midfield. Another new recruit – Vurnon Anita – came on for Ayling at right-back as Saiz replaced Hernandez and Ekuban was given the task of replacing Wood up front. But it was Dallas who made the biggest impression when controlling a good pass from Klich before cutting inside and curling a gem into the top right corner. Sacko then almost added a third for Leeds three minutes later when fed by Ekuban but the winger fired just wide. Yet it was another winger who had earlier taken the plaudits – eight days short of Leeds beginning their bid to raise the Roofe of their city by ending a 14-year exile from the Premier League.

Leeds United: Wiedwald, Ayling (Anita 78), Cooper, Pennington, Berardi, O’Kane (Klich 78), Phillips (Bridcutt 78), Roofe (Sacko 63), Hernandez (Saiz 63), Alioski (Dallas 63), Wood (Ekuban 78). Subs not used: Green, Peacock-Farrell, Denton, Jansson, Gomes, Shaughnessy, Vieira, Antonsson, Doukara.

Oxford United: Eastwood, Ribiero (Tiendalli 62), Nelson (Martin 79), Hall (Narsingh 62), Ledson, Obika (Thomas 57), Johnson (Rothwell 68), Carroll Ladrero 79), Ruffels (Xemi 72), Williamson (Raglan 62), Henry (Payne 62). Subs not used: Hemmings, Kelleher, Shearer.

Referee: S Duncan.

Attendance: 13,295.