'I'm getting stronger' - why Tyler Roberts won't let matter of inches define his Leeds United season

The Whites playmaker has had to bide his time under Marcelo Bielsa at Elland Road.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:04 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:08 pm
Leeds United forward Tyler Roberts. Pic: Getty

For Leeds United forward Tyler Roberts it has been a game of inches this season.

The 22-year-old saw a first Premier League goal chalked off thanks to Helder Costa's kneecap and VAR intervention at West Ham earlier this month.

He has also seen two assists suffer the same fate in recent weeks, with the use of on-screen lines denying more headline contributions - leaving his tally as a provider at just two.

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Patrick Bamford was adjudged to be beyond the last man at Wolves while Roberts' shoulder was deemed marginally offside against Fulham.

Celebrations were soon met by groans at Craven Cottage when a brilliant cross by Roberts and perfect header by Luke Ayling was soon scratched from the history books.

It is understandable then that the Wales international has been bemoaning his luck, with even the Elland Road crossbar working against him much to his annoyance.

Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa recently challenged Roberts to find 'continuity' in his game but it hasn't been through a lack of trying.

He has been forced to bide his time under the Whites head coach this term, mainly watching on from the sidelines as his teammates navigate England's elite.

Injuries, though, have handed an opportunity and six starts in as many top flight games for Leeds has taken his total for the season up to eight.

Criticism crept in initially after becoming a more regular starter amid Bielsa's throwing down of the gauntlet.

A man-of-the-match performance against Chelsea followed by the breaking of the capital curse against Fulham has helped his cause - even if VAR has, rightly or wrongly, denied him the numbers.

"It's been great to obviously get in the game time and the starts," Roberts reflected to BBC Wales on a whirlwind few weeks.

"I've had a run of games and I definitely needed it. I just feel like I'm getting stronger and fitter each game. Patience has been the key this season. Obviously the season before was a bit stop-start with a few niggling injuries.

"Touch wood this season I have been injury free so far. It's been about keeping patient and just working and waiting for my time to come."

Roberts is now aiming to take his improving form to the international stage with Wales in the coming days.

The Dragons face World Cup qualifiers against Belgium and the Czech Republic with a friendly against Mexico sandwiched in between.

"I think I just have to come into camp as the same person and player that I am at Leeds," Roberts added.

"I come in with confidence and I'm happy with where my fitness levels are at the moment. I'm just raring to represent Wales again."

Wales will take on Roberto Martinez's Belgium on Tuesday night in Leuven, a team they know well after the shock they caused at Euro 2016 - knocking one of the tournament favourites out 3-1 in the quarter-finals.

Roberts and his teammates are eyeing up another huge upset with focus fully on qualifying for Qatar 2022.

"I was at home," Roberts recalled of the last encounter between the two countries.

"I could feel the atmosphere like I was there. It was a crazy game - what a day for Welsh fans.

"It'll be a great game. I know the history that we have with Belgium. We can take confidence from that but have confidence in ourselves as well.

"We've had a good Euro qualifiers campaign so it's something to look forward to and push for the World Cup now.

"I think the mixture we have in the group is great. We have young, hungry players and those who have been in the set up for quite a while. We're all taking bits from each other."