In the discussions about compensating for the sale of Chris Wood, the other 20-goal forward in Leeds United’s squad was almost forgotten. Kemar Roofe brought that reputation with him when the club signed him last summer and his hat-trick against Newport County on Tuesday rediscovered some old form.
One appearance as an out-and-out striker, the position he prefers and the position he thrived in at Oxford United, was enough for Roofe to equal his tally for the whole of last season. He felt underwhelmed after his first year in Leeds, self-critical of his performances and his general influence, but Tuesday provided an array of sharp shooting. At this juncture, his sharp shooting is what Thomas Christiansen needs.
United’s head coach, who lost Wood to Burnley in a £15m transfer on Monday, is assured of the arrival of new strikers before next week’s transfer deadline and Leeds spent yesterday finalising the £1.5m signing of 19-year-old Jay-Roy Grot from NEC Nijmegen but there are other potential sources of goals available to him. Roofe carried a young and disjointed team against Newport and made a difficult night look like a rout. Samuel Saiz, who claimed United’s fourth goal in a 5-1 League Cup win, is currently scoring at a rate of one a game.
Roofe found something approaching that level of consistency during the 2015-16 season, striking 26 times as Oxford were promoted from League Two and beaten in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. As a direct consequence, he earned the League Two player-of-the-year award and a £3m move to Elland Road.
“It’s my preferred position, down the middle and up front,” Roofe said after Tuesday’s victory. For much of his first 12 months with Leeds he was a winger, a number 10 or a patient substitute.
“To get that chance, I was excited as soon as I saw the team sheet. I think I maybe showed that excitement! In football, with injuries or someone leaving, it opens the door for other people. Hopefully I can keep on impressing.”
Roofe’s finishing against Newport was an all-round show: a poacher’s goal to level the tie at 1-1 at the very end of the first half, a delicate volley soon after the interval and an overhead kick on 65 minutes. All three goals would have been eclipsed by the audacious chip from 25 yards which beat County goalkeeper Joe Day but looped back off the top of his crossbar.
“I wish that had gone in,” Roofe joked. “That would have been my favourite one.
“The first goal was about being in the right place at the right time. I just had to keep my head and hit the target. The second one was similar but the third was a bit different, a bit more spectacular. That was good.”
United’s £1.5m bid for Grot, a Holland Under-19 international, was made in tandem with an initial offer of £6m for Rudy Gestede, an approach which Middlesbrough rejected. Leeds look likely to go back to The Riverside with an increased valuation and the club intend to deal with the loss of Wood by adding at least two strikers to their squad before the window closes.
Leeds, nonetheless, need goals from existing players. Wood’s tally of 30 goals last season was notable in part for the failure of the rest of United’s squad to get anywhere near it. Behind him, their next highest scorers – Kyle Bartley, Pablo Hernandez and Souleymane Doukara – managed just six.
Roofe finished with three. After five appearances Saiz already has five to his name.
Saiz was signed from Huesca for that reason, a player with a track record showing goals, assists and a silky side to his game. Roofe said he could sense more creativity in United’s squad this season.
“I think maybe that’s the difference from last year,” he said. “The players brought in are very creative and intelligent, which is good for everybody because we can feed each other.
“It’s been a good start already, we’re obviously unbeaten and we look solid in defence. We’re adding goals to all that as well.”
Leeds now travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday with a chance to finish the first month of the season unbeaten, something last seen at Elland Road eight years ago.
Forest, under Mark Warburton, have also made an encouraging start and the club strengthened their midfield on Tuesday by signing United’s former captain, Liam Bridcutt, for a fee of £1m.
Bridcutt, who Christiansen tried to persuade to stay at Elland Road, was cup-tied for Forest’s Carabao Cup tie at Newcastle United last night but is available for an immediate league debut against Leeds. Roofe insisted he was hopeful that Bridcutt would play.
“It’s good to play against people you know or have played with before,” Roofe said. “It’s good to battle with them.
“I like him, we get on well, and hopefully he does play at the weekend.
“What you see is what you get with him – he’s hard-working, brave, he breaks up play, wins the ball and starts attacks from the deep. They’ve signed a good player.”