"Double figures would be a good return." Patrick Bamford backs his Leeds United goal tally after clinical response to criticism

Patrick Bamford celebrates his second goal at Preston North End.Patrick Bamford celebrates his second goal at Preston North End.
Patrick Bamford celebrates his second goal at Preston North End.
It is hard for Patrick Bamford to be sure about what would constitute a good return of goals this season. He set Leeds United back £7m when the club bought him last summer but of all the injuries which have peppered the squad at Elland Road, his was among the worst.

Despite it, he might yet play in half of the club’s Championship games but, set against a personal target of 20 goals when he first signed, eight in the league at this stage is respectable enough and double figures would keep him happy. The irony of criticism of his contribution is that Bamford has been worth a goal in every two appearances or thereabouts.

A brace came his way at Preston North End on Tuesday, a night when the forward made scepticism of him seem foolish. He was weaker and less influential than he needed to be in previous outings against Birmingham City and Millwall, and guilty of letting chances slip through his fingers, but Bamford’s past record leaves no doubt that he knows how to finish, particularly in this division.

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Marcelo Bielsa has needed his goals. Since Boxing Day, Kemar Roofe has scored once and missed a spate of games through injury. Five of the league matches Bamford scored in yielded victories and his finishing at Preston kept the heat on Sheffield United in the scrap for automatic promotion.

Speaking afterwards, Bamford insisted he was happy with the way he was chipping in. “I am, considering the fact I had a bad knee injury,” he said. “The physio told me when I came back that it would take maybe three or four months of being back playing for my knee to fully do what it should and to feel normal.

“At the start of the season, obviously I had aspirations to hit 20-plus but, after the knee injury, I think anything in double figures is a good return, personally. But if you don’t go up, it means nothing.”

When his first goal at Preston – a left-foot hit from 20 yards – flew in, Bamford playfully cupped an ear towards a packed away end, the final word in response to a barrage of criticism which came his way after two bad misses in a 1-0 defeat at Birmingham last weekend.

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Roofe was available at St Andrews but has not started a game for two months and his condition increased the likelihood of Bielsa sticking with Bamford but United’s head coach was firm in his defence of his centre-forward, saying Bamford had “a lot of character” and a “high personality”. It all shone through at Deepdale.

Bamford said: “Before the game, I was on the phone to my dad and he said ‘do you know what? You haven’t had a game for Leeds where you can say it was your best’.

“Part of me was thinking ‘yeah dad, I have been injured for a fair chunk, come on’ but he was also right because, to be honest, I don’t think the Leeds fans have seen the best of me. Even tonight, obviously I felt I played well, but there’s more to come.

“I tried to put myself about in the first half, trying to be a focal point for the team and shoot when I could. I knew that if I kept shooting, especially after the last few games, I’d score.”

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Leeds’ win at Preston was influenced by a 50th-minute red card shown to North End midfielder Ben Pearson – his third of the season – but all the chances of note fell to Bielsa’s side and Bamford’s strikes were two of 22 efforts on goal.

Bamford admitted that he had failed to make an impression on Birmingham’s centre-backs on Saturday but found Preston’s pairing of Ben Davies and Jordan Storey easier to rattle. Davies was booked in the first half after a second heavy foul on him in the space of a minute.

“I was more physical with the Preston defence,” Bamford said. “I tried to put myself about at Birmingham but that was a little bit harder. They had two big brutes at the back. Against Preston I knew I was quicker than them so any balls in behind I was getting onto them.

“If I roughed them up a bit, I could get them angry. It was almost like a mental game, to get in their heads. I think you saw that when Davies got the yellow card. Literally straight after fouling me he smashed me again.

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“The physical side isn’t the main part of the game but it gives you a big upper hand if you win that battle. In a team like ours, we play some really attractive football and we press and put pressure on the other team but ultimately it’s down to the striker to make the breakthrough.

“Pablo (Hernandez) and a lot of the other guys have chipped in with a lot of goals. But a team like this looks to the striker to stick it away when you get the chance.”