Kemar Roofe on the way back - but will he start and who does he replace for Leeds United?

Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe.Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe.
Leeds United striker Kemar Roofe.
Development-squad appearances have been a staple part of Marcelo Bielsa’s management of longer-term injuries at Leeds United but time is running short in the Championship.

Adam Forshaw was back in Leeds’ squad on Saturday after missing eight league games, recalled without the obligatory run in the Under-23s which Bielsa seems to favour, and Kemar Roofe will be fast tracked in the same way if he convinces Bielsa that his knee is fully healed in the days ahead.

Roofe was pencilled in to resume full training this week and tentatively lined up to feature at Birmingham City on Saturday, almost two months after injuring knee ligaments. The striker last played in a game of any sort on February 13, during a 2-0 win over Swansea City, but the regular season ends in five short weeks and the development squad have no fixture until next Monday. It leaves Bielsa with little reason to dither over the selection of a player he described as “very important”.

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Roofe has 14 goals behind him and might have reached 20 had he not missed 13 fixtures to date but just as valuable to Bielsa as the best of his finishing is his suitability in the system United’s head coach established last summer. Roofe’s touch and mobility, combined with Leeds’ insistence on passing their way through opposition teams, made a lone centre-forward of a striker who lacks the height of the archetypal target man.

Neal Maupay is the only current Championship player who averages more efforts on goal per game.

The dilemma for Bielsa when Roofe is fit and available is what to do with him and where to play him. Bielsa made an effort to force Roofe and Patrick Bamford into the same line-up in February by fielding Bamford up front and using Roofe at number 10 but the experiment lasted for only two matches before the latter was injured.

Bamford held his place while Roofe recovered, chipping in with four goals without finding his full rhythm after missing much of the season with knee injuries of his own. His failure to convert a first-half penalty in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Millwall summed up a laboured performance. Bamford admitted to having an “off day personally”.

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Bielsa could sacrifice Bamford for Roofe but also has the option of returning Roofe to an attacking midfield role, at the cost of dropping Tyler Roberts. Roberts, though, has settled steadily into that job, causing problems with his busy workrate and runs from deep, and his sharp cut-back towards the end of Saturday’s game set up Pablo Hernandez’s 83rd-minute winner.

Roofe’s return is a threat to someone’s place but Roberts is happy to see a scenario where Bielsa, for the first time this season, has a squad which is virtually fully fit. Leeds’ only major doubt for the trip to Birmingham is left-back Barry Douglas, who underwent scans on a knee problem yesterday.

“That (Roofe’s comeback) will be a massive bonus for the boys and I think the fans as well,” Roberts said.

“It’ll give an extra buzz to the place and it’ll be good for all of us to be back together. We know we’ve got people on the bench and people on the field who can change games.”

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Roberts has been one of them during the past month, in a position which the Wales international would not call his own. He has stressed to Bielsa his desire to play up front but made the most of a chance which arose after Roofe damage a knee taking a second-half shot against Swansea.

Roberts’ brilliant performance in a 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion yielded two assists and the closing stages of the victory over Millwall saw him register another. Hernandez timed his run beautifully to meet the ball but, from point-blank range, could not miss.

“I just put into a space, I’ll say that,” Roberts joked. “But I’ve seen him coming. We do have that connection.

“I’m happy. Obviously I wanted to try and get into the team a few months ago and I’ve been able to do that. To keep on learning and to keep on playing would be great – and to get some more goals.

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“This is a massive, massive part of my life right now and to get this club up to the Premier League would be a dream come true.”

Leeds have never been closer in 15 years and are two points away from matching their best-ever season in the Championship since 2004.

The victory over Millwall took their tally of league wins to 23 and kept their tally of defeats in single figures, despite Bielsa’s side falling behind twice and Bamford failing to score from the spot.

Sheffield United had beaten Leeds at Elland Road two weeks earlier with the aid of glaring chances missed by their hosts and the clash with Millwall followed the same theme until Hernandez and Luke Ayling struck in the last 19 minutes to relieve fraying nerves in the stadium around them. Roberts insisted that he had not felt a sense of deja vu as Millwall led with 20 minutes to go.

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“You could maybe say that from a spectator’s point of view but we didn’t feel like that and we didn’t worry about it,” he said. “We knew we could create more chances and get the goals.

“The belief we’ve shown over the course of the season has been incredible and this showed it even more. We knew we needed the three points and we didn’t drop our heads. We didn’t fall under the pressure.”